Venus in Fur... Anywhere!
Dear reader, I have some news!
The Anywhere Festival starts very soon. When I say very soon, I mean next week. From the 6th of May to the 23rd, to be exact. And with The Drama Merchant and his team working tirelessly to bring Venus In Fur to the festival, I thought I’d write a little bit about it and the process it requires to prepare for it.
So first, what is the Anywhere Festival?
Created in 2011, the Anywhere Festival is Brisbane’s revolutionary take on the Fringe Festival concept, with a twist. Local venues, such as businesses, homes and locals, are the ones who host the performances, so artists can focus on their creative work without the financial burdens that comes when presenting independently. This not only alleviates the load for our local performers, it also gives their works a new perspective, and the audience will enjoy many surprises. Nothing is impossible. Poetry in lighthouses, circus in driveways, storytelling on ferries, theatre in hedge mazes or musicals in aeroplanes… You name it. If you can dream it… Well, you get my drift.
Anywhere stands for…
Community - bringing storytelling back to its camp-fires roots, allowing anyone to see and engage with performances anywhere, regardless of income or location.
Value of the Artists - giving performers and producers the opportunity to express their work without the restriction of location, availability of said location, funding, audience, etc. The focus is entirely put on the experience.
Local Business - by placing performances in public and business locations, the Festival creates innovative partnerships with local businesses and performers. It creates entertainment right where people live, work and play, thus creating stronger, more vibrant communities.
Here are some of the shows presenting at the Anywhere Festival
So what about The Drama Merchant?
Well, after a successful reception of Venus In Fur when it came to stage in February, the team is appearing in the Anywhere Festival for 5 shows. A great opportunity if you have not had the chance to see it in the Gold Coast! The Drama Merchant and his cast embrace the festival’s concept of “theatre anywhere but on a stage” and will be performing the show in three very different locations in Brisbane and the Gold Coast: The Moon Room - Arcana in Moorooka, on 9th May, Farrier Bar -The QA Hotel in Fortitude Valley on 14th, 15th, 16th May, and Motet Creative Studios in Molendinar on 21st & 22nd May. To book your tickets click here
What will we see?
The saying that you never see the same show twice in theatre (as in even if it is the same show, you will not experience it the same way) is even more true here, as each space is unique in its own right. Motet is a music studio with an industrial feel, the Moon Room is a dance studio with a noir-ish feel and Farrier Bar is, as its name indicates, a bar with a very public and yet intimate feel. The space, architecture and atmosphere change in each location. So it will be a different show every time, and isn’t that the beauty of theatre?
How will The Drama Merchant and his cast make it work?
Well, I guess it is for you to find out. No? Ok, fine, I’ll tell you. And without spoilers at that! The Drama Merchant and his cast have blocked the show for each venue, manipulated the atmosphere to make sense of it for the audience. For example, Venus In Fur being an audition turned rehearsal, how could the audience believe that this could take place in a bar? Well, I will leave it at what I said: blocking and manipulation of the atmosphere. And the result is that it works perfectly for each location!
I cannot wait to see how this show will transcribe into the different spaces they have. It will be like discovering it all over again. As I always say, don’t take my word for it, go and make up your own mind about it, and book a ticket.
But if you need more convincing, I have interviewed the lovely Jenna, who embodies Vanda/Venus, and here she is, in her own words.
“I relate a lot to Vanda, in terms of her confidence and determination. I think she is a real person, who is channeling Venus in the play. But sometimes I think that, in a way, Venus was there from the start to play her tricks on Thomas. Like when Vanda gets upset at him and it seems Venus is coming out. All the Greek gods were very human, with human emotions and desires, with their massive tempers. Aphrodite (Venus) would have reacted like that if a puny human treated her the way Thomas had been treating Vanda. Being dismissive, condescending, self-important. She would definitely step up and put him in his place. So to me, Vanda, Wanda and Venus are individuals, but they are also the same person, in the sense that we all have a bit of Venus in us.
My process to prepare for this show was to just step into her, as she felt quite close to my personality and thoughts. As for accents and dialects, I am not as familiar with the methodology as Dom demonstrated, so I have to prepare a bit longer to steer clear of the Irish accent and stay in the Eastern European accent that Wanda would have had as a young Austrian woman in the 1870s.
Confidence and trusting that I know what I am doing is key for me. Wanda comes in so big and energetic, she fills up the room, she’s loud, unapologetic, funny. I would have a couple of energy drinks before a show to help me get to that level.
Doing this play, taking on this role, was quite interesting and empowering for me. Her relationship to men, her “screw-you” attitude… There were a couple of lines here and there that I definitely connected to. I like the Vanda parts more than the Venus stuff. It feels more real and natural. Like some of the things she says to Thomas, she puts him in his place straight away, and flirts with him, but I don’t think those are necessarily Venus yet. So she is fighting her own battles too, it’s not all Venus saying her piece. It is Vanda and then Venus.
In terms of my acting background, I didn’t really study it in highschool or anything, but I met Nathan through a friend who was doing a show with him, and talked to him and mentioned that this is something that I would like to try myself. So last year, I was able to get things started with some radio plays and now Venus.
Working with Nathan is great. He is very open to take ideas in, and listen. He’s not controlling, but very inclusive of all creatives in the making of his shows. It is super rewarding to be able to build something together. We, the actors, are not just mimicking what we’ve been told to do. We bring things to the table, Nathan listens, incorporates when it works. It is a team project. The same goes for working with Dom… And because this is such a physically connected role and I am walking around in lingerie and stuff. Yeah, you’d have to feel comfortable with your scene partner and with the director. And we were. There was trust, respect… We just kept communicating at all times if things got a bit awkward… And now we’re super close.”
Behind the Scenes Glimpse
Well, I was so excited about the festival that I had a sneak-peak last Saturday, during their block rehearsal in the Moon Room in Arcana.
The space is very intimate, the audience could literally touch the actors if they reached out. If it was immersive in Motet, it is even more so in this space.
Dom and Jenna walk among us, the living, and we become part of the show. We are here, entranced. The small space, the proximity with the actors, the tall dance studio mirrors on three of the four walls, the small table light and the glorious heart shaped pink neon light… It all makes it an intense experience. One completely different from the Motet experience.
I could see the potential of this space and I know they will reach it come showtime. Heck, the rehearsal itself was worth seeing, with the silhouettes of our troublesome duo moving around us. Incredible!
As for the themes, they are the same. It is the same play after all, just different venues for the Festival. But, seeing it once more was like a gentle reminder, a nudge from a friend, a wink from a pixie. The discussions between Thomas and Vanda, about life, relationships, sexuality, society, and about the play itself, they resonate in me. I have spoken these words myself before. With friends, with family, colleagues, strangers in a bar. We all have had those chats! We have all reflected on those issues. It is just beautiful to see it so eloquently worded by Ives, acted by Dom and Jenna, shaped like clay by The Drama Merchant.
The actions and words between the two characters are like a dance, a fight for power, for the last word. They strip their clothes as they strip their emotions bare. It is the eternal battle of the sexes, the one we have all witnessed, whether trivialised on social media or skin-close first-hand. It shows that nothing is ever only black or white. Black or white doesn’t exist. Each point of view is valid and debates should be welcomed. Isn’t that how we evolve and improve? Our minds are malleable, we should strive to have it constantly deepened, opened, not set in stone. Socrates said “The only thing that I know, is that I know nothing.”
So in the end, who really knows. What we witness on the stage… Does that turn him (Thomas) into a bad guy? Or does it turn her (Vanda/Venus) into a bad guy? Oh hell, I don’t know… I’ve gone all philosophical and lyrical on you, dear reader… Let me get back on track...
When I was in Arcana, I took the opportunity to pick the two actors’ brains about the Anywhere Festival, and how it affected their work as actors. So, enough of my rambling, and here they are, in their own words:
Dom and Jenna - On the Anywhere Festival
What was the process involved in adapting Venus In Fur to each location for the Anywhere Festival?
Jenna - Adapting the show for the Anywhere Festival was quite tricky. There was such limited time and the spaces are so different… It is a bit unnerving, especially with Farrier because it is such a small space, it is almost going from theatre performance to film performance, it becomes very intimate. We all have a busy schedule and we’ve had very little opportunity to rehearse and reblock in the new locations. But we all worked super hard and it definitely was an interesting process! We have the lines down by heart, and we just had to readapt our lines from the original blocking… It is the beauty of theatre, anything can happen.
Dom - As actors, we have proven to ourselves that we are able to just get into a space and run the show. We can do that. But we also want to make sure the images or moments that we want to achieve, the lines that need to be driven to the audience, are still being conveyed, even if the blocking is different. So it is like you are relearning your lines for the first time. We could just rock up and wing it and be fine but we want each show, in any of the locations, to be as impactful and strong as the next.
We’ve collaborated with Nathan, and we all care about how the show looks like, how we move and how it looks on stage. We want to drive the point home, framing certain moments and making sure we hit certain images… And having the props in the right places. During rehearsal in the new space, our brains are like A - run the show and remember our lines and do what we normally do, but then B - thinking a few steps ahead to achieve this moment coming up, with the same impression that we left on people in February. Giving the moments that deserve it the “oomph”.
We trust in the work that we have done before but we also want to be prepared for the new places, how to map it out. Make it work and make sense of our environment. A new challenge, a new opportunity. I’ve done a play that had 6 or 7 actors cramped on a, maybe 2 by 2, small stage… so working with what we have today is different, yes, but we make it work.
Did either of you have participated in Anywhere Festival before? And… any jitters?
Dom - I’ve never done Anywhere Festival before. I have done a Short+Sweet Festival, which is sort of similar, with healthy competition between the shows. And I have done One Act Play Festival as well. But I’ve had Anywhere Festival in sight for a while. As a developing actor, this is a major opportunity. I am so happy to be doing the Anywhere Festival. And, yeah, I am anxious but also really excited to get a lot of people here to see the show. But mostly excited, because this is on my actor’s bucket list to do and I am doing it so. You know, something to do at least once.
Jenna - I have done the 2020 Anywhere Festival with Nathan. We did A Coffin In Studio B, which was more of an improv dinner-theatre radio play type piece. It was way different to what we are doing this year. I think being anxious is healthy in this context. But I am not scared to mess up or anything, it is just the jitters before the curtains are up.
If you missed a chance to see the show on the Gold Coast in February, here is your last chance to see it before the reveal of The Drama Merchants next show in August.
BOOK TICKETS HERE and until 9th May you can receive 50% off the ticket price by including the code: VENUSFLASH50 and embrace the freedom of being uncensored with a side of risqué with The Drama Merchant and his cast during the Anywhere Festival!