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Petits Fours serves up bite-sized theatrical treats

Friday, 09 June 2017

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In June, WAAPA is proud to present Petits Fours, a season of bite-sized theatrical treats that showcases the breathtakingly original work of four local playwrights: Hellie Turner, Chris Isaacs, Gita Bezard and Finn O'Branagáin.

Petits Fours was co-commissioned by WAAPA and Playwrighting Australia with the support of the Department of Culture and the Arts WA and the Minderoo Foundation. Glenda Linscott, WAAPA’s Head of Acting, explains, “WAAPA has formed an exciting partnership with Playwriting Australia. Together with the support of Minderoo, we have pooled our resources, skills and infrastructure to co-commission four professional WA playwrights to develop these four new plays for our 2nd Year Acting students. Not only is this an powerful way for young actors, and theatre makers to learn their craft, but they now partnered in small collectives of creative team with established WA playwrights, directors and dramaturgs which will undoubtedly help our students once they graduate into the industry.”

This enthusiasm is shared by Playwriting Australia’s Artistic Director, Tim Roseman. “It’s so immensely positive for Playwriting Australia to be able to work with one of the country’s great training institutions and work with the next generation of Australia’s theatre artists and playwrights. Craft, skill and experience are the bedrock of our creative foundations and it’s been thrilling to see a great reservoir of these things in our collaboration.”

Petits Fours, which runs from Friday, 16 to Thursday, 22 June, will be performed by WAAPA’s 2nd Year Acting students under the direction of local directors Susie Conte, Trudy Dunn, Nicole Stinton and Julia Jarel in the Enright Studio. This is a fitting venue for the premieres of these new short plays, being named in honour of the late great Nick Enright, one of Australia’s most successful and beloved playwrights and a regular guest artist at WAAPA who worked closely with its staff and students over many years.

Multi-award-winning playwright Hellie Turner headlines the Petits Fours season with her provocatively entitled work, Self Portrait Masturbating, a “peep-hole” into the life of Austrian artist Egon Schiele.

This new short play follows hard on the heels of Turner’s adaptation, The Lighthouse Girl, which recently completed a sell-out season with Black Swan State Theatre Company. For Self Portrait Masturbating, Turner uses as her subject material the rebellious life and erogenous art of Egon Schiele. The artist painted men and women in the most explicit of poses; painted himself, laying bare his internal self in excruciating depictions; and painted children, a predilection that ultimately lead to his imprisonment over a scandal involving a 14-year-old runaway.

“A narcissist and hedonist, his sexuality governed his work in both good and bad ways,” says Turner. “Egon’s risqué, dramatic artwork is a testimony to a man rampant with contradiction … to an artist who is now regarded as one of brilliance … to a revolutionary whose nihilistic ways had a formidable effect on those who worshipped him, and those who followed in his wake.”

Self Portrait Masturbating is directed by Susie Conte, artistic director of Tempest Theatre. Most recently, Conte wrote and performed her one-woman play Sparrow at the 2017 Perth Fringe World and Adelaide Fringe Festivals.

Joining Hellie Turner as playwrights on the Petits Fours program are two of the founding members of The Last Great Hunt, a collective of multi-talented Perth-based theatre makers. Chris Isaacs and Gita Bezard are both writers, devisors and performers. Chris Isaacs’ play The Great Ridolphi was a hit at last year’s Perth FringeWorld, winning three awards, including Best New WA Script and The Martin Simms Award.

Isaacs’ Petits Fours offering is The Emancipation of Alice Paws or Bite The Hand which is currently being performed at the Asia Pacific Bureau of Theatre Schools Conference in Shanghai. When Alice the dog is emancipated from her life as a pet, it causes disruptions to Dale and Sam’s domestic harmony. This funny, outrageous look at the so-called enlightenment of a domestic animal explores how those without power are kept in place through predetermined cultural hierarchies.

Petits Fours has provided an exciting opportunity to not only work with five passionate, creative 2nd Year actors – but to also work in close collaboration with a playwright on a brand new play,” says Trudy Dunn, drama education specialist and director of The Emancipation of Alice Paws or Bite The Hand.

“This process has not only reinforced my respect for the text on the page, but it has provided creative freedom as the rehearsal journey has been unencumbered by previous interpretations. Each day in the rehearsal room has been energised with the anticipation of newly discovered revelations.”

Gita Bezard’s short play Remarkable is about the art of subtle manipulation and how the language of progress can be used as a weapon. Remarkable centres on Royston, who is making the film of his career. Unfortunately for him, his actors are not the pliable performers he was expecting to work with: Bailey is aiming for a once-in-a-lifetime performance, Millicent is always right and Lucinda is trying not to mess up her first real job.

Bezard made her playwriting debut at BSSTC last year with Girl Shut Your Mouth, which was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award. She has twice won the Black Swan Emerging Writers’ Award, was the recipient of a StagesWA Co-Commission to adapt two plays for Perth Theatre Company and has been commissioned by Curtin University. She has also undertaken professional development in the UK and USA after being awarded a DCA Young People and the Arts Fellowship.

Remarkable is directed by Nicole Stinton, who has worked as a director, vocal coach and actor for over two decades across Australia and Asia, and has published several textbooks on drama that are widely used in the Australian education system.

The Election by playwright/director/dramaturg Finn O'Branagáin rounds out the Petits Fours program. A NIDA graduate whose plays have been presented in numerous theatres and festivals around the country, O'Branagáin’s most recent works include a reading of Medusa for the Black Swan Emerging Writers Group; War Games which she wrote and directed as a development with Spare Part Puppet Theatre’s First Hand program; and Interrupting a Crisis which she directed and dramaturged at The Blue Room.

The Election is based on the increasing showmanship and 'entertainment value' of the 2016 Australian and US elections, and how the media coverage centres on personality politics over policy. Audiences are given the chance to decide the outcome of the work and the fate of the future.

“It’s Survivor meets House of Cards,” says O'Branagáin. “Part social experiment, part game show, part dystopic vision of the 2019 election.”

The Election is directed by Julia Jarel, who is a highly-respected drama teacher and playwright, and is co-artistic director of Scooplight Theatre.

With such a wonderfully diverse range of subject matter showcasing the talents of four local playwrights and four local directors, Petits Fours promises to be an evening for those who like their theatre short, sharp and highly entertaining.

Petits Fours is supported by Playwriting Australia, through development workshops and dramaturgical mentoring. Playwriting Australia acknowledges support from the Department of Culture and the Arts, Western Australia.

Playwriting Australia is the national new play development company working with professional playwrights and theatre artists from all backgrounds and at all levels of their careers. We connect talent with opportunity to extend the art of playwriting. We advocate for positive change on behalf of artists, industry and audiences. Playwriting Australia seeks, develops and champions new stories for the stage by outstanding Australian playwrights; reflecting and inspiring present and future generations.

For all venue and performance details, please visit the Petits Fours performance web page.

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