Benedict Hardie is an actor, writer and director with award-winning theatre company The Hayloft Project. We first spoke to Benedict last year as he prepared for his role in Daniel Keene's Life Without Me as part of the 2010 Melbourne International Arts Festival. This year he returns as both writer and director of the latest work for The Hayloft Project – Delectable Shelter.

Benedict spoke to Australian Stage's Paul Andrew.

Delectable ShelterTell me about your studies/theatre background background pre-Hayloft?
When I was in school I was part of a NSW Public Schools Drama Company, which gave me training and performance experience (including a tour to the UK). I studied Economic Theory and Psychology at Sydney University, amidst a life of acting, comedy and theatremaking in Sydney. Then I studied Acting at the VCA.

Tell me about how you came up with both the name and the ensemble?
The name comes from a line in the first production with which Simon Stone started the company. In Spring Awakening a mother asks a doctor what to do about her wayward (pregnant) child - "Keep your daughter out of Haylofts" is his reply. 

The Hayloft Project is a group of theatremakers who have joined the company started by Simon Stone in 2007. There are core artists, as well as a range of designers and performers that join the company depending on the needs of each production.

Tell me a little about Delectable Shelter?
The play is set in an underground shelter at the end of the world. We watch an affluent family and one aloof scientist adjust to their confinement, engage in reproduction, and plan for a future utopia. We then flash forward three hundred and fifty years. The actors now play several of their own descendents (all drawn from a very small gene pool), as they nervously prepare to return to the surface of the earth. So all the action occurs within one cramped room in a scientifically designed shelter, complete with ergonomic kneeling chairs. All the action except for a mysterious choir, who sing bach-style arrangments of 1980s love ballads in an unknown world...

Tell me about the process of writing the play from seed to finished product, what happened?
It's been unnaturally fast. The whole process has occurred in less than six months from idea to full production, but I think that lends a certain manic energy to the piece – which I like. I worked with Tom Healey as dramaturge in the writing process, and tried to flesh out the logical and dramatic elements of the story as richly as possible.

Also, I approached Benny Davis from The Axis of Awesome to see if we could come up with some music which fit into my satirical mindset, but still treat it very seriously (his classical music expertise was critical in the making of the show). Then rehearsal started and we've basically tried to rip it apart and make it as silly as we can. I try to be meticulous as a writer, but ruthless as a director.

Together with the cast we have cut and changed large chunks of the play, and inserted entirely new scenes. I think we found out very early that I was being too didactic with the satire and it wasn't really playable for the actors, so we tried as an ensemble to ensure the action came from the characters and their reality, and to try and hide the politics of the writing between the lines. The number one goal is to entertain.

Tell me about some of the playwrights who continue to enchant you?
I often return to Chekhov and Howard Barker. Chekhov writes bottomless characters in situations that are forensically normal and emotionally impossible (like life). Howard Barker writes theatre that is hard, but rewarding.

Melbourne indie theatre scene right now, what are you absolutely loving about it?
Theatre doesn't exist in a vacuum. It needs both artists and audiences. There seems to be a higher number of both at the moment because people are opening up to it. Artists want to push themselves, and audiences want new experiences. I love that I'm a part of the independent theatre engine, and sometimes I get to drive the thing.

Delectable Shelter by Benedict Hardie plays at Theatreworks, St Kilda, until April 17, 2011. Further details»

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