Retrospective

New Web Site, thanks Geoff and Matt. And here we go, quick summary: close to thirty years of Nuworks and three at our new home Mills Street Warehouse which we share with Issie and Ben. It's been quite an amazing journey as the 'arts hub' morphs and changes and Nuworks continues to evolve. We've been very successful so far measured by a number of terrific shows, some brand new and others adaptations of Shakespeare.

When I make any comment from here on please understand that even when I use the dreaded word "I" it is imbued with the spirit, the sweat, the good faith, the incredible loyalty, the talent, the discipline, the commitment, the friendship of Jen, Pete and Lydia and the boys and Nick and Jenn and the twins and of course Russ, my long time musical guru who's having a well earned sabbatical and will hopefully rejoin us soon.They are the backbone of Nuworks. They inspire me, they helped shape Meg, she has watched them and learned from them since she was five years of age, She's now at the VCA and has much to thank them for. Along the way, people have come and gone, some to distant lands, Kelly and Holger, others consumed by different fires and some from fallings out, misunderstandings, poor communication all ways around. I regret the latter but I don't dwell on any of it. It's a part of the fabric. I understand that when you're the person making the decisions, others may not like the decisions you're making, that's life. I hold to certain values but that doesn't make me right. I see Nuworks as special and; an amateur theatre company with a difference, with a few differences actually, defined by the type of shows we do, who we involve in them and how we present them. There is no judgement here about good or bad. We aspire to be as good as we can be. We celebrate an art form called theatre and we don't want to be compared with anyone else. Yes, we've been involved in a good many festivals where we have been judged with others. The thing about this is that the festivals were fun; community events run by terrific people at Ararat, Ballarat and Foster in particular. We were often the recipients of numerous awards and we appreciated these and the cash prizes along with the comments made, mostly by professional adjudicators. We appreciated those because they were from people we trusted to know, people like Sir George Fairfax and Bruce Myles.

Nuworks creates as opposed to re creating while acknowledging that we are open to being influenced by anything worthy of admiration. We keep a keen eye on developments in theatre around the world.

One More War kicked off a new, more collaborative approach to production. It wasn't without challenges of all kinds but it was a learning experience and there is a great deal to reflect on with pride. Robot Child were awesome but to be honest, we suffered somewhat from a lack of a consistent vision. Somewhere along the road Jeff and I didn't exactly see eye to eye and those differences of opinion were left unresolved although they were in retrospect a reflection of the magnitude of the undertaking. We had an album that the band was justifiably proud of and it must have been difficult to witness it being chopped up, reordered and the songs divided up between the various characters. I thought at the time and still do today that Jeff's vision was in cinema and mine in live theatre, a juxtaposition between what is possible in cinema and what is possible on the stage. That's the thing with collaboration I suppose, it can get tricky. Still I watch the video and there's thankfully much satisfaction, I think we did the best we could do with the resources at our disposal and the limitations of Mills Street as a venue. That 'show' is potentially huge and maybe one day Jeff will realise that potential elsewhere. Of one thing I'm certain, the performances can't be faulted, that's Jeff and Mark and Pete, Jess and Bindy, everyone in fact without wishing to please anyone in particular. So onward.

I loved the Shakespeare season, On much safer ground here, probably because at heart I like everything my own way: one very clear vision, my own!. Having said that, you still have to sell it to the cast and they have to buy into it. Thankfully they did. There were brilliant performances in each of the plays, Marc and Annabelle, superb Macbeths, Maithri, Nick, Jenn and Russ in Caesar and Pete and Meg in Tempest. The ensembles were all wonderful, simply delightful to direct.

Scary Monsters, like the earlier The Kids are Alright was terrific, nothing to dislike in either and everything to admire. What a brilliant group of young people! No more to be said. Yes, something to be added...Owen, what a talent in so many ways.

The Roaring Girl Ahhh! So I'm not impervious to collaboration after all! This was perfection, a vision shared by a number of brave stakeholders, Mark, Bindy, Katie and Paul and a beautiful cast and on we went, a huge stepping stone because it led directly, inevitably to Hellkatz and by now Lydia had become a shining light. Too long a 'sleeping partner', she came into her own with incredible costumes. Jann would always be a hard act to follow, Lydia followed with similar creative style. Roaring Girl was a complete re write of the Becker / Middleton Restoration comedy. I saw it with Pete and Callum at the RSC. It was beautifully performed and presented but oh so convoluted and only dealt with the protagonist up to her early twenties when in fact Mary Frith did not come into her own until much later. I researched this with a passion, a cross dressing, smoking, fighting anti hero who didn't give a toss for men and a man's world. She wrote her own rule book and lived a very long life dedicated to it. Along the dramaturgical road, I came across Anne Bonny and Mary Reade, cross dressing female pirates with a great story of unbelievable coincidence. Hellcats could wait, Mary Frith demanded strict and unlimited attention. Call Mark Howard, Bindy and Kate! Game on...great cast and a wonderful season even if we only had 14 in the opening night audience. Disappointing yes but then the season exploded and we could have run for another few nights. Lesson here, don't leave it too late to book, or you miss out!

Mother Courage: This began with a strong statement of intent delivered to the cast. I wasn't remotely interested in anything other than following my own instinct. The thing here was that I was staging a piece of Epic Theatre based in certain fundamental principles. I've studied and taught these for close to forty years and I couldn't trust that the cast shared that accumulated knowledge, I could explain as we went along but still the cast needed to trust in the journey we were taking. Fortunately, we had a tour de force in Jenn, a consummate Courage and an ensemble up for the challenge. One episode I won't forget, was the woman from the Melbourne Polish Theatre Group who was incensed. With great passion she accused me of 'butchering Brecht"! She hated the music, complaining that the band was too loud, she couldn't hear the words. Now you might think this bothered me, actually it didn't remotely, other than I don't like to reflect on having upset anyone. All I can say is, I seriously loved the show with the exception of placing myself in the band. I suspect my guitar playing and volume were at fault.

A Mills Street Warehouse Night: Nothing quite like it with the wine and coffee flowing and the animated convivial conversation...a real buzz of excitement and expectation, great shows and we've had so many of them. And afterwards having to 'kick' the punters out because it's getting late and there's work to go to in the morning. Fantastic! I'd be a liar if I said it wasn't stressful at times but it's also a haven and a sanctuary and a labour of family love. Not just for me but for Jen and Meg. We take great family pride in our shared home away from home with Issie and Ben. Can't wait to see their first show rumoured to be taking place in September.

Hellkatz: As sheer entertainment, it doesn't get any better as far as I'm concerned, simply a joy to put together and again very much a collaborative effort. It's a glorious romp with terrific songs mostly by Mark. Loved every minute of rehearsal and performance, a sold out season and again we could easily have done a few more shows. We'll probably bring the show back later this year for all those who couldn't get tickets.

Romeo and Juliet: Meg's and Freya's last Nuworks shows as they head off to Drama school and an exciting present and future. Great cast with terrific choreography from Kate, Bindy, Meg and Emily. Awesome band rocking out at the end of each show. Thanks to Pat and Daniel, super guitarists. Yet again a terrific sold out set of performances and a show that I'm keen to bring back soon.

Snow White, an unexpected gem really. I wrote the adaptation in a day and the songs with Lydia and Pete over the Christmas holidays in between Electra writing sessions. Hadn't realised how superbly it would turn out and how it will serve us well overseas in September. Tayla fell into the wicked Queen role with delicious ease and the rest of the tour party slipped effortlessly into the traditional roles.

Nuworks Electra began eight years ago with a small production bound for Ararat and Ballarat One Act Play Festivals. My rewrite of Euripides original began with a play within a play. The actors arrive for rehearsal with a few small props and buckets of blood (red paint) They discuss what the play is about: a didactic piece written over 2,500 years ago designed to alert the Ancient Greek audience to the ‘irrationality of the human spirit’. The actors make the point that the intention would seem to be a dismal failure given the current state of the world. So why bother? Because we have to keep on going…….

I worked on Antigone last year, a very successful production at school and saw it as the main Nuworks piece for this year. Then I came up with the notion of staging two of the Greek plays side by side, Antigone and a reworking of Electra. The season would be called ‘The Greeks’. So I reached for the Electra text. It had served us well at the festivals winning a number of awards with very favourable comments from the adjudicators. I really like the opening scene with the acting ensemble discussing the play but I’d written a song and it wasn’t compatible. In fact, the song was not intended for Electra. I wrote it for my own rock version of Sweeney Todd. It was Todd explaining how he felt in exile in New South Wales and how he had to face the dreaded voyage back to England. I didn’t get terribly far with the text giving in to the pressing thought that the story had probably been told well enough by others. Still, the song lingered with its perilous water journey. I liked the Epic nature of the melody and lyric, in the style of Nick Cave. I’m a big admirer of Nick Cave. I see and hear in him a contemporary Brecht. I love his Mac the Knife and then how they have used Nick Cave’s music in Peaky Blinders. So there’s lots of influences in play already, mostly dark and they have currently found their way into the new production of Electra.

Mark and I had a wonderful collaboration in Hellkatz for which I wrote the text and he, most of the songs. I thought we’d probably head down that road again. Bindy would definitely be involved. She’d said before having the baby not to forget her.

I began working on the text, researching the tale which led here there and everywhere.

It was intriguing as one part of the legend connected to another and I wanted to put as much of this into the new play as possible. I was simply unaware of much of the contents when I’d worked on the earlier version. For Example, the whole Iphegenia story and much of Agamemnon’s exploits. All of this and more would become the driving force a little later in the collaborative process.

For then, the structure of the piece would be narrative interspersed with songs. The songs would be in a particular style with which Mark and I identified. It was the summer school vacation now and there was lots of time to spend on the music. I forged ahead writing and recording a number of songs. In particular I still had this notion of a dangerous water crossing in my head, not just danger from the elements but something deeper than that. If it was for Sweeney Todd, it would have been all of the apprehension that Todd felt about returning to England and what lay in store for him, if he survived the storms and giant waves. Remember, he was a convict and now a free man but not permitted to return to the ‘Old Dart’ under threat of death should he be discovered. Then there was the driving revenge that meant he would dare all. He would find Judge Turpin and certainly slay him. Justice would be served.

Juxtapose that with Orestes set of circumstances. He’s sent from Argos by his mother Clytemnestra and her lover into exile. Later, he’s visited by an oracle from Apollo who tells him to return to his home and take revenge for the wrongs done to him which include the murder of his father. Justice would be served. It’s a journey fraught with danger. It would all fit very nicely with the Todd song; just a change in lyric needed. Ironically, that song which I considered integral to everything isn’t in the piece. It became redundant when I wrote The Boatman’s Song. It was very Nick Cave, I think, inspired by the likes of Where the Wild Roses Grow and Henry Lee, simple chords and melody, A minor, D minor F major 7.

Bindy, Mark, Pete, Lydia and I formed a team to collaborate on the songs. Mark’s first contributions were Row on to Argos, The Furies and Nothing Changes. Then Mark disappeared to the NSW north coast for a few weeks holiday with the family. We kept going with Pete and Lydia making suggestions, adding nuances up to the point where I suggested Stuart be invited to contribute. I had no idea what his strengths would be but I felt he would enjoy and benefit personally from the experience. At that point in time he was a part of the Romeo and Juliet ensemble, back in the Nuworks family after a lengthy absence. Stu decided to drop the acting for writing duties and so the collaborative team was finalized. Things progressed and morphed quickly. I’d been listening to the Hamilton sound track and was fascinated, first at how I changed my opinion about Rap and Hip Hop and also about how these forms could be so successfully integrated into storytelling. I had already experimented with beats from Logic and used some of these in my recordings. I also used this device in Snow White which I was adapting at the same time as developing Electra.

So, Electra would be a fairly traditional poetic text with Nick Cave type songs overlaid with Hamilton influence!

There's always a tension when collaborating. Sometimes it's very positive and at others, less so. Stu decided that, for personal reasons, he could't continue and we had to accept that and move on. It meant taking a few things out, some reworking and on we went.

My first rewrite of Bitch on Heat was awful. Dogs of War wasn’t much better. I considered stopping, if only for an instant. I’ve always believed that doors close only for others to open.

So. Pete P comes to see me. He’s a little concerned. All of this recording and we’re not using his studio, his expertise! Why is he being left out in the cold? I tell him it’s an issue of payment, I haven’t any money. He looks at me bemused…he doesn’t want money, he wants to be a part of the creative process of whatever it is we’re cooking up! It’s an offer way to good to refuse and so we lay down some new tracks for ‘Bitch’ and ‘Dogs of War’. I listen back but I’m unconvinced. The following day I see Pete about lunchtime, he’s been mixing away since I left him. He asks if I want to hear what he’s been working on. I say sure but I’m not expecting anything that will change my mind.

It’s awesome, not finished but oh so on the right track. I’m rejuvenated, can’t wait to discuss with the others. We all feel the same way and so the lengthy process of arrangement began. Lydia takes the lead here and layers idea after idea building the pallet that defines the mood and atmosphere. There’s cello, other strings and brass. We’re moving forward in a chorus of agreement, Pete doing all he can to get up to speed with the story, the characters, the direction. It’s he and Lydia, seeing musical eye to eye. It’s great just observing and listening and occasionally adding a little acoustic guitar.

The test was going to be what Mark thought. He was coming in all day for the next session. He loves what’s been done, can’t believe how quickly its happened and then, shirt sleeves rolled, he’s into it laying down the new Argos with acoustic and electric guitars. His guitar wails through Wretched Soul and he adds to Bitch on Heat. Then it all has to be mixed before we share it with Bindy and the Ensemble on Wednesday night. The Acid Test. Is it as good as we think. The short answer…YES. Everyone is inspired. Bindy loves it and now we’re rehearsing with the tracks and its all falling into place. Marc and Jenn work with me. We show the cast their first scene, its great, full of risk and daring, the scene catches up on the suggestiveness of the choreography in Bitch. And on we go and the rehearsal ends and I think we have a new beginning.


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