Blessed, opening on 8 November, is the first of four new works by independent artists as part of the second Poppy Seed Theatre Festival. Jan Chandler had the opportunity of chatting with director Danny Delahunty about the show and about his creative partnership with writer Fleur Kilpatrick.
Danny and Fleur, who have collaborated on several works over the past four years, are excited to be part of the Festival. They first worked together when Fleur's 2012 work Skinhouse found itself without a director for its Melbourne season. Danny had seen and the show in Adelaide and really enjoyed it. When he told Fleur, and offered some feeback, she suggested he come to the rehearsals for the Melbourne season and 'we kind of creatively hit it off'. Danny has directed three of Fleur's shows since then the last being The City They Burned which, following its 2014 Melbourne season went on to be part of the 2015 Brisbane Festival. Critics variously described the show as 'sharp, unflinching and ingeniously directed' and as 'pushing the boundaries of convention'.
Danny tells me that he and Fleur work off each other really well, we 'understand each others artistic tracks and creative purpose [respecting] where the writer and director roles start and end … Fleur is very, very confident and comfortable in handing creative ownership over to me as the director and that in turn gives me confidence in inviting her into the rehearsal room to provide feedback … In our partnership we've always worked very intimately throughout the process. It's very rare to have the opportunity to have a writer in the rehearsal room with you. Fleur and I have just built our relationship to the point where that is almost a given, where we have access to that brain in the rehearsal room just as she has access to me while the piece is still being written; we can bounce ideas off each other as the drafts are coming through … Fleur's writing is evocative, very truthful; she captures the human condition so perfectly; she understands the intricacies the characters need to have on the page in order for actors to really bring the truth of those characters out on the stage … She really understands the flow, the manic and narrative flow, of a piece and how important that is to the writing process'.
This is the first time that Danny has not been involved heavily in the initial process. The City They Burned started as a conversation over coffee and then was built up every step of the way. With Blessed Fleur approached Danny with a first draft. 'It was one of those plays that just jumped off the page for me. Every scene I read I could see happening in front of my eyes as I was reading. I immediately said yes'. They chose a couple of actors they knew well so they could hear the piece read aloud and 'I really fell in love with it'. Whilst Danny has offered some feeback from the director's viewpoint, 'the main guts of it is from Fleur'.
So what might audiences experience? Danny is a little hesitant in offering too much detail as there is a 'really exciting and gutsy aspect that is a reveal within the play itself' and he doesn't want to ruin things for the audience. 'At its heart I am approaching this as a story of two people … It's a story of a pair of people who are brought together, torn apart, and [then] drawn back to each other. It's also a story that tackles something that I find really important, inter-generational poverty … When someone gets ahead someone has to be left behind and it's that part of getting ahead that we're really talking about … We're really trying to give a voice to characters that aren't frequently voiced in Australian writing.' But, he assures me, the work itself is grander and bigger than that.
Danny shares with Fleur a very real fascination with the interrogation of religious mythologies; asking questions about how they apply to the structure of modern day society, and the ways in which they influence our politicians. They hope that their audiences will leave with more questions than answers. 'I think that theatre that provides answers is boring and can come across as quite didactic. When someone comes to see one of my plays I want them to leave thinking about something. I want them to interrogate how their own social construct has been made and by whose rules and to start to think about those things that you may not think about, that you have just filed away as a given.'
For Danny being part of the Poppy Seed Theatre Festival is 'an amazing experience', especially given the people he is working with on Blessed. He very much appreciates the way the Festival focus offers practical support and real opportunities for independent artists. Its open application process means that it is unique and really competitive. The selection team is made up of an impressive array of industry professionals and 'being in that room is very intimidating; pitching your project to the peak of your peers'. The artists behind the four shows selected come together as an ensemble, meeting every week, working closely to support each other so that each of the four seasons are produced and presented to the highest possible quality.
The Poppy Seed Theatre Festival 2016
Blessed: 8 – 20 November | Malthouse Theatre
Ladycake: 15 – 27 November | Victorian Trades Hall
What's Yours.: 22 November – 4 December | The Butterfly Club
F.: 30 November – 11 December | Victorian Trades Hall
Vist the Poppy Seed website»