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22 June 1:24 pm

A Note from Lee, 22 June

It’s the end of the financial year. Please donate to Griffin. Help us make new Australian plays. Help us find new classics that speak to us now, in our own voice, about things that matter to us all deeply.
 
There, I’ve said it. It’s really hard to ask you for more money. You all support us so much, and we pride ourselves in being a really lean company that puts most of our money into artists. We are small but we do huge things. We pride ourselves on continuing to punch above our weight. But all that fight means it’s hard to admit how vulnerable we are financially. Donations make a huge difference at Griffin. A small amount is significant to us and a large amount is significant to the history of Australian playwriting.
 
There is an independent show on at Griffin at the moment called Sunset Strip written by Suzie Miller. It could have been in our Main Season but with the Brandis cuts, we were only able to produce four plays not five. Fortunately for Suzie, the team have been willing to produce it independently so she can see the work onstage speaking to an audience. These artists are doing it because of the power of Suzie’s writing and because they believe in the work. Please help us to ensure that plays like this don’t slip through the cracks. Please help us to ensure we support more playwrights, more actors, more directors, designers and stage managers.
 
Because Australian voices matter. Australian plays matter to you — you tell me that in your letters, your emails and our foyer conversations. The plays matter to the whole country. And I believe they matter to the whole world. There are plays being written in Australia right now that will offer a uniquely Australian perspective on the chaos of our current world. There is a great play about the medication of children that we urgently need to see; there is a heartbreaking work about the housing crisis; there is an extraordinary work about Australian soldiers fighting in overseas conflicts that has the potential to really question our narratives around the armed forces. There are many more. None of them will change the world unless we get them on to the stage. Help us do that.

8 June 1:10 pm

ATYP @ Griffin

Griffin Theatre Company will open its Stable doors to Australia’s national youth theatre company Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) to be the host venue for ATYP’s 2018 performance season in Sydney.

Both Griffin and ATYP share a commitment to nurturing new Australian work and introducing new voices and performers to the stage, making this partnership an exciting opportunity for both companies to work together and see how the other develops, produces and presents work. It will also be a unique opportunity for the audiences to experience the work of both theatres in the one venue.

The residency has come about due to the rejuvenation of the Walsh Bay Arts Precinct commencing late 2017, which will see ATYP gain a new state-of-the-art venue on Pier 2/3 in 2019. However, while renovations take place, ATYP must close its current theatre at the end of the year.

Griffin Theatre Company is committed to creating an avenue for the work of this dynamic youth company to continue uninterrupted and is delighted to announce this eight-week residency at the SBW Stables theatre across 2018 ensuring ATYP can produce its Sydney performance season.

ATYP exists to connect young people with the professional theatre industry. For Griffin’s Artistic Director, Lee Lewis, “the young artists of today will be the national storytellers of tomorrow.” She adds “this new collaboration ensures that we continue to nurture the next generation of Australian voices while providing these artists with the opportunity to present work in a professional environment.”

Fraser Corfield, ATYP’s Artistic Director has enormous respect for Griffin Theatre Company and looks forward to the residency. “Griffin is Australia’s home of new playwriting. It’s a company and space that specialises in nurturing new ideas and the artists that generate them. ATYP is very excited to be able to connect our young artists with this inspiring company as we transition to our new home. It is the most natural partnership and meeting of minds.”

ATYP @ GRIFFIN comprises eight weeks across 2018: three weeks in January and February; three weeks in May; and two weeks in October. This residency will replace Griffin’s Independent season in 2018. The Company will, however, continue to provide opportunities and access for artists through its Main Season, Special Events, commissions and several new artist initiatives to be announced in late 2017.

Tickets to ATYP performances at Griffin will go on sale when Griffin launches its full 2018 season on 28 August 2017.

Griffin acknowledges the generosity of the Seaborn, Broughton and Walford Foundation in allowing it the use of the SBW Stables Theatre rent free, less outgoings, since 1986.

Griffin Theatre Company and ATYP are assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body; and the NSW Government through Create NSW.

Download the Media Release here

 

11:52 am

A Note from Lee, 8 June

Partnerships and possibilities. That’s where my brain is this week.
 
- I am watching a great partnership develop in the rehearsal room between Kristy Best and Hsiao-Ling Tang as we work on Michele Lee’s play Rice under the Queensland Theatre roof. When you only have two actors on stage, their creative relationship is incredibly important for the health of the play. Cross your fingers…things are going really well so far!
 
- Griffin and ATYP will be under the same SBW Stables roof next year! ATYP theatre at Wharf 4 is shutdown for construction next year so the ATYP young artists will have a performance home with us.
 
- The winner of the 2017 Griffin Award was announced to a full house of new-play lovers on Sunday afternoon. It is the 20th year of the award. And it is the most important event in our year. It is the way we find the best new plays in the country. The award is supported by the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund. BUT do you believe we do not have a major sponsor for the award? I am looking for a person or a company to name the award. Friends, I need your help. Think. Who would be a great sponsor for the Griffin Award? Who would like to see their name, their family name or their company name on this prestigious prize? We need $20,000 a year to secure the future of the award. That will mean the winning playwright will receive a prize of $15,000. That’s the help we need to keep encouraging playwrights to send us their best new plays. Every person who reads to the end of my newsletters is a partner in the enterprise of making new Australian plays. So, partners — think of the possibilities, and help me find a sponsor. In all your spare time! If you are interested in knowing more or have some ideas give us a call at the Griffin office — we would love to talk to you.
 
I look forward to seeing you in the foyer soon.

Love,
Lee

Artistic Director
Lee Lewis

1 June 10:57 am

A Note from Suzie Miller

As Sunset Strip rehearsals continue, playwright Suzie Miller discusses the play’s themes, her motivations in writing it and the thrill of watching it take shape under Anthony Skuse’s direction.

I lost a beloved aunt from breast cancer when I was 10 years old. It was not spoken about much, a tragedy that my father’s family suffered terribly over but somehow it wasn’t talked about. It frightened me, all the silence around it. Since that time I have lived with so many of my loved ones being touched by breast cancer — friends, family, colleagues, extended family, school mates, uni and law buddies, parents of my children’s friends and more. I have sat in chemo rooms and by hospital beds, had some life-changing conversations, tears and bizarrely enough some incredible laughs. I wanted to write a play that somehow reflected that living and dealing with cancer is all about us and that we just take it on board, fight the awfulness of the process, and embrace the human insights that it brings. It is predominantly a disease that touches women, but so too does it touch all those who love those women, and of course like most things in life, we don’t have a manual for how to deal with it.

I especially wanted to write a play that had two strong women characters up front and centre; they are the main story of this play. I make no apologies for the very female nature of the storytelling — how women talk, relate and move through life. Indeed I fully embrace and celebrate it. Historically playwrights do not put women as the main protagonists in their work, often without realising it. Research has shown that if you do, it is harder to have the play programmed, the gatekeepers are often men who do not relate as well to the women characters, and so these particularly female experiences do not grace the stages. There is a unique humour about women together, the way we laugh and love and get angry all at the same time. But the male characters in this play are also fundamental to the telling of the story. Everyone in Sunset Strip is confronting their fears. 

Sunset Strip is also about family and how we are all so imperfect yet strangely imperfect in our own vulnerable and unique ways. I wanted to write a play that works on all stages — both large and small — and that spoke to all of us living our busy lives. That the play in its premier season is on at Griffin, so intimate, so real, so filled with hope for the future of Australian theatre, felt fitting and in keeping with the themes.

Anthony Skuse and I forged a creative relationship when Griffin partnered us up for my play Caress/Ache in 2015. He is a gentleman of sincere proportions, a delight to work with; I have been privy to this man’s wisdom, humour, fierce intelligence, theatrical talents and commitment to the work. Emma Jackson has played in many of my early works, including my first foray to the Sydney Opera House and a show we took to Edinburgh. She remains something of a muse for me and again she nails it. The other actors I am working with for the first time. Georgina Symes carries a humanity in her work that layers her character with so much that is real; Simon Lyndon takes his character of Teddy and lights up the stage; and Lex Marinos, well just having him in the room is enough, but his clarity and protection of his own character, a frail father losing his grip on reality, takes centre stage when we least expect it. I have watched as the actors have embodied these characters in a manner that has just blown my mind. They have found vulnerabilities, love, anger, faults, strengths, crazy humour and ultimately hope.

Human beings are remarkable at finding hope in the hardest and most unlikely places. Strangely it is this mixture of hope and horror that drew me to the world of this play. Because in being lost, ill, getting old, having cancer, melting down or screwing up — we are at our most human, and sometimes that’s the place where the best laughs are. 

Sunset Strip is on at the Stables from 14 June – 1 July

Get tickets

26 May 12:41 pm

Q & A with Jennifer Wong

Comedian Jennifer Wong is taking part in GRIFFIN SCRATCH – an adventurous experiment wherein we take 6 writers, comedy brains and theatre makers and lock them away together to write for a week, brewing up ideas that will be presented by a team of actors this Sunday at 5pm to a curious crowd (there’s still tickets, get them here.)

We let Jen out of the writer’s room – briefly – for some fresh air and to answer a quick Q&A. 

My autobiography would be called…

“I’m As Surprised As You Are That I Wrote This (My Autobiography)”

My advice for young and emerging Australian writers?

Find your own way. Mistakes are good. Take notes. 

The first thing I ever wrote was…

A story about how a fourth-grade teacher at our school (who’d had a small part in Strictly Ballroom in real life) was actually Elvis Presley. 

You can see me in…

How to English Harder at Belvoir St Downstairs on Saturday 24 June at 8:15pm, in Sydney after 11 sold-out shows at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

 

Jennifer Wong is a comedian from Sydney. With her love of language and wordplay, she’s written for Good News Week, presented Bookish on ABC iview, and performed at comedy and arts festivals in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and Edinburgh. Off the comedy stage, she’s appeared in the second series of Plonk, and was a writer/performer in the sold-out The Serpent’s Table at Sydney Festival (a Contemporary Asian Australian Performance and Griffin Theatre co-production). Jennifer is a regular guest on ABC Sydney’s Thank God It’s Friday, and her latest show How to English Harder is on at Belvoir St Downstairs on Saturday 24th June. 

25 May 5:22 pm

On tour with: Christian from Roald Dahl’s ‘The Witches’

It feels like only yesterday we were learning the ways of The Witches back in Sydney, and yet, we are already as well seasoned as a delicious Green Pea Soup… 

Our journey began in Townsville, Queensland. We were met with ominous clouds and something wicked loomed in the air…The witches sensed our presence…but we were not deterred. My companion, Sam and I moved swiftly into the Riverway Arts Centre and, through rain and wind, we successfully warned the people, and saved the children from a monstrous fate. 

The next day, the cursed weather had lifted (our warnings clearly heard) and our trek down to Gladstone was clear. There, eager faces awaited us. The little boys and girls shrieked and laughed as we shared our story of courage, curses and mice and once again, all were saved. 

It seems our work is being thoroughly enjoyed. The people are wondrous, the applause is electric and I’m sure we will have more great success as our journey continues south. Next stop, Caloundra…

Love ,
Christian 

Christian Charisiou, Actor, Roald Dahl’s The Witches (2017 Regional Tour)

12:21 pm

A Note from Lee, 25 May

Hello from beautiful Brisbane. I am ensconced in the rehearsal rooms of Queensland Theatre working on Michele Lee’s play Rice. Her play won the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award 2016-2017, and it is a real joy to be bringing it to the stage. The playwright spotters among you may remember that Griffin first met Michele in StoryLab in 2013, a playwright development program supported by the The Girgensohn Foundation – five years later she is making her mainstage debut with Rice, first up here in Brisbane and then on the Stables stage.

While I am dissecting the complex relationship between an ‘Indian princess’ and her ‘Chinese cleaner’ (their insults, not my observations!), in Sydney you have a chance to look back and experience one of the foundation plays of Australian theatre in Patrick White’s The Ham Funeral directed by Kate Gaul. For those of you who prefer looking forward, our current development program, Griffin Studio, is having a showing of some new comedic writing on Sunday with Griffin Scratch. All while we are putting together the 2018 Season. GO you good thing, GO!

It is awesome being back in a building with Sam Strong, and there is no doubt that the legendary Queensland sunshine is warm, golden and welcome. But I am really looking forward to seeing a new play move between two cities. The conversation between Melbourne and Sydney audiences about The Homosexuals was awesome, and I can’t wait to see Brisbane and Sydney engage with Michele Lee’s observations about women, ambition, opportunity and courage. Her words have been inspiring great conversations in the rehearsal room and no doubt will continue to do so when they reach out into the world in performance.

Stay warm,
Lee

 

8 May 1:49 pm

A Note from the Director, Kate Gaul on The Ham Funeral


The subject of The Ham Funeral is not so much a funeral as a birth, the birth of a poet. We follow the Young Man’s journey through crises of intimidation and self-doubt, from the “great, damp, crumbling house” in which he hides, out into a world of compassion and responsibilityts tone ranges widely from disgust and pity, comedy and pathos, to brutality and tenderness. It’s also an autobiographical allegory of Patrick White’s struggle to break free from the ties that bound him to his mother, the country of his birth, his friends and lovers, possessions and obligations, indeed any nets beyond which he, as an artist, was hoping to fly.

The play struggled to be produced. In 1961 the Adelaide festival Governors reported:

 It is an abstract type of play which the general public will find difficult, and impossible to understand. Its complexity will limit its appeal to a few high intellectuals and even they would find it difficult to interpret the so-called psychological aspects of the play.

It’s no wonder the Festival governors struggled to pigeonhole the play: it doesn’t have a linear story-line, it doesn’t develop with a narrative logic, most of the characters do not have sustained psychological depth, and it doesn’t have a consistent style.

Neil Armfield described the world of White’s theatre as a kind of “vaudeville puppet stage… a magical circus”. The Young Man in The Ham Funeral is not only our protagonist, but also a kind of stage manager/chorus/puppeteer, even referring to the libidinous Alma Lusty as, “That poor Judy they’re bashing in the basement”.

White had what he called a “weakness for the music hall” and that ‘weakness’ is amply celebrated in the anti-naturalistic tragical farce that is The Ham Funeral.  The theatre, he realized, could combine symbolist intentions with psychological depth and great visual imagination, offering him tremendous scope. This liberated him from the technical and linguistic weights of naturalism. This still feels new and innovative today and young artists, theatre makers and audiences of all ages are challenged and inspired by White’s daring in its search for a vernacular lyricism reaching beyond the prescriptively confining four walls of Australian social realism. This production will remind us of the lexicon of theatrical possibility.

Patrick White’s play is rarely produced in Australia – large, unwieldy, stylistically challenging – one of the most intriguingly original plays in Australian theatre history. Geoffrey Dutton, summing up the immediate impact of the play’s production, said: “Perhaps there was among the audience the thought that a reactionary Establishment was being beaten on its own ground, that the evening was going to be a triumph of the imagination over mediocrity. So it was.”

White’s play shows a writer constantly exploring and pushing at the limits of his form. He is highly aware of the several languages of theatre, of how visuals and performance reinforce and complicate the meanings of speech, of the metaphor of the stage. He has a novelist’s gift for character, and, crucially, a poet’s ear for the sensuous properties of language.

The meta-theatricality and excess of his dramaturgy in the past caused puzzlement or hostility, and there is criticism around its  “literariness” — as if lyrical writing is somehow mutually exclusive to theatre. And yet it’s those very qualities that make this work exciting now to a generation of theatre makers who have never encountered the play and to seasoned audiences now hungry for innovation.

Producing this play for the stage deepens and extends our understanding of subversive theatrical form and tests our compositional skills as we create a theatre of philosophical tragi-comedy, grounded in physical expression. It is true that working on the most difficult material advances ones abilities and understanding of craft. Patrick White’s plays are an unwritten bench mark against which Australian theatre artists want to try their luck.

Our production of The Ham Funeral may have been written in London in 1947, anticipating the later plays of Ionesco and Beckett, but its idiom, its humour and its audacity are deeply and indefinably Australian. Positioned as it is amongst Griffin Theatre Company’s annual program, filled with new Australian writing, the revival of The Ham Funeral acts as counterpoint, mirror, avante garde to emerging writers and theatre makers.

Perhaps White’s misfortune was that he was a parochial playwright with an international sensibility. Parochial in the best sense, as Chekhov was parochial, his work was located in and responded to parochial conditions and, bringing to them a wit and insight, were anything but petty. But his plays emerged in a culture that was parochial in the worst sense, as was very clear when The Ham Funeral was rejected by the 1962 Adelaide Festival of the Arts.

This is Siren Theatre’s fourth collaboration with Griffin: a relationship committed to excellence, innovation and daring.

Siren Theatre Co. and Griffin Independent present The Ham Funeral, 17 May – 10 June.

1:46 pm

A Word from the Assistant Directors, The Ham Funeral

It feels like only yesterday that we were sitting round the table grappling with the text and trying desperately to honour the words of Patrick White…references and symbols and imagery and rhythm…and so much laughter. The kind of laughter that happens with a frowning face. Life summed up in one moment. It is this emotion, for me, which makes me feel most human. Harmolipi, as the Greeks would say; the simultaneous feeling of sadness and happiness.

With my head in the script over-analysing in rehearsal, there is a sudden burst of music with Nate Edmondson, and the actors break into song, perfectly timed, to remind me that “to understand the stars would spoil their appearance.” Sometimes you must allow the music of the words to take you there.

Now we are in the thick of it. Watching the actors walking the tight rope as they let go of all they have learned and start to make the bold choices. The jumps and leaps of discovery — the juicy stuff.

I wait impatiently to leave my day job and enter the rehearsal room again… 

Phaedra Nicolaidis
______________________________________________________

My name is Sally Dulson and I’m Assistant Directing on all things HAM.

What a fantastic play to be involved with. There is so much in the text to wrap your head around, and to be constantly discovering new things in each rehearsal is such a gift. A testament to good writing.

Kate has such a unique perspective on theatre because of her vast experience and her multiple-hat-juggling. So naturally, to help the rehearsal process run smoothly, I’m constantly asking myself: “What would Kate do.”

The Ham Funeralis on schedule and cooking with gas. Today we worked on scenes with the Young Man and Young Girl, and The Relatives. What a pleasure I have to be privy to the work of these actors. I’m experiencing constant lols and ‘edge of my seat’ moments, so I know we are right on track. I’m loving this production. I’m looking forward to the tech to see it in all it’s glory.

Sally Dulson

Siren Theatre Co. and Griffin Independent present The Ham Funeral, 17 May – 10 June.

1:33 pm

A Note from Phil, 11 May

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I’m very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”
- Bill Shankly

Having bitten nails at a penalty shootout and chanted along to Smurf in Wanderland this past week, it struck me that I’ve always liked a bit of drama. Like many a ratbag boy-lad, growing up in the salty outer crust of the London boroughs, I loved football. I loved playing football, talking about football, playing computer football and talking about playing computer football.

“Winning doesn’t really matter as long as you win”
- Vinnie Jones

Don’t get me wrong, I was not team captain material, I was sort of mid-pick on the pecking order of the lunchtime kickabout. But at 18 years of age, teenage Phil was selected to play a semi-professional match (i.e we were paid a crisp £10 note and a bag of cheese and onion crisps).

“Behind every kick of the ball there has to be a thought.”
- Dennis Bergkamp

This sudden rise to sporting stardom as the right back of Wallingford Town FC was a dizzying time in my teenagehood. So dizzying in fact that after just seven minutes of this momentous game, I stuck a leg out, gave a penalty away and was promptly red carded. The Wallingford Town FC manager (his name was Andy, managers are always called Andy, there must be something in the coaching guidelines about being called Andy) gently patted me on the shoulder and firmly whispered in my ear that I didn’t need to come to training next week.

But the semi-professional football league’s loss is the small-to-medium theatre sector’s gain. Am I right?

Smurf In Wanderland finishes this Saturday, so it’s your very last chance to talk football (and play foosball) in the Griffin foyer. Don’t miss out.

Cheers,
Phil

Phil Spencer
Studio Artist

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