Perth Theatre Company Season 2015

Melissa CantwellPerth Theatre Company (PTC) recently announced their program for 2015 and Jan Chandler had the opportunity of talking with Artistic Director Melissa Cantwell about her work with the company and the up-coming season.

Melissa has been associated with PTC since her play Marmalade and Egg was commissioned by them and produced as the final play in their 2006 season. As she told We Love Perth in an interview early last year, she has always written stories. She has also studied photography and film, as well as working as program manager at The Blue Room Theatre in Perth. All of this before undertaking a post graduate degree in performing arts at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA). After graduation she joined PTC as an Associate Director and was involved in their move to the Perth Theatre Centre in 2010. She took over as Artistic Director (AD) in 2011.

From the beginning Melissa has had three major aims in her role as AD: to offer audiences a diverse and innovative program; to support independent and emerging artists, especially Western Australians, through mentorships, residencies and commissions; and to create a sense of community around new work and new forms of storytelling.

Support for emerging artists is vital to ensure that new voices are heard and new forms of theatre explored and PTC has a strong record in this area. Melissa has commissioned works by a number of young artists and had the pleasure of seeing them go on to tour both nationally and internationally. Zoe Pepper'sThe Pride was part of the 2011 season and in 2012 played its fourth season at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where it was nominated for a Total Theatre Award. (Audiences will have the opportunity of seeing another of Zoe's works, The Confidence Man, as part of the 2015 season.) Another success story is It's Dark Outside, produced as part of the 2012 season, created and performed by Tim Watts, Arielle Gray and Chris Isaacs, with music composed by Rachael Dease. In 2013 the work won the ArtsHub Critics Choice Award and was nominated for a Helpmann Award. During 2014 they have toured three countries, performing at 45 venues over a period of 116 days.

The 2015 program is certainly diverse and innovative and involves a host of local artists involved with their own creations or the works of others. It will be their biggest season in several years and, as Melissa says, sends a signal about PTCs desire “to grow and support a greater scale of progam [whilst providing] as much opportunity as we can to some of the very brilliant artists that are working 'round us.”

Bringing any season together is all about timing and involves the availability of creatives as well as the readiness of new works to make it to the stage. As Melissa explains, new work needs to be “guided” to the stage; given sufficient time and space for development. The right collective of artists needs to be found along with an appropriate performance space, only then will the work be brought fully to life. It so happened that three new performances were ready to hit the stage in 2015. Each, in their own specific ways, deal with relationships – between people, the space and the environment - and these themes set up a resonance which helped in selecting the other two works in the season. “A lot of the work is immersive in different ways – sonic, visual, environmental - … creating a lovely thread that runs through the season.” For audiences “the journey through the entire season will be really fun and really different”.

Five different stages will compliment the atmosphere and intention of each of the works and the season will culminate with the most intimate followed by the biggest, and perhaps most demanding. work. In the courtyard of the State Theatre Centre five performers will take one individual on a personal journey through a large outdoor installation; Yourseven will enable them to participate in a series of encounters from their past, present and possible future. Then the much loved classic, John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men will fill the stage of the Heath Ledger Theatre with its cast of ten.

Melissa, who will be directing Of Mice and Men, sees it as an exciting challenge which presents her with the “beautiful opportunity” of having an ensemble of nine men on stage, with “one very brave actress”. The fact that WA hosts a huge transient workforce provides her with an interesting pallet (or context) through which to explore the themes of men's friendship – brothers and buddies – that are central to the original work. The contemporary resonance will be complimented by Zoe Atkinson's set and costume design and Stoney Joe who will perform live on stage. WA actor Jai Courtney will take the role of Lennie. He is perhaps better known as a Hollywood film actor having appeared in numerous big budget films including Divergence, A Good Day to Die Hard, and Terminator Genisy (which is currently in post-production). Later this month audiences will also have the opportunity of seeing him in Russell Crowe's directorial debutThe Water Deviner. Melissa first encountered Jai's work when he was a student at WAAPA and is thrilled to have him back on stage, “I think it is the role that lured him back ... he'll be stunning … he is an absolutely superb stage actor.”

In June the world premiere of The Song Was Wrong will offer audiences a chance to see one of Melissa's own works. She first entered the theatre as a writer, but until now the demands of running a theatre company have meant that her own writing was put on hold. The work has been years in the making and is based a story she heard when on a visit to Vietnam. Touched by the poetic nature of the story, she made it the starting point for a work which fulfilled her desire to see an unashamed love story on stage. As Melissa says, “it's a lovely privilege to be ... able to work on a piece that I've been writing for some time”. She has gathered a “very talented” group of artists around her and everyone is enthusiastic about sharing their work with audiences.

In a real sense the first production sets the tone for the 2015 season. From the Rubble is inspired by the stories of Walkley Award winning Perth based writer and investigative journalist Sophie McNeill who has reported from countries as varied as Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Paksitan, Arghanistan, India, Thailand and Mexico. Under the direction of Melissa a combination of artists, Fleur Elise Noble, Joe Lui, Mei Saraswati, Ian Sinclair, TinaTorabi and Mikala Westall, will draw on the images embedded in Sophie's work. They re-create the stories of women in conflict zones, those who report and those who endure/experience, offering new perspectives on our contemporary realtionship with conflict.

The 2015 program may be a wrap but the work continues. Melissa and her team are already busy planning, keen to discover, create and share more great local and classic works with Perth audiences.

Click for more details about the Perth Theatre Company Season 2015

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