Sunday, May 19, 2013

the last month

Half hearted blogger I suppose i must be. We opened this week; a technical rehearsal; two dress rehearsals; 2 previews for staff and family; an invited guest night and 2 public shows.

Why the absence? The last 3 weeks of rehearsals were hard. My father died which, whilst a release for a very long term Alzheimers sufferer was still unsettling especially as I did not go to the UK for the funeral.

Then Ritchie's grandfather accidentally ran over and killed a drunk lad lying by the side of the road one early drizzly dawn. Then Danny's younger sister died of cancer. So we were struggling to maintain one let alone two casts, not to mention the emotions of several cast members; plays are not necessarily the most important things in the world at the best of times.

Despite all of this, many people are claiming it is the best of the big shows to date. We seem to have less unexpected laughter than previous years as people follow the story closely. Its strongest element is probably the swift story telling that Jo manages in the second half as we sense a society on the brink of dictatorship. Feelings run high. Last night Charlie was subject to hissing from a section of the audience as his character entwined himself completely round the gangsters. Many have come up after the show to say it is very close to the bone, telling it like it is etc.

Yet for a director this is a confusing time. The show is no longer yours, you lob in a few notes, tweak the odd scene but ultimately whilst you glow if the audience likes it, watching it every time becomes counterproductive; you worry unnecessarily because you yourself feel no more surprises in the production.

so onwards to Love patrol series 7 I guess.

Friday, April 19, 2013

End of week 4

So the thing is blocked out. When the second half moves as it should, it's a giddy ride but it only needs one line to drop, one entrance to be slightly late and the wheels come off.We've been working this second half for the best part of two weeks, one cast one week, the other the next. This is a deflating business and i feel sorry for the second cast. The thrill of discovery is replaced with, if you're not careful, the chore of going over it all again but we did improve on some scenes.There is also as I feared the fact that one or two roles seem more appropriate to members of one cast than the other.

And there's been the evening rehearsals with 37 youth who have proved very hard to keep focussed. Jo came to one rehearsal and when she could bear it no longer (some group chortling and then criticizing another youth's mistake. She stood up and screamed at them, saying that as she'd written it, she was bloody well going to take it back and she didn't give a shit. They were stunned and the next ten minutes were bliss. for the first time one could rehearse little bits to a backdrop of silence.No one dared look anywhere else from their choral seating area than at the actors performing on the stage.The only mistake she made was after the run through, that was very good, she gave the play back to them.Too soon in my opinion! The next day it was business as usual.

In the last 24 hours there's suddenly been unlooked for, unexpected money available for a big extension to the sports area at WSB. It's made it impossible to focus entirely on directing.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

the youth group

A difficult evening rehearsal with the youth. Its hard to keep 37 people engaged for three hours; even in a chorus play you're going to have more individualised scenes but the level of inattention reached yesterday was headache inducing. It was also laced with an unpleasant sideline where one actor sitting on the rostra at the back kept pinpointing his girlfriend sitting down on the stage as the source of a lot of the noise, which she wasnt. Ironically just as we started working out a page which dealt with the difficulty of getting a happy marriage. He shouted down to her repeatedly what are you doing? be quiet! what are you here for?

They were mortified when I said at the end that it was the first session I hadn't enjoyed. Must finish it tomorrow.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Week 2

Very busy week as I have added rehearsals for the kids play from 4 till 7pm.This play has 40 youth (or maybe 37); some youth old timers from previous years plus a lot of new faces, tempted by a love of drama or free food?! It's a play heavy on chorus to accommodate so many and the initial thought was to do it in the round as that is the shape of the stage we built in the youth centre last year.But in the round  is not easy with those numbers and and people who have never acted so, plan B, stick them all on a load of rostra at the back of the acting area, deliver some of the choruses from there and bring usually smaller numbers forward on to the acting area. It's a noisy group, several of whom make you reconsider your objections to the American practice of drugging hyper active teenagers!!!!Nah just kidding . Sure, the most used directorial phrase is 'quiet please' but they do love it and already in the week i have been there with them, the sea of youth is dividing into 37 individual characters who just like all of us can be lovely, funny and pretty vile all in the space of 5 minutes. The play is based on discussions Jo and Richard had with them about 'their dreams' which ranged from not being constantly hungry, driving a bus, being sports and music stars, being happily married and going overseas. Jo has added little tweaks in her script to highlight the difficulty of achieving these dreams and topped it off with a lot of chorus and songs which have been set splendidly to music by Albert and Tio.

With Klaem long Lada ia we had a stodgy post Easter start. Already 8 to 8.30am learn lines/ do exercises regime not being followed, people coming late and some friction over some members desire to get an advance to contribute to a Vila 'bus association' collective that some of us view as at best a loss making venture and at worst little more than a scam. So we talked that out before going further in rehearsals and 17 still want to go ahead with the sceme. But at least a talk about that and a talk about rules and priorities seemed to set us on our way and we had encouraging run throughs of the first half by the end of the week. The other thing that slowed us down was rehearsing the second cast. Instead of understudies we do the show with 2 casts; same actors but swapping parts.  This gives most of the core group a crack at something substantial as well as coping with sickness during the run. But with so much chorus and with the first cast bedding down so well, it did feel depressing to go back to the start and work it all out again, especially as most actors had focussed on their role in the first cast. It can get awkward too when someone is so clearly more at ease in one part than the other actor taking that part. It is also incredibly hot and humid in the theatre at present which doesn't make it easier. But still good moments. Joyanne comes up to me before the run through and asks, 'Does June find it easy to tell Terry she cant keep seeing him because she's going overseas on a scholarship or does she really like him and it's actually quite hard to tell him?' I said  'If that's how you want to play it go for it.' And she captured that awkwardness beautifully. I sometimes worry that we're a 'learn our lines bang it down on the stage' kind of group so I like it when actors bring these character questions to scrutinize.

What else? had a chat with a new manager who has transferred from the private sector. The youth centre over small pocket money to a few youth to pick up litter between Wan Smolbag and the Malapoa turn off. She was getting them to sign receipts and one couldn't sign because she couldn't read and another didn't know his family or last name and she helped him sign his other name, writing it in very big letters for him to copy. She talked too of her daughter studying in the Philippines who does work for her church at the weekend and sees a level of poverty she had never encountered in Vanuatu. They visited a mother and 9 children who lived under a tarpaulin and another baby had died two days before the daughters visit but was still lying there as the mother didn't have the money to bury it.  And we questioned how long it would be before , or if it ever would reach that stage.

Have spent the weekend blocking out the second half in my head. It has to move at breakneck speed and is full of chorus that will become boring if it is just chanted out. Hopefully bits can be said by actors stepping quickly in and out of character and by whizzing it around our multi tiered set.  I find it thrilling when you give yourself a chance to think it through often taking a fairly outlandish thought of where to start off a sequence and then just running with it. Really felt quite powerful...inside my head!  Next week the stage where doubtless some of it wont work but at least its a starting point.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Living it!

The end of a very happy week; all of us agreeing how much we prefer theatre to film! and just being around the centre..a hiphop class to the left of you, a game of hockey or futsal to the right; staff of all sizes doing zumba on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The laughter of Rainbow theatre, our group of actors with disabilities making use of the dance facilities and joining a rockstep class. All this and lunch at the nutrition centre. Those of us who do Love Patrol in the second half of the year miss this unique environment when we go on location.

We've been focussing on one cast all week because a couple of actors are away. Quote of the week from Helen as I try to set the atmosphere for a scene involving 3 beleaguered wives left at home on a friday night; you're embittered by the struggle for every vatu; one minute this woman's your friend and the other one's your enemy , the next day its the other way round.....'yes, Peter, we know we live it everyday'. Put thoroughly in my place.

Monday, March 25, 2013

First Day

25 March

Cakes were much enjoyed, (orange polenta in my opinion the best!) as was the rehearsal. Seemed to work although Peter Brook's comments about his first ever day at the RSC  resonate each time I tackle a new 'big play'. In The Empty Space he recounts making a model of the first entrance of , I think, As You Like It, the day before and then asking everyone to do it and it was a disaster because they weren't like his models. Some were tall, some short; some walked fast, others slow , which of course opened up new possibilities and he never made another model. I don't make models but the images I see in my head are still generalized and I get so excited as I prepare it thinking that I think I've cracked it. It is only when the actors come in that you realize the flaws or in this case perhaps the floors because there are several different levels, slopes and heights to consider.See the finished set:

Some staff had A4 papers this morning which were apparently passed round in the middle of Saturday night drawing links between various businessmen and our new naturalized citizen PM. It asks people to remember what happened in Zimbabwe......

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Day before the off.

March 24

Have been baking cakes all polenta, banana, dried fruit bread and carrot cake....some theatre groups start with earnest character discussions, read throughs, impros and we start with a cake breakfast....all with low sugar content naturally! The actors have been on tour with no time off to relax from that and 2 years ago when we started Zero Balans it proved a lovely way to begin. Have the opening 5 page chorus section in my head which is very different form saying it will work on the stage but cant wait. Doubtless tomorrow will be a huge anti climax..someone will be sick, several will be late some will be hungover or generally feeling Monday morning is too hard to handle so feet on the ground..... feet on the ground repeat after me feet on the..

Chinua Achebe, a great African novelist, died today aged 82 . In the various obituaries there was this quote from his novel Man of the People which is quite relevant for the new play Klaem long Lada ia..maybe good for the program:

we ignore mans basic nature if we say, as some critics do, that because a man.....had risen overnight from poverty and insignificance to his present opulence he could be persuaded without much trouble to give it up again and return to his original state. A man who has just come in from the rain and dried his body and put on new clothes is more reluctant to go out again than another who has been indoors all the time. The trouble with our new nation is that none of us had been indoors long enough to be able to say 'to hell with it' We had all been in the rain together until yesterday, then a handful of us-the smart and the lucky and hardly ever the best-had scrambled for the one shelter our former rulers had left and had taken it over and barricaded themselves in. And from within they sought to persuade the rest through numerous loud speakers, that the first phase of the struggle had been won and that the next phase-the extension of the house was even more important and called for new and original tactics, it required all argument to cease and the whole people to speak with one voice and that any more dissent and argument outside the door of the shelter would subvert and bring down the whole house..'

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

March 2013

March 19, 2013. OK, so trying a blog again for the new play Klaem long lada ia…climb the ladder. The play explores the drift  towards a politics that flirts with organized crime on the one hand but goes unquestioned, because at the other end of the scale, poverty is growing, as shown in the  play by a group of young men on a building site and their wives in the settlement who can focus only on making a pittance to survive.
Rehearsals start next week; this week we are reconfiguring the stage .We’re acting on split levels a lot more than in the past and because one of the main locations is a building site, we’re using bricks and scaffolding to give it that atmosphere. The play has a large amount of chorus in it too which I hope to stage using all the actors, with people jumping out of the chorus to take on a character; even sometimes taking a line of a character whilst almost simultaneously part of the chorus. This means we need to stylize the costumes a bit so that everyone can be on stage a lot of the time as chorus without having to change or be too associated through costume with their character when they are in the chorus.

For the first part of the year we have been making and touring a 45 minute verbatim piece on different kinds of violence in our society. In December last year Joseph Marae, an elderly man, was killed by a drunk youth who was trying to drive away from a fight. He ran Joseph over and the car dragged him along the road . Angry residents stoned the bus. The owner of the bus returned with a gang, smashing up people’s houses in the street including that of Joseph and his wife. Perhaps he was unaware of why his bus had been stoned.  Joseph died in hospital the next day. He had acted on and off with WSB for a decade. He was in a film in 2003 or 4..or 5, my memory isn’t what it was, and he was in our last big stage play Zero Balans , even accompanying us  on our tour last year to Santo. There he made an unscheduled appearance too at a local music concert sitting on a stool in front of over 1000, singing a couple of songs he had learnt in his youth when working on ocean going ships. His wife, Leisongi, and he had acted in some series of Love Patrol too. Vanuatu is purportedly a country that adheres to the much vaunted ‘respect for elders’ maxim, but  youth make up 50% of the population and it is their affection or disaffection that will make or break Vanuatu (well its one of the factors) . The way Joseph mucked in with youth in a non-patronizing, non censorious way was an example to all. His funeral became a march through town to the cemetery; one of the biggest protests seen in Vila. For the most part although angry, the crowd was restrained. There were no calls for wholesale blocking of freedom of movement from one island to another, just for trouble makers to be sent back and for the police to respond to calls. But mingling amongst the marchers and onlookers, there were some who had had enough. 

All this influenced our decision to look at violence in the first play of the year. One that Jo does not write. The actors interviewed all sorts of people and we turned the words of the interviews into songs, sketches and monologues. Some of the interviews were very shocking and in discussing them the actors in turn volunteered stories so that some of our meetings became informal therapy sessions; memories of watching the 2 students, who bullied one actress when she was in class one, being stood on chairs in front of the whole school, told to pull down their trousers and being beaten with electric rope. The scars of that event are perhaps less healed today than the bullying that preceded it.

We performed in schools and communities around Vila running discussion and role play workshops after the performance.  Now the actors are in Tanna and Santo. The shows in Vila were also fundraisers for Joseph’s widow and family. She, one of her sons, Kalo, and a number of small grandchildren came to one of the performances at WSB and asked to make a speech. Leisongi and the children unfurled a banner with a quote from Gandhi:
Wealth without work
Pleasure without conscience
Science without humanity
Knowledge without character
Commerce without morality
Worship without sacrifice
Politics without principle

Gandhi claimed these were passive forms of violence that led to more active violence in a society. Kalo went on to ask the audience to think about the direction Vanuatu was heading if we wanted to maintain our supposed status as the happiest place on Earth. It was a moving event with, for me, a weird side effect. The actors were seated behind him waiting to perform. As the family left the stage Danny got up to thank them and introduce the play but he was choked, as were several of the cast and yet, as I said to them later, they were being watched by the audience waiting for the play. No one in the audience uttered a sound as they waited for the actors to find their composure but it was also a performance because they were on stage. A very truthful moving performance and worth pondering on…the simplicity of truthful emotion as opposed to acted emotion and as actors there are times when  we want to make the gap between the two as small as possible.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

What a Week!

 18 May 2012

It was just another Tuesday at WSB. A steady flow of auditionees for LP6. Some exciting ones too, and after lunch, a signing ceremony with AusAID for funds for rebuilding the clinic and for LP6. Then the Free West Papua movement comes and asks if anyone wants to attend the peaceful demo at the airport against the arrival of the Indonesian plane with aid for police and agriculture sector. Several group members and actors want to attend as is their individual right. Many are cross at the government’s handling of the AFP situation which seems to them a big hypocrisy; on the one hand saying that Australia has acted in a high handed way and then accepting aid from the country that suppresses their fellow Melanesians in West Papua. We beg some to stay for the signing ceremony and a bus load heads off for the airport. The signing ceremony goes off well and as Ausaid leave, news comes that all the demonstrators have been arrested by the police who turned up in full riot gear (what is this, inner city London riots?). Mike, our CEO, heads off for the station; surely they won’t detain them?  It was a totally peaceful expression of their views. But no, they are to be kept overnight in the cells. Most of those who didn’t run away from the police were WSB staff so around 15 are locked up and Michael insists on being charged with them.
They were charged the following morning with unlawful assembly and trespassing on government owned property with malicious intent (the airport). They then gave a brilliant show, Zero Balans, that evening with several bits seeming to have extra resonance …..for them if not for the audience. Afterwards we sat around and people told their stories of the day.

Whilst all who attended did so in an individual capacity it has not escaped notice how many were members of WSB. Time will tell how this plays out and we need to develop some guidelines for participating in direct action. For now, the public reaction has been very supportive.And many are questioning why they were arrested at all.  Several political commentators here and overseas have taken the angle that the AFP story is another example of Australia playing Big Brother to its Pacific neighbours and that Australia should have known it would backfire. In communities and on the radio tokbak show there has been little support for this view.  For the government to complain of lack of respect from Australia elicits little sympathy at grassroots level because they feel the government has not respected them with its talk of stamping out corruption and then taking no action against its own ministers for many breaches of the leadership code. Why also, they ask, was the PM travelling with someone with a past history of corruption? And why is he appearing to defend him?

If anything the expulsion of the AFP has made  Australia into the good guys for the people. Callers to the tokbak show  spoke of how they had returned to education through the new technical college which offers Australia-recognised courses, of how Australia had defended the islands in world war 2. If the AFP had stayed they  would have had a bad week; Tuesday’s headline was about a crashed police minibus, the driver of which was drunk and who was travelling with three young ladies. And there is a masked, armed  gang of robbers appearing in the news a lot. The first armed gang to date. What became immediately clear as AFP left was how much of day to day running costs the program supplies; for fuel , data systems etc.There may be questions of how sustainable that is longterm. I suppose what concerns WSB more is how the police project cannot involve itself with cultural issues like the beatings still handed out by police particularly to youngsters. We had a young 15 year old girl from the youth centre taken in on suspicion of theft who was beaten with electric rope by several officers. 

And, updating this 2 days later, the violence has escalated. An elderly dutch couple murdered and Charlie Pearce, a much loved educationalist here for 40 years badly beaten up in his house We brace ourselves for the blaming of all this on Freedom of Movement and young people, marijuana, and not a mention of  an ever worsening corruption at the expense of those very same young people.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Both plays have been running for 10 days now.The response has been tremendous despite a hiccup in our new presell, no tickets on door policy . The response to Janis ia Nao (JIN) is especially gratifying since it is our first big play in which most scenes are played out by 2 or three characters. Zero Balans too is able to find an audience in this its second year.

The biggest fright in JIN was Titus appearing in his drunken MP scene without a shirt, mimicking the recent photo that appeared in the newspaper of a controversial MP drunk and bare chested outside a night club. It would be the night that I'd chosen to watch the show from the back row where there was no easy escape! Inspired political satire to some members of the audience and unnecessary to others like myself. I mean its not like he's the only MP to be raving drunk in public,  just the only one unlucky enough to be caught on photo. Going on bare chested, to me at any rate, let the others off the hook.

Given the actors' fears that perhaps the central character in JIN would be seen as denigrating women, it is funny to see the way in which the audience identify with her and will her on. Audience watching is fascinating, particularly in an alleyway production where you can see the other side mesmerised by Morinda's wonderfully energetic performance . They love every dreadful thing she says and the way she is actually one of the more honest characters.

Daytimes we're filming the kids play. The first time we have done something like this without an overseas presence. We've kept it all on the stage and used stage lights plus a few 300's. It wont look that great probably but hopefully is capturing the energy of the piece in a better way than just pointing a camera at it. More and more endeared to the youth group and the core actors too seem to be enjoying the link. They are so funny. One girl had disappeared off to beauty class at the youth centre just when we were ready to roll on a big song . Someone went to get her and a senior actor said to the rest that none of them were to admonish her. She arrives, we roll, nothing happens. The girl concerned is in tears. Sure enough like a bunch of piranhas they'd gone for her the moment she came back. Half an hour later they're  gathered together, errant girl included, around the monitor, laughing their heads off at the final shot we'd taken that day!

On the personal front, Jo and I have taken the plunge, applied for citizenship and been accepted. Now the long process of returning our British and Australian passports.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

3 years and I can finally put some photos up.Here's some from last years play, Zero Balans which is being revived next month.

Photo courtesy of

April 5, 20 12. A shot from Janis ia Nao (Now's our Chance!) during a rollicking run through last week. If they appear to be looking away from the seating, they're not. Theatre is set up as an alleyway.

All three productions nearing completion. Janis ia Nao; Zero Balans and the youth group play. Not to mention Health force's revival of their diabetes play. The title of which i have forgotten. Fascinating discussion at an organisational meeting about Nutrition. We'd met to propose that anyone wishing to sell food at the centre had to have it approved by the nutrition department/centre. A lot of junk being sold. Fascinating what people don't know. A great discussion around vetsin (MSG). Much amazement that when you add vetsin...and soy sauce...and salt you are actually adding salt times 3!!! One group member asked well if you shouldn't add vetsin, how do you make your food taste good?

The youth play, Whu nao I rong? has had a couple of previews. The most touching was for WSB actors. It being in the round, the company made a very intimate, one row circle audience. It was the first time we’d had the youth perform exclusively for the company, which is a poor reflection on our inclusiveness of the youth drama club. It was beautiful and the hardened pros were visibly moved. There is a sprinkling of very good actors in the youth club and some very young not very good ones but the overall impact of 25 kids of school going age, but not in school, telling us their story in song dance and drama has an impact that more polished stuff sometimes doesn’t.

It is a struggle keeping that group together. There are some wild kids. Every rehearsal seems littered with thumps usually boys on boys but sometimes on girls, either part in jest or vague annoyance. It is impossible to keep the company quiet when it’s offstage and yet its vibrancy and basic love of what they are doing is equally visible. Given that the play isn’t very kind to parents I asked whether they still wanted a show for their parents; perhaps it would make them cross I suggested. ‘No they have to come’ was the chorused response. ‘ We want them to understand! ‘ So, that show is tonight. Hopefully they will be so thrilled to see their children on stage, the content will sort of pass them by!

Photo courtesy of

There are some sad stories. For most, school finished before the end of primary and the youth centre has become their second home. My involvement with the youth has come at the same time as my youngest daughter has been doing her teaching practice in quite a tough Melbourne school. The stories she tells us on skype of student dysfunction, difficult home lives and aggression towards teachers are heart breaking and between the two groups I feel a keen sense of how we seem to cast so many youth on to the scrap heap whatever our country’s level of wealth.

Sunday morning and we had the opening for parents on Thursday evening. They did it well .The poor parents though; they had to sit through 40 minutes of saying how half the kids problems were caused by their rowing, beating parents. I enjoyed talking to the parents afterwards. ‘Ooh the play’s a good lesson for all us parents….’ And I felt the play was suddenly very unfair. I mean their own parents probably treated them exactly the same way and it’s not as if their own lives are any easier. Trying to earn even minimum wage would occupy most of their lives. Yet they also said things like, ‘ I didn’t know my son could do anything like this’. ‘I thought they were just messing around at the youth centre, I didn’t realize they learnt things.’

I laid into the main group after the run through of Zero Balans. Reviving plays can be boring for both actors and directors but its not made any easier by actor pissing around thinking the director can’t see what they’re doing. Why should I sit here and watch this for the 60th time for over 2 hours if you cant be bothered to …etetc. Nice way to go into Easter!

Friday, March 16, 2012

March 16 th.

End of the first week of rehearsal on the new play. Reached half time! The scenes are in the main two or three people and we've belted along.

I don't know whether the group's doubts about the play and what it's all about have been resolved but it rattles along and seems a good story and it is high time Morinda had a lead role . The wooden blocks? Yes, they are heavy but they have also been pressed into multiple shape duty. This works well but requires energy especially for carting around the bigger ones.

Health Force have been reviving their play on diabetes. They abandoned it yesterday to try and deal with the Blacksands plastic soup. It appears that Planet 107 has made a wall and fence on the river bank, in the process digging up the plastic waste dump of a former tenant, Mr Juicy, and sending it floating along the river. They spent all day on it yesterday but Yaxsley reckons thy'll need a net to get it all.

The youth play is a lot of fun to direct. 26 youth lots of songs and dance and performed in the round. We have a wide range of kids , at least half in the year 6 to year 8 age range and none of them in school. It is the most dedicated group we've had in the 4 years the youth drama's been running. We worked from 5.30 to 8 pm last night. They work with their group leaders in the daytime and i see them two nights a week. It is rewarding when even the rascals are relatively restrained and into it.

The joint is jumping at the moment. All this drama work, masses of kids attending youth centre classes and playing sport. At lunch many different depts plus the youth drama group eat soup and 2 salads at the nutrition centre and there're twice weekly zumba classes that bring together peer educators cleaners project managers actors and a few visitors. It's a joyous place to be right now.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

March 2012

So, the theatre season is cranking up now. This week we started a new play with the youth the round for a change. The disabled theatre group have re rehearsed their play for schools from last year and will take the plane to Luganville for a tour of schools there. This is a very exciting event for that group. Then next week we start rehearsals for a totally new major play and a revival of Zero Balans which will play in tandem in Vila before going to Luganville in june. We will stage them both in an 'alleyway' stage.

We came back from tramping in NZ to find one group had already improvised a delightful new play on elections and voting . Two other groups were struggling more with their improvised stories and so in the end one group opted to take on the play already devised and the third group that had a central idea that was strong but stubbornly refused to spin out into a play Jo and I scripted . The groups have just come back from their island tours full of tales of the skulduggery going on out there even with the election still 6 months away, some of which is astounding and so depressing.

One common theme of the plays was trying to look at just what some MPs get up to in town which their voters back home have no idea about. Conversely i don't think we have any idea of the extent to which cash and cargo are swilling around the islands. The new big play also concludes with the lead up to an election. We had a read through before the groups went on tour and it provoked some strong discussion. Unlike some previous plays it's a little harder to say what it's about and that disconcerted some actors. Also unusually every main part is female. It's the story of a rather foul mouthed, kava drinking single mum of a disabled teenage daughter who is living on the breadline. Her reprobate boyfriend appears one night and says Mary and her daughter must rescue this enormous sum of stolen money from the forest and keep it even if they don't see him for a long time. A sort of parable ensues about the way people perceive you if you have money . Mary is not a goody goody heroine. A sort of Mother Courage figure I suppose. Some of the actors worry that the play is somehow doing women down. Jo came in to talk about what she was trying to express through the play. We also talked about how when we put a reprobate drunken man at the centre of the play people dont normally say ah you are saying all men are drunkards or doing men down somehow. Drunkenness, bawdiness seem ok for men but when you have a debauched female at the centre of the play, the rules are somehow different. It was a good discussion. The play may not work because people can't find a tidy message from it but we've agreed to give it a go and have some trial audiences. If it doesn't work there's still zero balans which will be fun to restage.

The final part of the play though , that election coda referred to above, is pretty clear; Mary decides to stand for parliament using what is left of her stolen money. As rumours spread about the source of her money she challenges the community to say why her stolen money is any different from that of the MP whom they have been voting for for the last few elections.

Elsewhere in WSB the youth clubs have opened with even larger numbers than before 50 or more for nutrition, sewing and many of them school going age. In drama we have 28. We have a commission from UNICEF to look at child protection otherwise known if one is being cynical as pissing in the wind. We held workshops with the group, mostly teenagers to ask them what made kids unhappy. Various themes were agreed on; being made a slave at home, often if you're adopted in from other branches of the family; watching your parents fight; cruel punishments at school; neglect at school eg teachers who dont show up. They are such a keen bunch and that in itself is a joy. But it is only the first day of rehearsal!I have had the idea of a basic set of boxes that could be chairs tables stones for crossing a river, mountains etc. It was so clear in my head . I know it's not very original but it seemed much neater and cleaner than stools or chairs. I envisaged actors moving them around at speed to make rapidly changing shapes that other actors climbed leapt over etc. A carpenter made the first prototype set today and they weigh a bloody ton especially when you get to the 600 and 800mm high ones....

Book of the month? The Fear by Peter Godwin. An account of trips to Zimbabwe in 2007/8. The bravery and the horror on display mean you read the book with your jaw constantly dropped. Could the same happen here? Who knows. So far the only people to suffer those kind of beatings are escaped prisoners ...not political opponents.

Friday, December 2, 2011

December 2

6 filming days left and we should finish. Touch and go there for a while as 16 or so relatively smooth weeks finally came to an end. Donald's sister died, most likely of leukaemia, which took his partner Joyanne out of filming for a week and led to a serious program revamp. And then just when we thought it was all sorted, one of the lynchpins of the revised schedule turned up having shaved completely bald. He thought he had finished. A part timer whose first film this is. He's a well known boxer so one's disbelief was .......restrained .

But here we are a few days from finishing another marathon run...and funding for 6 looks pretty likely. There will be big discussions no doubt when we have our first post Love Patrol meeting. Is this how we want to spend half the year every year?

Anyway a brief post this whilst the crew move the ceiling of the police station round for a new angle. The rains have come, the air is humid, the police station low roofed and with the lights on it is unbelievably hot in there......

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Week 14 or is it 15 or 16 and does it make any difference; it's still either an MCU or a wide shot.

My exhaustion is exhausted and I have opened a store with a nice range of one sided reading glasses.

Still nothing back from the robbery which proves god does not exist or that the klevas were not true believers.

We were filming a demonstration scene outside the courthouse; people waving banners demanding Tom's release were jostling with police when the real police turned up, 4 of them, and told us the Commissioner wanted us to stop filming; something to do with the uniforms and how we had to reapply to use them; after all this program is seen 'round the world' and the way we were wearing the uniforms could reflect badly on the Vanuatu police !!

A delegation is sent immediately to the Commissioner's house to get to the bottom of this while the rest of us calculate exactly how much re shooting this would mean and whether we'd finish filming next March or April. It turned out his main objection was that some of our extras whom we had chosen to be police were not clean shaven enough ( he had happened to be passing earlier). So it was sighs of relief all round, out with the razors and on with the show.

Anna from AusAID spent the morning with us filming her scenes as the doctor.We met her later in the week and she said she had been exhausted and wondered how we did it. It's good that project partners get first hand experience of the work we do and realise we're not bluffing!

Simon, our clapper board man, has not been with us for 2 weeks. His wife Helen, passed away. She had been sick for many a year with a poorly functioning lung. He had very few family in town; his wife's family are poor and had already had a death the week before. Helen passed away on the morning we were supposed to be filming at the hospital which in a way was fortunate. The group were there and basically took over the arrangements. The expense is so hard for people to deal with. The new corner of the cemetery that was opened up a year ago is a reminder in this week of the world reaching 7 billion, of how quickly our town is growing and how we'll have to find a new burial ground soon. Other parts of the yard at least have some sort of space between graves; here as you move in to throw soil on the coffin and make way for others to do likewise, you stumble over the corners of the burials of the past few days. Beru, our cameraman, was going to get Simon a makeshift cross that day, because, he said, if he didnt, there would be little hope of remembering exactly which Helen's grave was.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

End of week 12.

A disaster of sorts. We opened LP4 midweek this time and had a much larger audience as we weren't competing with with Friday night fund raisers across town. It started badly (this is not the main disaster referred to above) when, as I was adjusting my parking in WSB, I didn't notice a taxi pulling in from the less used entrance side and bumped it. This old chief from the area got out and came up to me. It was actually a very funny moment. He was clutching his invitation to the event and said holding out the card, 'You invite me to your opening and then you bang my truck!' We both laughed and put our arms around each other and could see no damage in the dark. I did pass him in town the other day. I was walking along the road and he was in his truck in one of Vila's interminable jams. I called out to ask him how the truck was and he said 'ooh i bend i bend' and was moving forward before i could verify this!

No, the disaster was on return from what was a very well received showing of the opening 3 episodes of series 4. We return at 9.30- ish. The door is wide open. We go through and the back door has been rammed open with two logs. We subsequently find out that they had first ripped the TV satellite antennae plus the stake to which it was attached out of the ground and tried ramming the door with that. The neighbour had heard the noise but thought it was us!!!! Mmmmmn. Anyway, the film camera we had at the house overnight, all our laptops, Applemacs, and plenty of personal stuff all gone. Thankfully a drive with LP4 on it is still there (In case thieves you are reading this, Danny has a backup copy in Aus so don't bother coming back for it!). I'd like to believe that they were wannabe film makers and maybe in a year or two we'll be renting them our lights for their next masterpiece which they edit and colour grade on our stolen laptops. Given that the camera had no lense or CF card or batteries I sadly think that is not the case and it is probably on its way to Etas rubbish dump by now and the apple macs on their way to an outer island.

The group suspect that someone at the opening must have been in touch with the gang or at least there was general knowledge that we would be out at the opening that night. The irony is that episode 1 of LP4 starts with a couple coming home from a function to find their house totally trashed!!!

Certain group members sent a couple of guys round to pray in the backyard who confidently assured us that the stuff would be returned. This made me very angry, atheist that I am. I mean it suggests to me that they must have very good contacts with all the gangs and can clean up on the reward. But of course the belief is that God is all knowing and that someone will stumble upon the goods somewhere thanks to the wisdom of God...Two things here. That he should care about some white guy's gear that, inconvenient though the theft is, will mostly be replaced on insurance, strikes me as a little out of proportion to issues like world poverty that he must have to deal with. Secondly in a town of this size, some people will stumble upon stuff totally unassisted by God. I remember coming home in the car a few years ago after a walk in the hills and passing someone with my bike that had gone missing a week or two before. I stopped next to him and said I believed that it was my bike and he said 'Tru? Wan brata i givim long mi' I said providing i could take it home that was an end of the matter and he duly obliged.

As I say though the advantage of saying God leads to this discovery is that you can pop up and claim the reward for having prayed for its return in the first place.

That aside, filming has gone very well. We had to take a day off to rebuild the credits for LP4 that were on one of the drives that were stolen and also to make police reports, order a new back up camera etc but the group very bonded after this.

Friday, September 23, 2011

End of week 8.

Like a long walk we are entering the hardest part of the shoot. The sense of adventure has worn off, you've been going a while and you realise that there is still a hell of a long way to go. Everyone's behaviour becomes incredibly irritating; you become paranoid that everyone is deliberately challenging you, going slow. One's sense of proportion as to the importance of the film in the general flow of life is absurd ...I believe we are about to enter a double dip recession but far more important, is it going to rain today.

And others have real cause to worry; Donald's sister is back in hospital and some form of blood disorder/cancer seems likely. Pango village is tearing itself apart over a land dispute and actors from there report on various relatives who have been attacked; the police are patrolling the roads from time to time and there's a big meeting on Saturday.

Various locations have bitten the dust. Went to film in Tagabe last week and noticed that the set of flats where police officer Belinda has had her home for the past few series has been pulled down. In fact was still being pulled down as we tried to film in the store across the road.

This week's amusing moment? We're filming in a yard off Tagabe road and as often happens a passing bus slows down as they drive by to see whats going on.Of course they are always in the back of the angle you are trying to film. On this occasion the bus actually stops just as we roll and we start to make waving suggestions to the driver which is the politest way to say 'get the f*** out of our shot.' However the actor waiting to walk in to the yard on 'Action! is unaware of the bus behind him so every time we wave he moves a metre to the right and the bus stays put! You had to laugh! Self preservation!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Week 5 of LP5

I nearly wrote last week, in a similar vein to Zero Balance comments, that there wasn’t a lot to write about because it was all going so smoothly. And so I suppose it should, to some extent. This is our fourth straight year of LP; our fifth in six years; we have more gear, better cameras, we know the most frequent pitfalls and dangers and try to avoid them and yet…

So at the farewell for our visiting DOP, Chris, who did 4 weeks with us, Jo and the crew spring some news on me that they had been hiding all day. One of our new part timers whose first scene we had recorded at night the week before, has had to take up a last minute place on a training program in NZ. To their credit they had already found a replacement and recorded a demo tape for me to watch..and he was OK. Still, half a night shoot to re record some time.

Then, we’re packing up on Thursday and I am informed that a woman has been blinded by our HMI light (2.5 k). She was 60 metres away at the time and had collapsed saying she couldn’t see; she was already partially sighted in one eye. This could have been explosive but the community was almost apologetic. We took her to the hospital and there is probably more to it. She has very high blood pressure and may have reacted to the shock of seeing the light, which had made her faint. At the time of writing there has been no negative feedback from the community.

A more amusing occurrence. One mother in the same community had called the police to complain about her son who, she said, always got up late and never helped around the house. Urgent police business! A little later two of our actors emerged in police uniform on the nearby road ready for their next scene. Apparently this lad, as observed by our production team enjoying a tea break, shot out of his house and away through the settlement!

Friday, August 26, 2011

August 26th 2011. Filming has started.

The blog that went away! The play finished in another life time; finished well I believe. Full houses most of the time and many compliments although it was hard to keep up with day to day real political dramas!

Now we’re into Love Patrol season five and have completed a month of night shoots. We have new cameras; Cannon 5ds and prime lenses. The image looks gorgeous and what you can do with depth of field compared to the old JVCs is a daily delight!

Funny and not so funny moments:

We had a very good night shoot outside a store in Tagabe. 2 days later the peeling white frontage had been painted green and we have 2 day shoots still to go! So we will try and blast away some of the coat of green and repaint integrating earth as we go.

The schedule is all drawn up and we have been shooting for a week when one cast member announces she is 4 months pregnant and I have some scenes planned for when she would be 7 months …so more work on the schedule required.

There’s a lot of action in this series by our standards and I became frightened all the episodes were a little short so Jo’s been adding scenes and extending dialogue as we go which has been stressful for actors.

Lovely moment the other night whilst we’re waiting in the road in Tagabe for darkness to descend. A middle aged man comes up, shakes my hand and says ‘They must pay to visit the cave’. This is the line of the adviser to the chief from our 1994 film Pacific Star, a part presumably played by this gentleman. Some of the young members of the group most impressed by the heritage they are now part of!

That ‘fabric feeling ‘ was very strong when watching the youth hiphop group perform at the ceremony to mark Ausaid’s handing over of a million dollars to buy all the buildings we currently rent, thus securing the premises for youth for the coming decades. Some of them weren’t born when WSB started in 1989 and we were a 4 man gang doing plays about diarrhoea. Jo was next to me and we smiled at each other in that late middle age way of a ‘journey shared’ moment , trying to ignore the number of expletives in the song the kids were dancing to; looking too uncannily like recent pictures of masked rioters in London. But the energy of their dance seemed to give it such a positive vibe.

Ausaid also officially revealed our new gear transporting lorry with eye catching graphics.I must start putting photos on this blog.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

May 28th

No disasters. Great reviews! See the Zero Balans facebook page. Packed Houses; well it is the school holidays! Safety officers would have a fit. We start off with rows of chairs and then when they're full and we still have a 100 outside, we ask people to move chairs forward and wedge another row in perched on the rostrum behind. We get in around 250 to 270. Wish we could raise the roof on the theatre. Still angry people outside who have come from 20 odd kilometres out of town who can't get in.

Our major battle internally has been to keep the laughter down. We had a great meeting the other day. As mentioned it got better briefly after my set of notes but in the last 2 shows it set in again. Various unnecessary ad libs and too much 'acting' in crowd scenes. Some lead actors were not happy and could feel that no one was listening to them and they were being upstaged by stuff going on around them. It's a fine line as some of the scenes are pure comedy. One much loved scene involves three community members all vying for the one chair in the ministers room to make their case to him for receiving 'funds'. And half of the long scene that makes up half the second act is again comic but once the news of the minister's dismissal by his colleagues becomes known to the community then the fawning stops and they turn on their MP. Done properly, the next 15 minutes are quite powerful and the cast can have the audience dead quiet but with ad libs and 'boo hiss' style crowd acting, the audience is let off the hook . Given that, in this section, the play suggests we shouldn't just blame politicians but look at our own actions towards them, we are making it far too comfortable a ride for them. All of this came out in the meeting; and last night we held the audience and wiped the smile off their faces.

The funny thing (well not funny at all really) is that as we struggle to keep the straight elements of the play straight so each day brings one new farcical revelation of the machinations of our MPs. It is as bad as I can remember it being in the days of the Swanson and Ghosh scandals. One youth leader who works for WSB said politicians were courting the youth he represents and they asked him how WSB dared to challenge the big men. Wise lad said he didn't work for that section of WSB.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The first week of shows.

A week into performances and the reception has been great. Full houses every night. Although there's full and full. Comfortable full and, on Saturdays, should- we -really -be -cramming -this many- people- in full. Rows of chairs are moved forwards so another set of people can perch on the edge of the rostrum behind. You begin to feel like a cattle herder at the market. But everyone is remarkably tolerant. We've also had our fire dancers on standby so they can put on a show for all those who can't get in even after the squashing up. We've had a glowing review in the paper and there's an active Zero Balance Facebook page.

The worst show was probably last Friday when crowd scenes in particular seemed to be a little OTT or if not OTT, the crowd members were acting so full bloodedly that the main action on stage was almost the sideshow. An ex actor from Canada, Dan McGarry, who lives here, reminded me of Stanislavski's comment after his troupe returned from tour, 'there will be a rehearsal on Tuesday to remove the improvements!' We tried to deal with these in notes on the Saturday and it seemed better as a result.

But it's never been less than OK and the audiences seem totally engaged. I would say we've had many more passages than in previous productions where the the audience has been listening intently with no strange laughter. This is not to damn the other productions. For those not familiar with a typical audience for these shows, they contain a smattering of babes in mothers' arms, a number of 5 to 1o year olds often on mats at the front; teenagers and upwards. So, so different from a western theatre going audience. To hold all of that audience is quite a task.

Anyone in Vanuatu reading this, we have auditions for Love Patrol series 5 at the theatre from 10am next Monday (23 May) and 24 May. We need all ages and all colours actually so maybe see you there?

Friday, April 29, 2011

29 April Lost!!

Hasn't been easy (yes at last!) Perhaps Easter Sunday was a pointer, Jo and I got lost in the bush. Was this a metaphor for a was a walk we had done several times involving a shortcut back through a Forest ( represents a production that is ready to go); we make a slight detour ( rhythm of play derailed by too many public holidays and an opening date still a week away) and we are lost.

As we hadn't started the walk till three pm there was little chance of correcting ourselves and we emerged in the dusk from the forest to a plantation area we couldn't recognise. We keep walking but give up when I walk full tilt into a barbed wire fence we hadn't seen. So we follow the fence for five more minutes and then lie down for the night, first near a small river which, when bitten all over, we retreat from to hotel number 2 under a tree. We have half a bottle of water and no food and feel foolish.We also know that Emma our daughter at home will be very worried. Jo is quite cold; our clothes are damp as we had followed a river for a while. On the other hand she is quite relaxed whereas I am convinced this is my last night on earth! We speculate endlessly about the next day and console ourselves by looking up at the stupendous star filled sky. We're drifting off around 10, or pretending to, when Jo says she thinks she can hear someone calling our name. I am sceptical and don't shout back but there is the sound again and yes it is someone calling our name. Over the next half an hour torches get closer and finally shine a path across the stream so we can cross to them and there is Michael, our CEO, and several other WSB plus a lad who lives up in the bush. We are both ashamed and amazed. Emma had raised the alarm at 9pm. Beru and Ralph are in another party going down a river walk they know we do quite often and when we get to the rendezvous more trucks arrive including 3 VMF officers and several other WSB staff who tell us off so we feel like two naughty children. But it all very touching and heart warming and we agree to host a rescue party party this sunday! It's the least we can do.

So to the play which is spluttering a little. We brought Andy over from Aus to check out our lighting rig and some of it looks beautiful. Despite plotting it, we haven't had an official tech and run throughs have been bedevilled by lighting and sound blips. Family death and illness are occurring. Poor Donald has spent parts of the week running around trying to find blood donors for his sister who is undergoing various bone marrow and blood tests. Noel's big sister died on Pentecost but the family agreed he should stay in town and fly out later to attend the fifty day memorial. Some performances were ready weeks ago and are starting to go off the boil. Plus I am having doubts about my staging.

With motions of no confidence occurring every week and most politicians getting ever more shameless in their blatant disregard of the people, the play could not be more topical and could still be a winner. Tech tonight and previews for schools and families begin next week which hopefully will bring a sense of urgency and newness back to the work. I think I prefer the terror of 'Will it be ready?' to the terror of 'will it be over-ready?'