Sunday, July 5, 2015

HEAD FULL OF LOVE



Written by Alana Valentine
Directed by Wesley Enoch
Producer: Queensland Theatre Company
The Street Theatre, 3 and 4 July 2015

Review by Len Power 3 July 2015

‘Head Full Of Love’ shows the life-changing experience of a white woman on the run from her life in the city who meets and befriends an Aboriginal woman who is a talented crochet beanie maker and lives in a remote location .

The best moment of the play was the display of the various beanies made by the Aboriginal woman.  This sequence was beautifully staged by the director, Wesley Enoch, with good lighting by Ben Hughes on a clever atmospheric set by Simone Romaniuk. 

Actor, Paula Delaney Nazarski, as the Aboriginal woman, gave a strong, naturalistic performance with great comic timing.  Annie Byron played the comic side of her character well but seemed less secure in the more serious aspects of her role, especially some awkward monologues.
Annie Byron and Pauline Delaney Nazarski (Photo by Jamesphoto)

Wesley Enoch’s direction was uneven especially in the pacing of the dialogue.  The final scene was played so slowly that it dissipated the energy of the rest of the play.

There were some amusing moments in the play but a lot of it seemed laboured.  The monologues played directly to the audience by the white woman broke the realism of the rest of the play.  The white woman’s description of feeling threatened while alone in a car at night seemed to go on forever after its point was made and having the character suddenly talking to her son as if he was sitting on her shoulder was disconcerting.  Even though it was later explained that she had suffered some kind of breakdown previously, it really didn’t work.  Then, when the play seemed to be reaching a satisfying and moving finish, the addition of a scene involving a new character was unnecessary.

Author, Alana Valentine, has a good play at the core of this work but it needs some cutting to really satisfy.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

SALLY GREENAWAY IN CONVERSATION WITH THE CANBERRA CRITICS CIRCLE

Monday 29th June

Composer,pianist, entrepreneur, Sally Greenaway. 


Who would have thought that the life of a jobbing composer could be so stimulating and entertaining? But then Sally Greenaway is no ordinary composer, as members of the Canberra Critics Circle discovered when the engaged her in conversation in the second session of the 2015 series of “Conversations with the Canberra Critics Circle.

Not only is Sally a gifted composer for hire, she’s also an arranger and pianist with her own jazz ensemble, as well as a passionate and enthusiastic entrepreneur.

Sally studied jazz piano at the ANU School of Music, and is a graduate of the Royal College of Music, London, who during her London stay played jazz piano on Steinway’s unique “Ferrari” grand piano at the London Chopin Festival and on Liberace’s rhinestone grand piano at the Dorchester Hotel in Mayfair.

A prodigious composer, her compositions cover a vast array of styles and genres, including numerous classical chamber works, several works for jazz big bands, and more that 20 film soundtracks.
Her music has been performed by the Australian Youth Orchestra, the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, the Finnish vocal sextet, Rajaton, the Mothership Orchestra, the Royal Military College Big Band, the Woden Valley Youth Choir, the Melbourne Composer’s Big Band and numerous community and school ensembles.

Sally's many awards include winning the APRA JazzGroove Mothership  Orchestra National Big Band Composition Competition in 2008, the Canberra International Music Festival Young Composer Award in 2009 and being a finalist in the Seattle Women’s Jazz Orchestra Composition Contest USA in 2013.

The ABC Classics record label has just released her latest CD, “Aubade & Nocturne” a superbly produced showcase featuring 16 of her compositions.

In response to questions from the Circle, Sally gave many candid insights into her work as a professional composer and performer. She spoke about how she finally persuaded her parents to let her learn to play piano; how she discovered her ability to compose, and about the discipline required to compose to a commission deadline.

Sally Greenaway 
She revealed how she developed the skills necessary to allow her to compose fluently for multiple instrumentation, and how she learned to negotiate fees and contracts. She talked about her enthusiasm for composing for films, symphony orchestras and special commissions, and confided that she had insisted on being involved in every aspect of the production of the ABC Classics recording “Aubade & Nocturne”, describing the process, which included stripping nude to be painted with flowers for the stunning cover photograph. 

She then surprised everyone by generously gifting each of those present with a copy of her superb CD  “Aubade & Nocturne”.
  
The next “In Conversations with the Canberra Critics Circle” will be held at CMAG on Monday 6th July when the special guest will be distinguished ceramicist, Janet DeBoos.


Bill Stephens

Friday, July 3, 2015

National Program for Excellence in the Arts



DRAFT GUIDELINES: THE NATIONAL PROGRAM FOR EXCELLENCE IN THE ARTS 
Australian Government Attorney-General's Department, Ministry for the Arts
To read the complete document, go to http://arts.gov.au/nationalexcellenceprogram

Commentary by Frank McKone
July 3, 2015

The Guidelines tell you what you need to do to ask for money. Like

 be an Australian organisation or entity
 have as its principal purpose the arts – this includes: the performing and visual arts, cross-artform and digital arts, arts training and collecting institutions whether at a national, regional or community level; (usually defined in the organisation’s Constitution or Articles of Association, and reflected in the Annual Report and Business Plans)
 have an active Australian Business Number (ABN)
 be registered for the Goods and Services Tax (GST), if required by the Australian Tax Office
 not have any outstanding reports, acquittals or serious breaches relating to any Australian Government funding

I think I fulfil these requirements.  So now I need to know who won’t get money:

What the Program will not fund:
 Business start-up costs
 Private tuition, training or study
 Work used for academic assessment
Projects by individuals [my emphasis]
 Competitions and eisteddfods
 Awards and prizes
 Film and television production
 Interactive games
 Built or natural heritage projects
 Projects or components of projects that are also funded by other programs administered by the Ministry for the Arts.

But I’m an individual!  I’m a Freelance Writer with an annual turnover so small that I’m not required to be registered for GST (but I can if I want) and the Australian Tax Office (ATO) classes me as a Special Professional.  That means if I’m an artist, a writer, a performer, a sportsperson or an inventor I keep simple business records, work out if I’ve made a profit or a loss.  Then I can simply add my profit – or subtract my loss – from whatever other personal income I have on my annual tax return. 

Peter Costello did this for us soon after the GST started, so small scale artists didn’t go round the bend.

But I can’t ask for money from the National Program for Excellence in the Arts.  What if I happen to be a new and as yet not well-known but “excellent” artist?  I’d be in the same sort of position as a first-time house buyer, in the negative-gearing market.  Unless you’re already big, you’re not going to get a look-in.

I guess I can still ask the Australia Council for the Arts, can’t I?  But now that they’ve lost about a third of their money, my chances are so much less.

I guess I don’t really mind if the Attorney-General / Arts Minister (in itself a very odd combination of portfolios, I think) wants to boost the profile of Australian arts overseas – which the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) already does through its programs.  But what about the rest of his Objectives?

The Program will:
 Deliver a wide range of quality arts and cultural experiences that grow arts audiences, throughout Australia and internationally
 strengthen Australia’s reputation as a sophisticated and artistic nation with a confident, outward-focused arts sector
 encourage greater private sector support and partnership funding for the arts
 support collaborations to develop arts and culture initiatives including in specific regions or priority areas.

Sounds great.  Who wouldn’t want all this to happen?

But look at the process:

To achieve these objectives, the Program will offer funding for arts and cultural projects and initiatives through three streams:

1. Endowment Incentives
The endowment incentives stream will support organisations to realise medium to long term projects through financial partnerships and collaborations. Funding will be conditional on organisations leveraging funds from other sources to realise projects. Organisations will need to demonstrate evidence of financial, cash or in-kind support from sources other than the Australian Government. This stream will be open to a wide range of projects. Examples of the kind of activity which could be supported are:: co-investment through a Foundation or arts organisation to deliver a new initiative such as a fellowship program; a contribution to an infrastructure project that has other partners; and partnering in the development of new Australian works.

2. International and Cultural Diplomacy
The International and Cultural Diplomacy stream will support arts and cultural organisations to expand audiences for Australian artistic and creative works through international tours, exhibitions, partnerships and exchanges. It will also support Australian arts organisations to bring internationally significant art and artists to Australia, thus giving Australian audiences greater opportunities to experience the world’s finest performances and exhibitions.

3. Strategic Initiatives
The Strategic Initiatives stream will assist arts and cultural organisations to respond to new opportunities, challenges and issues. It will be flexible and responsive to enable organisations to maximise the potential outcomes of new opportunities. It will also support organisations to deliver outcomes against planned and developing priorities. It will support projects enabling regional and remote audiences, to have new opportunities for access to a wide range of art forms. It is from this stream that the Australian Government will directly fund appropriate major initiatives.

And how much money for all this?  $20 million “each financial year”!  WOW!

And what has happened to the just-developed 6-year funding program for which people already have on-going applications to the Arts Council?  Sorry, that’s all on hold.  After all you can’t expect any sympathy when the Arts Council knew nothing about losing $104 millions until the afternoon of Budget Day, even though Minister Brandis knew what programs were in train.

So, I say refund the Arts Council the untimely ripped off funds and tell it not to worry about the big established companies.  Just get on with the job of funding all the excellent individuals and small companies as judged by their peers and at arms length from political interference – as we have been doing for 40 years, but with the new 6-year funding program in place.  And add funding for start-ups, so the new artists can get a leg-up.

Then pay for the National Program for Excellence in the Arts - just call it the Great Australian Arts Support Program (GAASP) - from the Arts Ministry bucket, so that when artists and companies have proved themselves and grown through the Arts Council program, and become “established”, the Government of the day can claim all the kudos it wants by supporting them properly.

Then I would ask (because I’m a theatre reviewer) for what Julian Meyrick suggested a year or so ago: “An NTA [National Theatre of Australia] could base itself in Canberra and be federally funded, thereby avoiding the perception of Sydney/Melbourne bias and the fractious politicking that comes with variable state support.  It would unite three specialisms represented by three kinds of organisation.  It would be partly a playwright development agency, like Playwriting Australia or Playworks.  It would be partly a producing entity, like the state theatres and second-tier companies.  And it would be partly a touring intelligence, like Performing Lines and Playing Australia.  Again it would not supplant these bodies but add capacity as a partner organisation drawing on their separate spheres of operation.”

How about it, dear Minister?

Monday, June 29, 2015

LIFE, LOVE AND LONGING



Art Song Canberra
Wesley Music Centre, Forrest
Sunday 28 June 2015

Review by Len Power

Art Song Canberra provided a well-balanced program at Wesley Music Centre in Forrest in which three local singers, sopranos Rosanna Boyd and Ruth Crabb and baritone, Chris McNee, accompanied on piano by Colin Forbes, sang songs on the theme of ‘Life, Love and Longing’.

Rosanna Boyd’s set of songs ranged across the centuries from Mozart to Faure to Sondheim.  The songs were good choices to display her fine young soprano voice and in the Sondheim theatre piece, ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird’, she displayed her acting skills with a nice depth of character for the girl trapped in her life like a bird in a cage.  The highlight of her set was the traditional Irish song, ‘She Moved Through The Fair’, to which she gave a sensitive, dreamlike quality.

Ruth Crabb sang her set confidently and with great technical skill.  Her pleasing soprano was heard to excellent effect in ‘A Green Cornfield’ from Christina Rossetti’s poem with music by Michael Head.  She also sang two pieces set to music by Calvin Bowman based on works by cartoonist, Michael Leunig, and delightfully brought out the sly humour in both of them.  Two poems by Walter de la Mare, ‘Silver’ and ‘The Ride-by-Nights’, again with music by Calvin Bowman, rounded out her performance and her singing of ‘Silver’ was particularly pleasing.

Young baritone, Chris McNee, started his program with three pieces from Schubert’s, ‘Swan Song’.  His choices displayed the full colour of his fine voice.  It can be a trap to overdo the drama in ‘The Doppelganger’ but it was sung simply here and was very effective as a result.  He also gave a pleasing performance of Beethoven’s song about the king and the flea from Goethe’s ‘Faust’.  As well as displaying a fine voice, Chris McNee also showed great onstage confidence and humour when explaining his songs to the audience.

Piano accompanist, Colin Forbes, gave great support to all of the singers and it was, as always, a pleasure to hear him play.

Art Song Canberra included after show drinks and a remarkably fine selection of home-made sandwiches and cakes for their audience.  Helen Raymond’s fruit cake was so delicious it deserves an excellent review on its own!

This was a fine concert and a really nice way to spend a wintry afternoon listening to three of Canberra’s fine singers with an excellent program of music.
 

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast in the ‘Artcetera’ program on Artsound FM 92.7 on Saturdays from 9am.




KELLY



Written by Matthew Ryan
Directed by Todd McDonald
Queensland Theatre Company
The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre to 27 June

Review by Len Power 24 June 2015

‘I AM this country’, declares Ned Kelly at a key moment in the play.  Was he aware of his legendary status to come or was he just a deluded individual dangerously believing his own publicity?

In Matthew Ryan’s strong play, all sides of the Kelly legend are presented in a fictitious meeting between him and his brother, Dan Kelly, in his gaol cell the night before his execution.  Sibling rivalry spills over into violence, accusations of cowardice and even homosexuality while the brothers’ widely differing points of view of key incidents in the Kelly saga are discussed and re-enacted.

Dan Kelly, of course, was officially listed as perishing in the fire at Glenrowan which resulted in the capture of Ned Kelly.  However, over the following years four Queensland men declared they were Dan Kelly and, while none of the claims were backed up by evidence, it all added to the legend surrounding Ned.

Director, Todd MacDonald, has provided an atmospheric, tightly paced and very physical production.  His cast of three give excellent performances.  As Ned Kelly, Steven Rooke has the advantage of looking like Ned Kelly but backs this up with a highly controlled performance of great depth.  As his brother, Dan Kelly, Kevin Spink provides the emotional heart of the play.  At times angry and just as violent as Ned, he also displays an unexpectedly disarming, tender side.  Anthony Standish is also impressive as the brutal prison guard and other characters in the Kelly story.  You don’t realize how much you’ve been drawn into the emotional interaction of the characters until the guard tells Ned Kelly, ‘It’s time’, and he walks fearlessly off to his execution.  At that point, there wouldn’t have been a dry eye in the house.

The prison set, designed by Simone Romaniuk, is stark but atmospheric and is enhanced by the excellent lighting by Ben Hughes and the sound design by Guy Webster.  The attention to detail in the costumes was especially notable, down to Ned Kelly’s appropriately worn and scuffed boots.

The story of Ned Kelly has been told often and the lines between fact and fiction have become blurred.  Matthew Ryan’s clever play, coming at the legend from an unexpected angle, breathes new life into the whole saga.

Originally broadcast on Bill Stephens’ ‘Dress Circle’ program on Artsound FM from Sunday 5pm 28 June 2015.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Kelly by Matthew Ryan







Kelly by Matthew Ryan.  Queensland Theatre Company directed by Todd MacDonald; designer – Simone Romaniuk; lighting designer – Ben Hughes; composer/sound designer – Guy Webster.  At Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse, June 25-27, 2015.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
June 25

This variation on the myth of Ned Kelly is an interesting delve into what may have been the relationship between the gang leader Ned and his young brother Dan.  At one level, Matthew Ryan’s ideas about their characters may explain some of the mysteries in the Kelly story, such as the propensity of Dan and Steve Hart to disguise Steve as a woman, and whether Dan was as committed as his brother claimed to be as a revolutionary on behalf of the downtrodden.

But beyond this particular story, the play raises questions about violence and extreme destructive behaviour which we see played out in different ways around the world, including here in Australia today.

First, though, to the quality of the production. 

The set design, representing the Old Melbourne Gaol in 1880, is not a literal reproduction of the cell where Kelly was held.  The play is not a historical documentary.  So the stage floor is an open space with an unadorned bed in the centre; upstage across the whole width is a raised iron walkway, with a narrow iron stairway down at stage left.  The only entrances are at the left and right ends of the walkway.

This simple design places the prisoner at the mercy of the guard, while the clanging of boot and baton on iron steps and rails is all we need to imagine ourselves incarcerated – though at one point we are made aware of the imaginary ‘fourth wall’ between us and them.  Dan looks out at us, but turns and says to his demanding imaginative brother, “I can see a wall, only.”

Surrounding all is highly evocative sound concrĂȘte: hard to describe in words but perfect for locating the drama in our feelings.

Between the actors – Steven Rooke as Ned, Kevin Spink as Dan and Anthony Standish as Guard – there is a strong sense of choreography: of the interplay between them in movement and speech.  They play as if in a dance of changing positions – of power and weakness; of winning and losing.

We are aware that we are watching a play, a theatrical construct, and so we have no problem with Ned making Dan act out events in their violent story (though Dan intensely dislikes having to do so); or even with the Guard briefly becoming a character in their story, then switching into his Guard role.

For me, this approach made the work engaging, and I began to wonder if I should not see the play as a fantasy entirely in Ned’s head as he faces the reality of his execution, just hours away – indeed only minutes away as the play ends.  Rather than my having to believe in the theory that Dan survived the fire at Glenrowan, or the obviously fictional story of his meeting Ned in the guise of a priest, I could just as easily see the priest as ‘real’ – since a priest brought in to prepare a person to face his death was the usual thing in the days of capital punishment.  Ned might imagine him to be his ‘baby’ brother as he goes through the question of his own guilt in causing Dan’s death.

It’s at this point that I come to the broader ramifications of the Ned Kelly story.  Why do certain people turn to cause such chaos and destruction of others, often in the belief that they are creating a better world.  From the leaders of IS in Iraq and Syria, to the Bonds and Skases, or George Alex and his series of phoenix labour hire companies, and even to Dylann Roof’s racist killings in South Carolina, can we come to some understanding of how they do what they do?  Why do these people become mythic in stature, as if other lesser mortals admire them even while they revile them?

I think Ned Kelly has this status because people like him arise generation after generation.  And this play allows us to accept his desire to defend his family, protect his brother and rescue his sister – especially in a society where violence is normal (including the killing of people convicted of crimes, by the state) and where weapons are commonly available (such as in the US, where Dylann Roof’s father could buy him a pistol for his 21st birthday) – and that these morally good intentions can lead to massive evils.  We hear politicians call such people ‘evil’, ‘inhuman’, and we shake our heads as we say we can’t understand them.  But they are human, they do evil things, and perhaps, like Matthew Ryan’s idea of Ned Kelly, they want to control their world – and therefore the world – to make everything right.

Kelly, then, is worth watching for both its production quality and for stimulating such thinking.


In costume but out of gaol:
L-R Kevin Spink as Dan, Steven Rooke as Ned, Anthony Standish as Guard
Photo: Stephen Henry