By Samuel J. Cox
The late John Peel (the English DJ, radio presenter, record producer and journalist) once bemoaned; ‘I just want to hear something that I haven’t heard before!’ This year, the Blue Room is offering just that. After the success of their Summer Nights program at Fringe (being awarded the Best Independent Program), their eclectic vision for 2014 is reason enough to tear yourself away from your ‘Gossip Girl’ box set and that YouTube comment thread you enjoy trolling. We spoke with Producer Susannah Day.
1. How is the program selected?
The Blue Room seasons have been around since 1994, and for a long time have been selected by an independent panel. All the Blue Room does is make sure that the applicants have the best chance of getting their show selected. We send all of the applications to three people, selected by our Executive Director [Kerry O’Sullivan] and myself, and they make the decision. They have a month to read everything given to them, and then they fight it out for their favourites, discussing the merits of each show. Ultimately we’re looking for a diverse program, with a mix of existing scripts and new work.
2. What are the criteria for selecting the independent committee?
They must be professional theatre makers or industry administrators, managers, artists, and people that have a strong sense of what the Blue Room could, or should, be. They’re a mix of ages, gender and backgrounds, and we always have someone under twenty-six on the panel. This ensures a mix of subjective bias and tastes that can clash and battle.
3. What can Perth theatregoers expect? Is there a theme uniting all the plays?
A really interesting and risky mix of shows! This season we’ve got quite a few musicals, which is really odd for us, but also exciting! You would think that would make the season light hearted, but it’s gritty and ‘noir-ish’. The shows are darker than usual, but there are still some real comedic elements.
We will never pick a season based on a core theme that the shows must fit to. The interesting consistencies are always noticed post-programming. This year we did decide to acknowledge the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I by performing a show based on the personal account of a relationship with a veteran. That premiered on ANZAC day. We’re also doing an independent Aboriginal theatre show called ‘Confessions of a Pyromaniac’ which will launch as part of NAIDOC week in July. We do like tie-ins with what else is going on around Perth, but generally it’s a disparate season that defies connections.
4. What steps, if any, has the Blue Room taken to make the program appeal to as many people as possible, especially those who may be reluctant to go to the theatre?
We don’t take steps. We exist to support independent theatre, and we ensure that the producers of each show attract and develop their own audience. They are asked to identify a target audience that they think their show will appeal to, and they are responsible for getting them there.
In recent times, the Blue Room has been doing incredibly well, which can be put down to a very strong umbrella marketing strategy that we’ve been employing over the last two years. However, I also think it’s due to the quality shows we present. We’ve had so many different producers from so many different communities our audience base has developed.
This was evident in this season’s campaign shoot, which is themed ‘One Night, In Perth.’ We decided to photograph each artist in front of his or her individual home, to convey each person’s connection to Australia. I was expecting locations in Northbridge and Mount Lawley, which is where you think your stereotypical hipster theatre maker lives. In reality, we went from Caversham to Brentwood to Dianella and back again. It was really interesting to see the incredibly different communities each show was coming from.
The photography is dark and gothic, with hyper-real lighting, as inspired by Gregory Crewdson. It’s the kind of photography where you’re intrigued and baffled about the moment it has captured.
5. What do you think the power of theatre is over other mediums of expression?
Theatre’s fallibility is also its strength. It affects every single sense, which gives it this power to change individuals.
It is also a moment experienced solely by you. Forget that you’re sitting in an auditorium. Where you’ve been placed in that space, partnered with your own background context, means that you’re enjoying a moment that no one else is getting. The other people in the auditorium are going to have a totally separate experience. An entire audience can walk away from a film with the exact same experience, which is why it doesn’t possess the magic theatre holds for me.
6. The actors, writers, and directors often receive a lot of praise after a successful production. Who do you think are the unsung heroes?
I like to think that the Blue Room supports the whole gamut of cast and crew, but design does go unpraised, because if done really well you shouldn’t even see it. It supports the work implicitly without being showy. The set, lighting and sound designers should work so incredibly well together that it supports everything that’s going on and you don’t even recognise it. Ultimately bad designs will get noticed, but great designs aren’t always at the forefront of your mind.
7. If you feel the Blue Room has successfully done its job, what would you want to hear people saying about the season?
I would want to hear that a show had been invited to do a season elsewhere off the strength of its showing at the Blue Room. I want the works to have a life beyond our walls and have paid opportunities. The Blue Room is about development, and about not needing us anymore. We don’t want to keep our artists on a leash for the rest of their lives, but to get them Full-Time, fulfilling artistic careers.
8. What is the role of the Producer?
I support the artistic program, which includes professional development opportunities, the seasons, Summer Nights, and advocating for our artists and our members. As a member organisation I want to ensure they’re getting the best experiences.
I also do a lot of logistical work creating contracts and making sure people get paid. I work in collaboration with others, but I’m the first point of call. I’m a sounding board for a lot of Perth’s independent theatre sector. People contact me, without fear of being turned away, to ask me questions or get my opinion. I love being able to support people beyond the season. This is what we’re really known for and what we do incredibly well.
Follow this link to familiarise yourself with the Blue Room’s 2014 program: http://blueroom.org.au
This interview is an extended edit of that published in Colosoul’s 11th print edition.