Whether I'm working in a 100-seat conventional theatre or a glass box in Parramatta, I create the work for the space and let the whole space influence the work. This means my prodcutions never fight the space they're in - they use it to envelop the audience.
Truly site-specific theatre comes with challenges, but the reward is the audience seeing the Parramatta Justice Precinct (Zeroville) or a men's change room at Bondi Beach (Bluebeard; or, the Marriage Mistakes of a Nameless Bride) transformed before their eyes into something expressive and beautiful.
This attention to space can apply to more conventional theatres as well. When bAKEHOUSE Theatre Co. opened the Kings Cross Theatre in late 2015, they asked me to do the first production there (Roadkill Confidential), because they knew I was uniquely capable of showing off the possibilities of the new venue.
In 2014's Phaedra I showed the versatility of a seriously undervalued venue, the TAP Gallery. Where other productions would erected curtains and wish they were somewhere else, I used what the space gave me to create an otherworldly New Romantic ritual that could not have been done anywhere else.
Top image: Zeroville, in a disused cafe space in the Parramatta Justice Precinct, 2015. Photo Sasha Cohen.
I regularly ask actors, designers and other creatives, "What do you want to do?" Many have never been asked this by a director before, but it's an essential part of my role in theatre: helping artists make the work they really want to make.
I directed two solo shows in 2016, Bicycle by Danielle Baynes and The Best Corn Chip in the Universe by Michael Cullen. In both cases it was a talented and well-established actor making their playwriting debut. They trusted me to help them develop a story close to their hearts.
It's not just writers and actors to whom I provide opportunities to do their best and most creative work. In Bicycle, all music and sound was performed live by violinist Pip Dracakis. We worked together closely, but Pip had a great deal of creative freedom to score an entire play using both period-appropriate music and her own compositions.
I've employed various processes for developing new work, including group-devised methods. I continue to adapt and explore new processes - this December's A Christmas Carol at Kings Cross Theatre will feature a a playwright in the rehearsal room as part of the devising process. Just as theatre made for a specific location can give that location incredible expressiveness, there can be incredible power in work created in collaboration with the performers, even incorporating their own stories and experiences.
Top image: Michael Cullen performs his one-man show The Best Corn Chip in the Universe at the Old 505 Theatre, 2016. Photo Samantha Hickey.
As a mixed-race artist who lived overseas for a time, I am very supportive of any efforts to get a greater diversity of voices into the arts landscape. Not just because there are so many amazing performers and creators out there from all sorts of backgrounds, who deserve to be on our stages, but because heterogeneity makes the show better, the arts scene better, and the wider culture better. Homogeneity is boring, and if theatre isn't going to bother to be interesting, people will just stay home.
During my final year at Brown University, I was selected to direct the 2008 Senior Showcase Production. I chose the "unstageable" Death and the King's Horseman by Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka. I staged it using actors from a variety of ethnicities and backgrounds, live Taiko and Ghanain drumming, Afro-Cuban dance and contemporary science-fiction influences. I believe drawing on the incredible multiculturalism of our society and our artists is the only way to create uniquely Australian theatre. Audiences are hungry for it, demonstrated by the incredible success of Jatinga, for which I was Assistant Director earlier this year. I was part of a team of mostly Indian and Indian-Australian artists, telling an Indian story in a way that was dynamic, modern and exciting.
Casting against type can bring up new layers of existing stories. In 2007 I cast Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist with the mindset that just because the characters (and the world they represented) were almost exclusively white men, that didn't mean that the actors had to be. Far from being confusing for the audience, it added greatly to the audience's experience. In 2016, I cast physically disabled actor and dancer Daniel Monks in the heroic lead role in Orpheus. Because this was a devised work, we could incorporate Daniel's experiences and unique physicality into the production.
Top image: Jonathan Dent in Death and the King's Horseman, a Nigerian play I directed for an American audience.
What can live theatre do that film can't? Interact and immerse. Most of my productions have made it very clear that you are in another world as soon as you enter the theatre space, and Zeroville used both an unconventional space and an extended pre-show to take this further, while maintaining the "audience sits and watches stuff" paradigm. Visiting Hours was something different - a truly immersive performance, in which audiences were taken though the environment in groups. Created for Vivid Sydney, every level of the Kings Cross Hotel was turned into a thrilling new environment using only sound, lights, music and performances.
But just as I see all theatre as site-specific, I see all theatre as immersive and interactive. The audience has to be given a reason why they paid a lot more money to go across town and sit in an uncomfortable seat if they're lucky, when they could stay home and watch TV. To compete with any number of 2D entertainment options, theatre must justify its existence. There are real 3D humans doing this live, right in front of you. In 2014's Phaedra, I played with the interactivity of the Chorus. Sometimes they were characters, sometimes external instigators, and sometimes they threw popcorn at the audience.
Top image: audience members follow instructions in 2016's Visiting Hours. Photo Suzanne Millar.
Why must everything be clean? Just because you can't get splashed watching something gory on Netflix, doesn't mean we should play by the same rules.
Using the power of real physical substances, I create theatre that is visceral and synaesthetic. Seeing liquids get poured, watching bodies work and sweat, hearing live music that you can see played and feel in your chest. This is what theatre can do.
Top image: Jim McCrudden's surgery comes to a chaotic end during Visiting Hours, 2016. Photo Suzanne Millar.