The Age: CultureLAB

Test runs help directors refine works in progress

Director Kate Sulan likens her theatre set to “a test pattern”. It’s colorful but static-the action’s on hold while she twiddles the knobs of the rehearsal process.

In the dark, cavernous hall of the former Meat Market slaughterhouse, Sulan has nowhere to run She has just three days to experiment with a new show for the Rawcus company before the public comes flooding into the theatre space.

Nervous? “Yes, it will be exposing but i’m intrigued and curious about it too”

Rawcus is one of the 10 groups developing work in the current CultureLAB program that funds performers to test ideas that may or may not reach a professional stage. It’s theatre on the edge and while failure is forgivable, naturally no one seeks it.

This Saturday the CultureLAB participants open the doors for Undone. The event is a sneak peek, inviting audiences to see the works in progress at the two Arts House venues, the Meat Market and North Melbourne Town Hall. While Rawcus has just started its residency, performer Deborah Leiser-Moore has had three weeks to knock the rough edges off her work KaBooM.

Both she and Sulan say the program – a partnership between the City of Melbourne and Arts Victoria – is unusual and the time and space for development is “gold”.

Given the lab context, audiences at Undone will accept much of the work as embryonic. Says Sulan:”We won’t be ready to show anything, becuase it’s only day three of our ensemble getting into the room, so we’ve said we’ll open our rehearsal for half an hour and who knows what that might look like. A rehearsal by its very nature is an unpredictable beast”

She feels no pressure. “This allows you to be the most open and creative because you’re not panicking, you don’t have to end game it too soon.

Rawcus comprises performers with and without a disability and has a strong profile, but it’s still based in a community hall. At the Meat Market Sulan seems a little stunned by the huge scaffolding the technical crew has erected for her.

Rawcus created a previous show, Small Odysseys, through CultureLAB which went on to have a successful theatre season – however that’s not guaranteed for all participants.

The importance for Arts House is to support “risky ideas and untested experiments” says creative producer Angharad Wynne-Jones. The program is designed to celebrate the city’s cultural strengths.

“it doesn’t just happen by putting on the Ring Cycle. That’s important but it also comes through supporting many other artists in the city.”

Leiser-Moore’s performance piece KaBooM emerged from her father’s story. He escaped from Poland but as a new arrival enlisted with the RAAF. The story of his war in Papau New Guinea sparked Leister-Moore’s exploration of cultural memory. She interviewed seven men about their experiences of war. From stories of the vetran of the Russian navy to a child soldier in Rwanda and others, she fashioned a physical theatre piece, in which the audience moves around.

KaBooM has had a reasonably long gestation, including residencies at Bundanon and in Greece. However, CulutreLAB is its final flowering. “What they’re created here is like a real laboratory and it’s unusual in Australia. In France they have ‘creation centres’. where you can spend months. So in a way this is like those.

May 11th, 2013