Well known for his television and film appearances, this summer, Australian actor, Christopher Bunworth performs a challenging solo show in the return season of Trio – a symphony for voice. The play is due to make its debut in the US in 2010.

Before opening night, Anna Lozynski interviewed Christopher Bunworth about this intriguing work.

Christopher BunworthTell us about the concept that is Trio – a symphony for voice.
Dina Ross, the writer, has structured the play like a piece of symphonic music. It is broken into three distinct movements, each with its own individual harmonies and rhythms. I play three very different characters: the agent, the lover and the brother, who are differentiated naturally by their vocal qualities and physicalities.

What was your initial reaction after reading Ross’ script?
It was compelling and clever on the first read. Often new writing requires a substantial amount of dramaturgical revision but Trio has remained more or less intact. It is really a gift for a solo performer to have such erudite and well structured material to draw from. It is a great privilege to perform Dina’s script. She is such an intelligent and contemporary new playwright.

How has your performance of the piece changed since its debut in 2005 at La Mama?
Trio is the only solo show I have performed to date and it remains a consummate challenge. I am constantly setting myself new goals, although having lived with the three men (metaphorically speaking) for the past four years I’d like to think that their motivations, idiosyncrasies and emotional landscapes have become clearer. Over time, I am probably more nervous before a performance than I was in that first season at La Mama in an attempt to perform the perfect show.

Which theme in the play particularly resonates with you?
In Dina’s words, “Trio embraces the timeless themes of love; heterosexual, homosexual and fraternal – but above all, it features the love of music, art and how a single minded passion can both create and destroy”.

What attracts you to fortyfivedownstairs as a performance venue?
Fortyfivedownstairs is, in my humble opinion, Melbourne’s leading independent arts venue. Marylou Jelbart and her staff preside over a wonderfully atmospheric space which lends itself beautifully to staging an intimate work like Trio. I’ve worked there on a number of occasions and am often reminded of some of New York Cities’ more cutting edge performance venues. It is operated professionally and always seems to strike a chord with performers and punters alike.

What has been the motivation behind touring the play in the US?
I lived in the USA from 1986 to 2002 where I ran my own company in Telluride, Colorado. Since arriving back home in Australia, I have co-founded Larrikin Ensemble Theatre with German producer, Wolf Heidecker, and together we’ve been compiling a repertoire of productions since 2004. Trio was the first show we took on as independent producers. We believe the play is now ready to enter the international marketplace. We’re hopeful that touring Trio in 2010 will lead to more opportunities to present our work overseas.

How do you anticipate American audiences will react to the work?
It will be really interesting given our cultural differences. However, it’s a testament to the universality of Dina’s writing that it seems to have resonance with audientees from 18 to 80, spanning just about all demographics and tastes. Because it features a mélange of subject matter from love of classical music to the intrigue surrounding the death of celebrity performers such as Michael Hutchence, there seems to be something for everyone in Trio. The differing nationalities of the three characters; American, British and Australian also lend the piece an international flavour. We’ll see if American audiences agree.

How did you go about researching and studying your three characters: Ben Goldstein (Karl Munch’s New York agent), Pieter Munch (his twin brother based in Melbourne) and Robbie O’Donnell?
I always build characters literally from the ground up and hence start by considering how they walk, talk and carry themselves. Once I’ve got a grip on their physicality, I leave my antennae up and draw inspiration from the ether and my memory bank. It helps that I visited New York many times during my stint in the USA. I visited a few gay bars to try and find an honest and respectful take on playing a refined homosexual artist. The tendency is to play the cliché which I wanted to avoid at all costs. Pieter is obviously the most autobiographical of the characters, but in some ways remains the hardest of the characters to perform because of the emotional labyrinth he navigates.

Of the three, with which character do you naturally associate?
I think the lover, Robbie, because he articulates what it is about the trajectory of a doomed love affair we can all identify with - the euphoria of its beginnings and the agony of its demise.

As an actor, what is rewarding about theatre performance versus television and film work?
I love the reality of a stage performance, its honesty, and, at its best, the palpable threat that anything can happen on a given night. Although it happens less than it could or should, it’s the hope of achieving this which keeps me coming back to the stage. At the end of the day, everyone loves a good story well told.

How do you get into character before stepping on stage?
Over the years, I have developed a pretty thorough physical and vocal warm up which hopefully prepares me to do the work justice. In the case of Trio, I spend a lot of time on the transformations between the characters in order to meld seamlessly form one to another. And right before stepping on stage… I remind myself to have fun and play!

Finally, what makes this play unforgettable, compared to the other works you have performed?
Trio is an incredibly satisfying stage work because of the amalgam of elements which combine to create a memorable evening. It showcases clever and concise writing, an intriguing story featuring wonderfully complex and flawed protagonists. The end result is a play which treats the audience with respect, fuels imaginations and resonates on just about every level. Of course, flying solo is also the ultimate test for an actor on stage and a nightly challenge I relish.

Trio: a symphony for voice plays until Sunday Nov 15. Further information»

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