Sunday, 7 November 1993
Interview with Aubrey Mellor, Artistic Director of Playbox Theatre, Melbourne
by Kate Herbert
November 7, 1993
"There's no such thing as a perfect play," says Aubrey Mellor, the incoming Artistic Director of The Playbox Theatre. If there were, presumably we would by now have an equation for it.
Mellor is, however, taking a punt that amongst the eight plays in his 1994 season there may be some pearls. His main ambition at Playbox is to cultivate new Australian plays and to create a Writers' Theatre in the truest sense. He plans "to strengthen the developmental stage of new work: reading of plays, getting the feedback established, getting all the readers organised, more dramaturgical people involved, directors who know how to work with writers, actors who know how to be in a workshop to develop a play not just to get it ready for performance."
Of the eight plays in the 94 season, only Michael Gow's Furious is not a premiere. "I mean Melbourne has seen all the plays that Australia has ever written really," he quips - and he is probably right.
He sees his ambition to support writers as "all foundational work that is gradually effecting the nation." Mellor wants established writers to "look to Playbox as being the main company which is supporting and developing both new work and established writers." He wants them "to be refreshed or to do something that they don't have a chance to do somewhere else." With his new play, ˜Sanctuary, David Williamson has had "the freedom to write in the way that he started out with The Removalists - from his own personal passion, I hope."
Mellor wants our playwrights to be household names. People should recognise Michael Gurr as readily as they would Tennessee Williams. Australians don't tend to think like that about their writers, says Mellor. Only Williamson and possibly Louis Nowra have that kind of reputation as yet.
"I always thought the writers would just emerge as great forces but if they're not nurtured they won't. And I hate the fact that some of our great people like Dorothy Hewitt just get dropped." He hopes that writers "will grow old in this country, continuing to blossom in different ways rather than grow stale."
He will encourage older writers to nurture the newer ones "by taking an interest, by becoming dramaturgs." Some, such as Alma de Groen, Louis Nowra and Stephen Sewell, he says, are very good at it .
The 1994 season includes two commercial plays which Mellor hopes will increase the dishearteningly low subscriber list and subsidise productions of newer untried work. Mellor assumes that David Wiliamson's Sanctuary, although it marks a move away from his populist scripts which have done country-wide tours, will attract a large crowd.
His other commercial choice is the new Steve Martin play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile ,which had its first workshop production at Playbox with a group of local actors under the direction of Neil Armfield. Mellor believes that it will not only attract a local crowd but it is reason to "celebrate a blow for Australian Theatre." He decided it would "be more helpful to Australian play writing in the long run to put it in even though it isn't Australian."
Mellor, in addition to expanding the Sunday afternoon Theatre in the Raw program, is initiating an elaborate and effective program of development for new scripts. Three or more scripts will have a cast and director and a one week run in a theatre after a main production.
"We'd like more work to be seen because that's where the writers really learn. You can workshop them forever but until you actually get those scripts out of their writers' hands and give them to actors performing and really try it out in front of an audience."
Mellor says this requires "a brave audience". That sort of person who can see things in progress- not the sort of people who come in and say 'Oh that's not good enough ..' and just judge and kill."
Mellor thinks Australians are far too tough on new work. "We want them all to be perfect and if they're not perfect...It's something in the Australian psyche "'if it's not perfect kick it out.' Reviews of new works at the National Theatre in London acknowledge that " it's raw.... then along comes a wonderful success and people get excited. But that big success couldn't have happened without the others. And we don't seem to swallow that."
Some people, particularly in Melbourne, would argue that a Writers' Theatre is dead and that an Auteur-ensemble is the only theatre. Mellor thought they sounded like very young people.
"We've all been through that kind of thing," he laughs. " Those directors egos will always be there... I'm much more interested in the integrity of people like Neil Armfield who will actually nurture the vision of the writer." This century has basically been a Directors' Theatre he says, and he wants to alter that.
He believes the auteur theatre will and should continue "and no doubt we will feed from it and it will effect the way we do our work. And certainly some of the pieces such as Disturbing the Dust in the season are put there because they are playing with form."
Pressure from those who want to change the nature of our industry keeps us all alive and fresh but if we were to do exclusively the avant-garde' theatre, " we would probably kill the industry overnight ." Wouldn't we all get bored with deconstructed text, white face, dirt on the floor and lots of chanting.
"We've all been through that kind of thing," he laughs. " Those directors egos will always be there.... I'm much more interested in the integrity of people like Neil Armfield who will actually nurture the vision of the writer." This century has basically been a Directors' Theatre he says, and he wants to alter that.
He believes the auteur theatre will and should continue. “No doubt, we will feed from it and it will effect the way we do our work. And certainly some of the pieces such as Disturbing the Dust in the season are put there because they are playing with form."
Pressure from those who want to change the nature of our industry keeps us all alive and fresh but if we were to do exclusively the avant-garde' theatre, " we would probably kill the industry overnight ."
Wouldn't we all get bored with deconstructed text, white face, dirt on the floor and lots of chanting?
He is more concerned to " actually effect the writers so that the writers start to think visually ." He is planning a workshops for writers to develop movement and visual elements in their writing. He describes the script as "a score", for which the direction, the acting, the design etc. can solve many problems.
He would like us to suspend our judgmental selves and allow the work to develop in a positive and supportive environment. He would like the word "good" to be abandoned and for the work to become " worthwhile and interesting - a valuable experience ." Here's hoping Playbox under the inspired direction of Aubrey Mellor, nurtures plenty of "valuable" plays in the next few years.
Kate Herbert 7.11 .93