Beyond Fringe and short play festivals, there are precious little opportunities for directors to practice their craft on a regular basis. Actors can learn new audition pieces, writers can set themselves exercises, but a director’s work only comes into effect when in a room with actors… and sometimes without an end point, without the pressure of an audience to view the work, director’s can be stuck in endless cycles of workshopping… there is something about the promise of an audience that sharpens a directors focus.

It is this reason which I applaud short seasons of full length plays…

Here is where I declare my hand: Although I am the season artistic Director of Brand Spanking New, my involvement with the New Theatre remains largely as a punter. I am not on the committee- I don’t hold a position in office. I am not employed by the New Theatre, I do not programme the season… that work is done by the artistic team, namely Louise Fischer and Helen Tonkin and is approved by the New Theatre Committee and overseen by New Theatre Manager/ Executive Producer Luke Rogers. I don’t have any involvement in the yearly programming… and as you might guess,I have a keen interest in programming.

I think programming is a hugely under recognised art… curation in theatre is sometimes very pragmatic, or case by case- and the whole season is not considered. How seasons of work are presented, the timing , when and who is working on what – says a huge amount about that theatre’s ideas and ideals and must not be underestimated.

The New Directions Season has been running for 11 years and every year I wait to see what new and exciting talent and ideas the season holds. It’s trial by fire for directors- you have 4 or 5 weeks (part time) to put together a full length play for a four night season. All participants (actors, directors and crew) are voluntary- and are fitting in rehearsals or production meetings around their lives, partners, jobs… and resources are limited. It’s an intense and wonderful experience- I know. In 2008 I had a wonderful experience directing Emma Frost’s Airsick (which remains a show I regularly receive comments on from punters who came along to see it… ) And since then I watch in awe as directors, actors and crew step up to the challenge and produce a full length play.

This year, The New theatre produced 5 plays in 4 weeks (1 week was a double bill)- a selection of new scripts both far and here. Unfortunately I missed one of the 5- Sam Atwell’s “The Chekov Term” directed by Johann Walraven- which I can’t comment on- perhaps you can?

The first, Crooked by Catherine Trieschmann was directed by Nastassja Djalog. Best recognised as an actor, and with experience directing short plays- this was Djalog’s debut directing a full length play. Crooked is the story a precocious fourteen year old called Laney (Lib Campbell) who has grand aspirations of becoming a published writer, a lost mother (Elly Goodman) and a found (in the Christian sense) best friend Maribel (Sarah Blackstone). This story is like that of Anne of Green Gables, but contemporary and with a “Sapphic” undercurrent. Thematically it touches on several ideas including the impact and responsibility of parental influence, the power of religion and imagination, the troublesomeness of identity and sexual identity, intimacy within friendships and friendship within family. Djalog has assembled a fantastic cast who are committed and focused in every scene and embrace the challenges of the script with fervour. At times the pace of the show was slowed by long costume changes which left the audience submerged in a deep blue light and scene transitions are underscored by barely audible folk guitar girl-music… which adds to the dark tone of the play. Effectively waht this does is chop the play up into little chunks- who’s transitions are very dark and quite “counter” to what is quite a bright script with bright effervescent performances about the growing pains of a bright mind.

The Big One, by Dick Reichman and directed by New Theatre President Rosane McNamara weilds a huge cast of 10 ( Sam Galea, Danny Gubby, Ruth Horsfall, Bill Jordan, Susan Kennedy, Rich Knighton, Frank McNamara, David McLaughlin, Jennifer Monk) as they shape shift between narrators and characters telling the story of the Exxon Valdez Oil spill and circumstances (political, social) surrounding the castastrophic event. Unfortunately this is a very timely play, with the recent BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and history always surprises in it’s ability to repeat. The play itself is part documentary, part dramatization of the room of human error. Stripped back to basics, McNamara’s very economical staging tells the story plainly. At times the documentary style and the direct address narration is overwhelming… for us the audience and at times for the actors who are standing and reciting alot of verbatim dialogue. There is alot of “telling” the audience, not so much showing. This story fits well within the context of the New theatre’s political and social beliefs.

And then to the double bill. Electronic City by Falk Richter (translated by Marlene Norst) and directed by Ngaire O’Leary traces the story of Tom and Joy as they negotiate love in a time of high pressure, huge expectation, stress overload, downsizing, superfast global exchange. It’s a tricky script. O’Leary has done a valiant job wrangling the best and brightest WAAPA grads in her address book and some favourites of the Sydney stage too to show the possibility of love in a world of grand disconnectedness, short tempers and high demand. The cast comprises of Sandra Campbell, Daniel Fischer, Megan Holloway, Felix Jozeps, Jovana Miletic, Kym Parrish, Adele Querol who work hard and fast to keep our attention. At times the script itself has tangents which seem to be incongruous- the substory of the filmic film of reality presented in this play meta-narrative- cuts away from the drive and pace of the story. However, this is an epic piece to be presented and the cast are wonderful- I particularly have a soft spot for Felix Jozeps and Megan Holloway as they wrestle their unlikely lovestory.

Fatboy by John Clancy, directed by Scott Selkirk is a rollickingly offensively unbelievably fantastic adaptation of Ubu Roi… braought to modern times in a postmodern sampling of all earthly excesses. Impressively costumed by Talina Cruz with makeup by Dynae Wood, Selkirk has harnessed the creative powers of a formidably talented cast: Luke Carson, Matt Charleston, Stefanie Funnell, Doug Hansell, Jennifer White. The pace is perfectly managed- and comedy unspooled expertly. Ultimately this play is about the horror of greed. How greed manifests itself through ever corner of existence- through lust, money, hunger, power. There is a critic of everything- minimalists and those into liberalism will adore the sentiments of the court room scene. Fatboy (Doug Hansell) is creative, brave, hideously wonderful and is beautifully complimented by Queen Fudgie (Jennifer White- not to be confused with the voice coach- this Jennifer White is a recent WAAPA grad and someone to keep your eye on!) who is the sexual aggressor man eater/predator/powerhouse and shows us how hideous the contemporary obsession with sexual predation is.

All in all, the directors managed an incredible season of ideas, perspectives and timely reminders about the world in which we live. Hats off to all involved (probably about 60 people made that season happen and that is a huge pool of personal resource and talent) I hope you had a really fun time, learnt lots, fell in love with some ideas or at least the audience, and stretched yourself creatively in new ways.

At the Old Fitz there is a slightly different opportunity for folks keen to try out a new work in front of an audience. the Late Night sessions are a curated season of full length plays that are programmed by Tamarama Rock Surfers to allow shows to have a test run. Recently I have been invited along to two of these shows: In Stereo by Gut Feeling Productions and One Thumb Out directed by Zoe Carides.

In Stereo was written by two acting graduates from ACTT and directed by Ian Zammit- and was a precursor to what was to be a season at the Sydney Fringe. As many have discovered, the Fringe Festival has meant that resources (directors and actors and rehearsal space) are stretched at the moment… and I have heard that the production will be on hiatus for a full run elsewhere. I had encountered an early draft of in Stereo when it came to me for the recent submission of Off the Shelf through Queen Street Studio. The fitz gave In stereo a slot and they were able to work together on the script and find out what works and what doesn’t infront of an audience. I’m not going to review this play here and now, all I can say is that the script itself needs grand scale dramaturgy and rethinking.

One Thumb Out is the only Australian production selected for the New York Fringe Festival this year, directed by the lovely and talented Zoe Carides, the Fitz provided a space for the show to have a showing for friends and family before they head off overseas. Again, providing much needed exposure to an audience, for the director and the actors to fine tune their production.

All I can say is that regardless of how long a run is- nothing will teach you about directing like doing. Nothing will stretch you and develop your eye and ear than to be in practice of your craft. Practice when and where you can about things that mean something to you, about shows you believe in so much you want them to fill the corners of your life and who you are. Congratulations to all those who dare to DO… it takes guts, and congrats to those companies who know what the opportunity of having an audience means.