Yvonne Virsik is quite a woman. Not only does she have a 'more than full time' theatre job as Artistic Director of Monash University Student Theatre (MUST) but she also works as a freelance director. She is currently directing the third work in this year's Poppy Seed Theatre Festival, What's Yours is Mine by Hotel Now, which opens on 22 November. Somehow Yvonne made time to speak with Jan Chandler about her experiences.
'It's difficult to fit in freelance work … it takes a lot of work and long hours to keep things going at Monash, and clever scheduling'. Nevertheless Yvonne has managed to find both time and energy to work with Hotel Now on their new work. Her involvement resulted from a casual exchange between her and Tom Halls, an ex MUST student. They'd just spent a day working together and Yvonne asked, 'What are you doing tonight?' Tom said he was planning to meet with Simone French and Hayden Burke to talk about the three putting together something for Poppy Seed. 'Have you got a director? … Not yet. Want to come to the meeting? … Oh Yeah, I'll come along'. That was it, Yvonne was in.
Hayden suggested Chekov's The Proposal but nobody really wanted to do that, although they found there was much about the work that interested them, so they began asking questions and throwing up ideas. They started exploring the sense of ownership over practical things – objects, land, people. As they dug deeper the focus shifted to being 'more about ownership over the course of your life, your ability to define yourself or your life, and ownership of your version of the Australian Dream'. The Chekov connection is still there but Yvonne doubts that people will pick up on it. 'It's been quite a journey; it's still a journey'.
Devised work is by nature tremendously challenging. Most of Yvonne's work is script based which means when in doubt, or when things don't feel right, she has the option of suggesting everyone take a deep breath and look back to the text, the 'road map'. When devising a work you are 'constantly trying to create road maps and then you realise … you've taken a wrong turn somewhere and you have to get rid of some of those streets and go back … and start another turn … Then you look at what you have put together and you think, “Oh Gosh, that's not saying what we wanted to; is it saying something else?” It's this constant, strange process of trying to create the road map that is incredibly challenging'.
An additional challenge is that, as the director, Yvonne constantly needs to reflect back to three very strong devisiors what meaning she is getting from their improvisions; 'I'm getting this. Can we shape it into this'? Not surprisingly, each of them can have different ideas about what they'd like to say and the improvisations often elicit a variety of meanings each of which needs to be unpacked in an effort to find out what does actually come across; where might this idea fit within the work as a whole, does it needs to be staged differently to achieve the desired meaning, or does it need to be cut. 'It's extremely challenging and exciting … in the last two weeks we've taken a totally different direction in terms of the overall shape of the piece ... The variations, permutations, combinations [are] endless and it is very difficult for people, especially devisors who are putting in so much of themselves, to go to the stage of then having to cut things. Whole huge characters that were really well written have had to be cut because they weren't fitting within the framework.' But now, at least, they have their road map, even more of a script than Yvonne was expecting.
Hotel Now are known for their interactive approach. 'They explore things that involve over-the-top aesthetics sometimes, often interactive, and it's very responsive to what they say is “the now”'. The Butterfly Club is the perfect venue 'because we want the audience to be really present'. At times the performers will move right into the audience, using the aisle as one of their key performance areas. Yvonne's advice is to the audience is to be brave, have a drink in your hand, tongue firmly in cheek and satire hat on your head.
Led by three disillusioned young people, Syd, Olly and Millie the three mascots from the 2000 Olympics, we'll be taken on a road trip of discovery which 'kind of just settles into chaos'. We see into the craziness that's happening in their minds, share their encounters with right-wing politicians, some iconic Australian junk food and lots of other 'stuff'. The hope is that people will have fun; there's 'some fun little facts in there, a lot I didn't know about, like the evolution of the Chiko Roll'. They also hope people will be surprised by, and think about their response to, some of the ideas thrown up, maybe even 'question what sort of agency they want over their lives and their future'.
Yvonne has found the experience to date exciting and fulfilling. Their designer Owen Phillips, whose work will probably be a last minute thing given the constant changes in 'the script', is fortunately the sort of person who is able to sit very quietly before making 'an extremely perceptive, sharp statement that connects well with everyone'. As a freelance director it is a luxury to have a producer and Anastasia Ryan 'is fantastic'. In fact Yvonne has found herself amongst 'a really cool group of people and especially since the launch there is a strong sense of shared conversations and community around the Festival, which is 'a lovely thing for audiences to share with us all. I hope people will respond to that.'
Hotel Now presents
What’s Yours Is Mine
22 November – 4 December 2016
Poppy Seed Theatre Festival
Photo – Jules Tahan