Rouse House Theatre Company is an intriguing newcomer to Melbourne's crowded theatre scene. It is always invigorating to see new talent, especially when one feels the strong suspicion that the fresh face you see today will be tomorrow's rising star.
Rouse House has set itself a high bar to leap when it comes to the quality of acting, writing, direction, design and presentation it intends to produce. Its ambition is admirable, with Founder and Artistic Director Eryn Skinner taking a holistic approach. "If you're going to do it, you must aim for completeness", Skinner says of creating a production. "It's about leading the audience to a certain place – every part has to be done well, down to the program, and if you can't do something, you bring in the best people who can."
Rouse House and Skinner made their professional debut on a number of levels with 'Daisy Chain', a dark comedy with philosophical themes which recently completed its run at Theatreworks (read the full review here). If this opening salvo is anything to go by, we'll be seeing great things from Rouse House in the future.
Skinner has trained as an actor in both England and Australia. A graduate of Mountview's Foundation in Acting course, she was awarded a scholarship to study for the Diploma in Acting at London's Academy of Live and Recorded Arts. After completing her first year, Skinner returned to Australia where she undertook numerous courses at the Victorian College of the Arts before completing a degree in Performing Arts at Monash University.
Skinner has her own style of artistic direction. For her, theatre is ultimately about "energising the mind, stimulating the senses and tickling the soul". She cites collaborative directors such as Peter Brook as an important influence, saying that theatre should stay true to its roots as an ancient storytelling tradition, but should be eager and willing to reinvent itself to be rousing, entertaining and fresh.
The creative process is about "allowing whatever is in me to come out, to let it reveal itself", Skinner says. But she is careful to distance herself from what she regards as a more exploratory approach to independent theatre where scripts are sometimes underdeveloped and the overall production often unpolished. "There's a lot of forgiveness when it comes to critiquing independent theatre, where people say 'oh it's only indie theatre' and gloss over its shortcomings. In the end I don't think that approach is helpful, to the theatre and to the audience." She stresses again the importance of completeness and clear thinking, as well finding collaborators who can work together collegially as an ensemble.
Ultimately, Skinner says, she doesn't want people to make a distinction between Rouse House and the larger theatre companies such as Malthouse, except obviously in terms of budget and resources. But when it comes to the quality of the theatregoing experience itself, Skinner is aiming to create something "just as valid, just as professional."
It's early days of course, and Rouse House will no doubt now be busy savouring the successes and digesting the lessons of its first professional outing. But don't be surprised to see Rouse House and perhaps even 'Daisy Chain' back soon for its next production, which we can expect to be even more engaging, mature and spirited than its impressive debut. We can hardly wait.