Toby Schmitz is an actor, writer and director, currently playing the title role in the B Sharp production of Ruben Guthrie by Brendan Cowell. According to director Wayne Blair, the play "addresses how acceptable it is in our culture to drink heavily and still succeed at the top".

Toby spoke to Australian Stage's Augusta Supple.

Toby SchmitzSo I was just wondering Toby, taking on this role as Ruben Guthrie, did it change your views on drinking?
I think so yes, yes absolutely and nothing too definitive, asking more questions and looking at it a certain way, it hasn’t really changed my habits much only it’s a very immersive plays so I simply can’t be out the show comes down and I’ll be having one or two at the bar to say hello to friends and then I’ll be going home because I’ll be bloody exhausted…

So you already have your drinking plan?
Yes, and actually there was a lot of talk about that when we first started rehearsing, Brendan isn’t drinking at the moment, Brendan and I have been friends for a long time and a lot of our friendship has revolved around drinking a schooner of beer at our local, because we both live near each other. Wayne, the director, doesn’t hardly drink, and half the cast don’t touch a drop, so there was a lot of discussion about whats going to happen after rehearsal and after the opening night - is it going to be a source of tension or can some of us go off and have a beer. Do others go home? Does it effect the communal get together at the end, after the show: I have always associated the get together after the show for a couple of drinks as very theatrical. And once the show is up and running, work sort of starts at 6pm, have a shower and start to think about the show and so does the adrenalin after the show: you don’t have to be anywhere ‘til lunchtime the next day so your hours are sort of skewed, its very hard to go home and try and watch infomercials without a beer…

As one of the busiest people in the theatre you must be doing a million things at once at the moment? Writing?
Indeed. I start rehearsing on Monday for another play on at the STC on Monday called “The Great” so I’ll be rehearsing that in the daytime and performing this at night, so even more need to get home and put myself to bed. I need to take care of myself especially physically.

How do you choose the plays you are in? You have done a mix of theatre and film…
It’s a bit hard to turn down a play if I have the time to do it. I’m still a bit of a whore for that - I said yes to this play before I even read it, because I knew Brendan had written it.

How do I choose plays? A combination of things. If my agent says it’ll be good for my career to do the play. If I read a play and fall in love with the play and its going on in a hole in the wall and my agent is like “Wait a minute how is that going to further your career” and I’ll do it anyway. I’ve been doing theatre since I was 5 and so if any period of time goes by and I haven’t been doing a play, and I start getting techy, its like my blankie … and there is also a physical need to be in the theatre. Around theatre people…

What makes theatre people different?
There’s no money in the theatre. I think Neil Armfield said it once when the Waiting for Godot debate was raging here that the currency in theatre is ego. And I remember reading that and feeling challenged by that but I have now come around to understand that ego is both a good and a bad thing. And that no one is making any money, even at the STC you can only just cover your rent. So if even the premiere theatre in Australia is not making money, what is it about?

And I think I became addicted to the ego of it as a kid with all the rules, all the traditional rules of why the oldest actress gets the largest dressing room, even though she only has 5 lines in the whole play. And the big difference is because its incredibly democratic because there is no money… that the person with only 5 lines can stick up his hand and say “you know what I think is wrong with that scene?” or the director or the assistant director or the lighting designer… everyone’s allowed. And sure, if you say something crap, people probably won’t listen to you but you still have a right to put up your hand. Whereas if you are an extra on a TV show, if you stick up your hand you’ll be fired.
{xtypo_quote_right}I think Neil Armfield said it once when the Waiting for Godot debate was raging that the currency in theatre is ego. And I remember reading that and feeling challenged by that but I have now come around to understand that ego is both a good and a bad thing.{/xtypo_quote_right}
So you like the collaborative nature - how does that gel with your life as a writer: being alone in a room by yourself with a laptop?
I’m not very good at being by myself … where I am very much like Ruben … I tend to do a lot of my writing in notebooks and on dictaphones and things, at the pub, in a café, on a busy, but when it comes to writing something, I try to save the laptop stage for the end. So I have already done a draft, or a bit of draft in my head before I hit the computer. Brendan is very good at getting up in 9 in the morning and doing a full office day work by himself in a room, he’s got that discipline.

You have been directing a lot as well, how does that fit in with the actor part of yourself?
I think it slots in quite easily to the democratic theatre process, that I am yet to direct anything with a cast of thousand or with huge sword fights in it. I have really directed 3 or 4 handers text based, so I come at it from a very actor-ly perspective: “If I were to be in the show, how would I like I to run.”

The directing thing stresses me out completely, so much responsibility, so much to keep you up at night, so much blame to land at your feet if it doesn’t go right. But I also felt 3 or so years ago that I have now worked with something like 50 or 60 theatre directors and I’ve gotta picked up something - especially how not to treat actors so I am very cautious about calling myself a director. Writer and actor is comfortable.

How does it feel being in the downstairs theatre space at Belvoir?
Wonderful - really good. I have written a few shows down here and been in a couple and it’s a lovely in terms of theatre spaces to be in. Now, very recently (and we’re the first play to do it), they've incorporated a rehearsal room with downstairs show, in the new Belvoir block down the road. In the old days you’d have to rehearse in St Stephen’s church down the road and then arrive at the theatre during production week, so we have been at Belvoir for 4 weeks. So even though we are in the independent wing and we are not getting paid, we still get to walk through admin everyday and say hi! So much more part of the Belvoir family, but it always feels like the Belvoir family downstairs theatre…

RUBEN GUTHRIE by Brendan Cowell is now playing at Belvoir St Downstairs Theatre. For further information click here»


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