Wednesday, 04 December 2013 17:15

Tom Sharah: Top Five Childhood Memories

1. Watching 'The Little Mermaid' and the ABC taping of 'Into the Woods' on constant rotation.

2. Putting on fully-costumed one-man shows at my parents' dinner parties.



3. Having a very hard time pronouncing words — avocado was agicado for instance.

4. Singing my heart out to the national anthem at morning school assembly and then being brought up on stage by a teacher to demonstrate to the entire school how it's done. I froze in a nervous panic, and have never sung the song since.

5. Waking up every morning at the crack of dawn to draw pictures of my favourite performers and divas. I had the most impressive collection of coloured Textas and glitter glue.

See Tom Sharah in his cabaret show 'It's Raining Me' at the Brisbane Powerhouse December 5-7.

Published in Cabaret
Wednesday, 04 December 2013 17:10

Zen Zen Zo: Physical Theatre In Preview

With nearly 20 rich years of performance and entertainment at the Old Museum, physical theatre company, Zen Zen Zo will soon be moving to Brisbane Powerhouse.

“We're really excited for the change,” Merlynn Tong of the company's training centre says. “I guess we felt like it was time to grow, and move somewhere different with more artistic and creative minds around us. Brisbane Powerhouse is such a hub of creativity at the moment. The new artistic director Chris Stewart watched a show there and that started the discussion. I'm really excited to be near other artists and I've got an air-conditioned office I'm excited about too,” she laughs.

Any plans for major productions are set aside for the moment, as the company prepares to sift through years of history, and shift it 3km north-west. “We're all quite concentrated on the move, trying to get things together. I'm literally standing in front of 20 years’ worth of costumes and sets and all sorts of things in my office at the moment. There's been a lot of wearing things and playing with the props and it's been lots of fun.”

Now in its 16th year, Zen Zen Zo’s acclaimed training program, ‘Stomping Ground’ will open the new year.  “This is the course that will kick-start the year and we're really excited because we've got international artists from New Zealand, America, Canada and Singapore all flying in to do it. It's such a big celebration to start the year with.”

Now the Training Centre manager, Merlynn originally had the program to thank for her involvement with the company. “It's actually my favourite course of the year and it's how I joined the company. All the training we do — the Suzuki Method, the Viewpoints, the Butoh — it's all meant to create an actor that's full of presence. You would leave the course feeling so focused and so sure of your goals for the year and I think that's just a fantastic way to start the year,” she says. “It's more than actor training — it's a personal transformation as well.”

Aside from 'Stomping Ground', Zen Zen Zo’s interns will share in the spotlight come 2014. “I'm the ‘intern mama’ of the interns. Every weekend they talk about their journey through the internship and I think watching these eight wonderful artists grow and spread their wings over a short time of five months, and knowing that I was part of that journey, was my favourite part of the year.”

Zen Zen Zo has come a long way since its inception with its first, self-titled performance. Now, 20 years will mark another huge milestone. So what keeps this ‘intern mama’ doing what she loves? “It’s power to transform. Emotionally, spiritually, mentally — there's a power of transformation that only live performance can provide and for me, not many other forms can provide that.”

'Stomping Ground' runs from Jan 6-17 at the Brisbane Powerhouse. 

Published in Theatre
Wednesday, 04 December 2013 16:04

Arj Barker: Comedy In Preview

Get ready to laugh because comedian, Arj Barker is back in Australia and will be heading to Brisbane in December to wrap up his latest critically-acclaimed, stand-up show ‘Go Time’.

“It’s mostly a stand-up show — a new stand-up show and it’s just had a great response,” says Arj. “A lot of people have said it’s their favourite show yet, a lot of people who have come back to four or five different shows of mine so I’m relieved that they think I’ve kept the bar high. If you’ve seen me before you can expect to laugh a lot.”

Although reluctant to give too much away, Arj says ‘Go Time’ is both “what audiences expect from me and the last thing they expect from me,” but fans need not worry as it doesn’t mark a break from Barker’s renowned comedy style. “Not at all,” he says, “what I meant was that it’s mostly stand-up comedy and jokes. You know if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s solid material and the kind I like to write, but it also has a little touch of singing and dancing … just at the very beginning, only for two minutes. I don’t think people necessarily expect that from me. Some of the show is observational, some of it’s silly, some of it’s personal, some of it’s philosophical — it’s quite a good mix, you know.”

A regular visitor to our shores, Arj has become known for his witty and off-beat observations on Australian life which he says come from simply spending so much time here as an objective outsider.

“I think it’s like anything: if you spend enough time here you start to notice things and also when you go somewhere else, some things tend to stand out more. So it’s not really that difficult. I’ve been here a lot and I notice more and more things over the years but now it’s almost come full circle where a lot of the things seem normal to me.

“I just live my life and try to pay attention to things and sometimes things stand out by themselves and they beg writing about. I think the research is just being alive — research is essentially the shit that happens in life.”

With his uncanny understanding of Australian culture, wickedly astute observations and a downright hilarious imitation of our accent, it’s no wonder Arj Barker is known as ‘Australia’s favourite American comedian’, a title he wears proudly like a badge of honour.

“Well that’s quite a compliment, there are a lot of American comedians out there and I do feel the support when I tour around and get these amazing audiences. I think Brisbane audiences are some of the best and it’s a nice way to end the tour,” he says.

Barker will spend almost three weeks in Brisbane during December for ‘Go Time’ and hopes to sample all the city has to offer in his downtime. “I’m going to go out a little bit here and there, maybe go to a bar or a club occasionally after the show. I also want to spend some time in the daytime, do some yoga; I might borrow my friend’s X-Box and play some games in my hotel.”

Although he doesn’t consider himself a ‘gamer’ as such, Arj does admit to a penchant for a certain popular first-person shooter. “I’ve been stuck playing ‘Call Of Duty’ for a long time. I keep going back to that multiplayer team death match and just trying to blast some other people … it’s pretty addictive. I also played 'Grand Theft Auto V' but haven’t got very far yet, it takes a lot of time.”

Beyond his stand-up comedy, Arj has also dabbled in television with his own self-produced animated short series, ‘Arj & Poopy’, as well as his work with 'Flight Of The Conchords' and hopes Adam Hills’ recent departure from his television hosting duties frees up some airtime for other comedians.

“It might be a chance for some other of us to host a TV show now that he’s not hosting every goddamn TV show here.”

‘Go Time’ runs from December 3-22 at the Brisbane Powerhouse.

Published in Comedy
Wednesday, 06 November 2013 16:38

2high Festival: Live Review

The summer sun is high in the sky over the Brisbane Powerhouse.

Illma Gore has begun her live art installation out the front and as the doors to the building open, it’s clear a band is playing inside. It all has a shambolic clarity to it and the 2013 2High Festival already looks set for great things.

The venue is awash with all types of different people; indie teenagers sipping beer and smoking cigarettes on the balcony, families milling around with small children thrilled by the sights and sounds, and the artists busily rushing around but always willing to stop for questions or offer any help.

As night falls the audiences grow larger and more involved in the performances. The artists are in high spirits, the musicians fuelled by the audience’s responses, the actors are hitting their cues without fault and everyone speaks with an incredible enthusiasm and warmth for what they do.

2high Festival has a tremendous reputation for exposing some incredible talent and this year has proved again to be absolutely no different.

2high Festival was on at the Brisbane Powerhouse on Nov 2. To view more photos from the festival go to scenestr.com.au

Published in Events Arts
Wednesday, 21 August 2013 16:15

In Vogue: Songs By Madonna

Pop icon Madonna has her songs, life and career dissected, celebrated and reinvented by cabaret star Michael Griffiths ('Jersey Boys', 'Priscilla', 'We Will Rock You').

Where in between songs, the show delves into the life and times of Madonna. There’s the celebrity spats, passionate romances, acting attempts and artistic endeavours such as the infamous 90s coffee table book — everything gets a mention. In between the nostalgia and glamour, this show demonstrates the determination it takes to be an icon.

'In Vogue: Songs by Madonna' is at the Brisbane Powerhouse from Sept 5-7.

Published in Cabaret
Wednesday, 14 August 2013 15:08

Taylor Mac: The Walking Man

Internationally acclaimed cabaret artist, Taylor Mac, is back with his sequin sprinkled, high energy ‘20th Century Concert’. But not before he returns from the US where he’s bunkered down at an exclusive work retreat.

What was your motivation to participate in the retreat?
It's called the Sundance Theatre Lab retreat and it takes place at the Sundance Resort in Utah.  It's essentially for playwrights to workshop new plays and is the Cadillac of retreats in America. I feel pampered, enriched with ideas and art, and my new play ‘The Fre’ is really shaping up as a result of being here.

You perform one song from each decade in ‘20th Century Concert’. What sort of songs are you covering?
The oldest was written in the first decade of the 20th century by Irving Berlin and the youngest is a Tori Amos song written in the 1990s. The concert consists of standards, new age, disco, an agit-prop song, an epic Patti Smith song that's in the tradition of spoken word and punk, and just about everything.

Your costumes are very crazy and edgy. Do you assist with the designs?
I used to design everything I wore, but in the last five years I've been working with the magnificent Machine Dazzle (one of New York's best costume creators). I usually talk to Machine about my concept for the look and then let him go at it. He always surprises and exceeds expectations.

What else can the audience expect from ‘20th Century Songs’?
It's always different every night, because there's so much improv in the show, but the foundation of the show stays the same. We sing songs, make people laugh, challenge their boundaries (in a kind way) and generally make fools of ourselves.

In the early ‘90s you took nine months off from performing and walked across the United States. What inspired that journey?
It was a political walk to spread information about nuclear proliferation. It changed my life and I think, in many ways, showed me what kind of artist, activist, and human being I wanted to be.

Taylor Mac plays the Brisbane Powerhouse Thursday August 15.  

Published in Pop/ Electro
Wednesday, 12 June 2013 02:27

World Press Photo: Snapped

The World Press Photo exhibition is known for its heart-wrenching and breathtaking images. This year’s collection, currently on display at the Brisbane Powerhouse, is no exception.

The 54 winning photographers were narrowed down from more than 5,600 entrants from all over the world. Two Australians are among the winners. New Delhi-based Daniel Berehulak (who’s from Sydney) placed third in the General News category for his series ‘Japan After The Wave’, which captures the devastation of northeastern Japan one year after the March 2011 tsunami. Singapore-based Queenslander Chris McGrath came third in the Sports Action category. His photos ‘London 2012 - An Overview’ give a bird’s-eye view of the action at the 2012 London Olympics. Chris gives us an insight into his own work as well as the other World Press Photo entrants.

How long have you been a photographer?
Sixteen years.

Was it what you always wanted to do?
No, originally I wanted to be a wildlife ranger. I was part of a group of volunteers who looked after injured wildlife and it was during this period that I started thinking about becoming a wildlife photographer; I was about 13 or 14. However, I didn’t do much about it until the last few months of high school when I decided to change direction. I turned down my college position in a natural systems and wildlife management course to become a photographer and everything went from there.

What are the best and worst parts of your job?
The best thing about working for Getty Images is it’s all about pictures. They put a huge emphasis on simply great pictures. So as a photographer we get the freedom to pursue our ideas and freedom to fulfill and explore projects that we want to do. On top of that, I love travelling and that is a major part of my job. Photography has always been something I have done and I am lucky enough to get paid to do it. The worst part of my job I think would have to be the hours you work. I have no roster and can work weeks on end for long hours away from home. It can take its toll on you and it’s not for everyone.

There was some controversy over Paul Hansen’s winning photograph [four grieving men carrying two dead children through the streets in Gaza City] in this year’s competition, with some claiming it was a fake. What are your thoughts on that furore?
This sort of scrutiny happens from time to time during or after the announcement of a big award. The image was checked and studied by independent researchers and by World Press Photo, and the results were that it fell inside the guidelines of what was acceptable toning, and I think that should be enough to put the issue to bed.

Do you alter your images? Where do you draw the line when it comes to retouching etc?
No I do not — in editorial/ photojournalism and transmitting pictures for the news wire, I am bound by photojournalism ethics and at Getty Images we have a strict policy on photo retouching and manipulation. I adhere to the idea of using basic darkroom techniques only — cropping, color correction and darkening and lightning. Working for a wire service means that transmitting pictures quickly is key, sometimes within minutes of an event. I don't have time to spend messing around with the pictures.

Overall do you think the accessibility of photography (digital, smartphones, social media etc.) is a positive or negative thing?
The rise of digital and social media, along with the democratisation of technology, is generally a positive thing. For example, I think the use of visual elements and the volume of imagery being used by online publications is a good thing. However, the freedom with which images can be shared and published around the internet poses potential problems when it comes to the protection of photographers’ copyright and, consequently, the ability for them to be compensated for their work. With the ease of copying and sharing visual content, there is a misconception that images online are free and I think this is a dangerous practice for our industry. For photographers [along with filmmakers, illustrators and musicians], the ability to earn an income from the licensing and distribution of their original content is key to living a creative life, and to sustaining a thriving creative community.

How did you get the bird’s eye view of the Olympics – were you suspended from the roof?
For the London Olympics we were unable to have photographers shoot from the overhead roof angle as we had during previous Olympics. This was due to workplace health and safety restrictions and also because many of the stadium designs had no catwalks. To get around this, Getty Images decided to use robotic remote cameras to shoot overhead images, and formed a team of photographers to work on the design and building of these specialist units, in collaboration with Canon and Camera Corps. My portfolio of pictures from the Olympics was all shot using these robotic remote cameras mounted directly over the field of play. I controlled the cameras remotely via a computer and controller that allowed me to see exactly what the viewfinder was seeing and control all the camera functions. I would shoot and control the camera from a location somewhere in the stadium, sometimes up to a 100 feet away. The cameras were able to move in all directions and zoom in and out, allowing me complete control over the composition and style of photograph I was trying to achieve.
 
Do you have a favourite photograph?
I don’t have one favorite image. Sometimes my favorite images are those that were difficult to shoot. They might not be the most amazing image but they have a good memory/ story behind them and that makes them special for me. In regards to other photographers work, I wouldn't say I have one favorite, it’s more about the series or body of work. There are many great photographers that inspire me: Daido Moriyama, Trent Parke, Jon Lowenstein, and of course James Nachtwey and Sebastian Salgado. The list goes on, far too many to name.

Do you ever think about packing it in and doing weddings?
No, never! I have never shot a wedding, and don’t plan on it!

The World Press Photo Exhibition runs at The Brisbane Powerhouse until Sunday June 23. And it’s free.

Published in Art/ Photography
Talya Rubin knew from an early age knew she wanted to be an actress, and her latest one-woman show will take audiences into the dark unknown.

‘Of The Causes Of Wonderful Things' is the tale of a woman whose five nieces and nephews go missing, and Talya plans to make the audience responsible for what they see.

“Hopefully the show is something that excites audiences. There's a limited audience, we only have room for 40 or so people. We have used a smaller scale because we have the miniatures and so the audience gets to experience the story intimately, which I really like. They get this experience of being involved and implicated in what's happening on stage that they wouldn't get from sitting in a bigger audience.”

Although a one-woman show, Talya says audiences will meet an abundance of characters both alive and dead. “With this play, the changes in character are subtle. There's not a wild transformation, I stay in the same costume, and it's more vocal and somewhat gestural than anything. It's about inhabiting characters, more than transforming in some kind of  amazing way before people’s eyes. It might sound strange, but all these different characters inhabit me, they're all from the same source. There's also puppets. There's a papier mache donkey puppet, and a puppet playing the role of the evil boyfriend, which I found at a local market and had to have.” 

After touring with her original solo plays 'Ariadne's Thread' and 'The Girl With No Thread,' Talya's latest play takes a step towards the dark side of the stage.
“The thing about the show is that even though it's dark, it definitely has a lot of redemptive qualities to it. It's about the redemptive power of darkness, and in the end it's really about characters changing because of a terrible event.

“The show's got some comedy too. It's got a lot of lightness and it is not like a deep dark show that I get really depressed doing. Plus if the show hits the right note with the audience, it's meant to be dark and strange but feel right. I didn’t set out to do a show that was dark and depressing, but I think it really works.”

Particular about where she directs her creative energy, Talya says the inspiration for her latest show struck her out of the blue, and wouldn't let her forget about it.

“Well this particular show was a bit unusual in that inspiration happened whilst I was in an improvisation class. I was doing as workshop with fellow artists who teach each other different skills, and this workshop was a 'devising' workshop where we worked with different objects around the room.

“Basically all the characters for the show emerged from this one class along with the basic concept without really even understanding what it was at the time. So the bones of it all emerged through improvisation and it wouldn’t leave me alone. I only make work if I think the material is significant enough, and this was something that was not quite haunting me, but it wouldn't let me go.”

See 'Of The Causes Of Wonderful Things' at The Brisbane Powerhouse May 1-4


Published in Theatre
Wednesday, 25 May 2011 13:57

Faustus

Theatre in Preview

Doctor Faustus, an elderly scholar, tires of knowing only academic knowledge and makes a pact with the devil. He wants to really experience life, and he’ll sell his soul to do it. Lucifer agrees. Faustus will be made young again for 24 years, during which time he can do whatever he likes, but at the end of it he will go to hell and be damned for all eternity.

The story has a rich history, originating in old German folklore. It was extremely popular in the 16th century, when it was often told in puppet shows, and you can find echoes of it everywhere from ‘The Strange Tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ to ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ right through to 'The Simpsons'.  The two best known versions are Marlowe’s play, ‘Doctor Faustus’ and Goethe’s opera, ‘Faust’. In this production, director and writer Michael Gow has combined elements from both these, along with poetry written around the themes of redemption and heaven and hell, plus parts of the bible. The religious undertones of the play are clear when you think of the serpent tempting Eve to eat the forbidden fruit of knowledge. Ah, symbolism.

As well as youth, Faustus gains new powers. He can conjure up the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Troy, or meet Alexander the Great (anyone who saw Gow’s ‘Toy Symphony’ may be reminded of that fantastical world). Like many men before him, Faustus is quickly corrupted by his new power. In the words of Jason Klarwein who plays Lucifer, “Faustus becomes lascivious and goes down a path of damnation in this rock star kind of way.” It could have been my imagination but it appeared like Jason’s eyes just glinted with something a little too much like envy.

While the story is rich and engrossing enough, this production has even more to offer. Jason describes the set as “a cross between an Elizabethan theatre and some sort of torture device”, (there’s that glint again). “It’s about creating illusions that are very attractive, through this infernal stage-machine,” he explains. He also promises amazing AV, a German lied, wacky masks and, yes, even a little bit of death metal (can I see horns starting to grow?).

John Bell is another attraction and I saw him in a show a few years back (‘Anatomy Titus’). Two guys were having a massive fight and John was leaning against a wall watching them. He has such a presence that I found myself watching him just being still rather than the action.  The idea that in ‘Faustus’ he plays Mephistopheles, a demon who Jason says is “basically a used car salesman”, has me tickled pink.

These demons love taking other guises, and Jason gets to play many roles. “I play the Pope, a megalomaniac emperor who is secretly in love with Alexander the Great, a very boring scholar who wants to see Helen of Troy, and Valentine, Gretchen’s brother,” (Gretchen is a schoolgirl Faustus gets lascivious with). However, it’s the part of Lucifer that’s been the trickiest. “Well, how do you play the devil?” Jason muses. “Is the devil a charming person? Or is he kind of a ratbag? The way I see it, the devil is a very proud person. His sin was pride. He’s an upstart who decided he would take on the order of things.”

And where does making such ‘sinful’ choices as Faustus did, leave you as a human being? In Goethe’s opera, he is redeemed and goes to heaven. In Marlowe’s play the unfortunate (I love that ‘faustus’ means lucky in Latin) man winds up in hell. And in Gow’s adaptation? “Oh, I’m not going to give that away,” laughs Jason (and it’s a laugh worthy of Tim Curry at his most evil). “Once you think the play’s one thing, it changes into another. One style shifts into another. Once you get a grapple on it, it transforms in front of your eyes. It ends up in a dark, empty place, but the ride is amazing,” (definite horns now, and perhaps the beginning of a tail).

“Ultimately, it’s a tragedy. But like all good tragedy, it has elements of comedy. You need the pathos,” (his Darkness has risen!). “Basically it’s a kooky play about going to hell.” And with a swish of cape, a clack of cloven feet and a superfluously theatrical puff of smoke, Jason is off to rehearsal.

‘Faustus’ plays at the Brisbane Powerhouse from May 30 to June 25.

Published in Theatre
Wednesday, 25 November 2009 14:45

Donne Interview

Is Donne, Is Good

The second act of any play is usually the darkest. 'Act II' - the second of two EPs released this year by Donné, ‘Sydney's first lady of noir soul’ - doesn't disappoint in that department.
“I guess when I was growing up I had some pretty intense and horrible experiences around me,” explains the young phenom, “and I couldn't ignore those darker depths of emotion. Music is my way to deal with that, you know? It's like a kind of therapy, because otherwise I'd probably be locked in a psych ward.”

Donné can channel her darker side to deliver performances of such raw power and emotion that attempts to compare her with other artists seem almost superfluous (though names like Shirley Bassey, Dusty Springfield, Amy Winehouse and Cat Power have been thrown around).

Her voice retains its singular quality throughout 'Act I' and 'Act II' - which makes sense, given they were recorded at the same time. â€œWe actually recorded the 12 tracks at the same time, and then just split up the releases … working with (producer) Tony Buchen is amazing; he's very intense. You just get taken on this wild ride through compressed time. We only had three days of pre-production, and then we had a total of four days to record.
“I prefer the compressed method, because I tend to be one of those 'last minute' people. Nothing happens until the very last minute, and then I somehow have this massive reserve of shit to spew out. Even if I had three years to record, I'd probably travel for two and a half years, just collecting experiences and throwing myself on emotional rollercoasters, and then vomit it all out in a couple of days.”

As you can probably tell from her tendency to procrastinate, Donné is no stranger to tertiary education. She studied jazz at the prestigious Sydney Conservatorium, which wasn't necessarily the ideal institution for someone with her unique talents. â€œI went out of my mind,” she laughs.
“Once a week you had to watch performances, and I would literally be kicking walls and beating my fist going, 'this is fucked! Fucking show me something! I don't care how many notes you can play in a second! It doesn't mean shit!'
There's incredible discipline with the musicians there, and there's a lot of talent, but I think it's very easy to become obsessed with technical aspects of it. It's like a Sudoku addiction or something. So, yeah, my frustration was pretty high on the Richter scale.”

Donne plays the Brisbane Powerhouse on Friday December 4. 'Act II' is available now via www.donne.com.au

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