A self-described “theatre-maker, dessert-baker, actor and writer”, Anna Rodway is currently appearing in LadyCake as part of Melbourne’s Poppy Seed Theatre Festival. Below, Rodway talks to AussieTheatre about the vilification of Marie Antoinette (and all the women who have come after her), the importance of bravery and boldness in pitching new theatre, and why Poppy Seed Theatre Festival was the perfect beginning for her show.
What is the premise of your show?
LadyCake is a modern re-fashioning of the myths surrounding the infamous last queen of France – Marie Antoinette – who lived like a rock star against the backdrop of a blood-thirsty revolution.
Why did the concept of your show appeal to you?
Marie Antoinette fascinates us. She is a figure who has been vilified throughout history, with many myths and clichés associated with her – cake, wealth, the guillotine, revolt, dresses, white outlandish hairstyles and a hall of mirrors… Despite popular knowledge however, she was a woman thrust into the public eye and was what we might consider an early celebrity; adored and condemned, the subject of propaganda and pornography.
Using Marie Antoinette as a device, we are curious about the public life versus the private. Is what you hear about someone really the truth of who they are? How easy is it to tear a woman down from her throne?
Why does the festival format work for your show?
The Poppy Seed Festival has given us an incredible opportunity to realise our passion project. To be one of four shows chosen and nurtured is a rare opportunity for an emerging company. We have been given the chance to cross-collaborate with the other ensembles, with the Festival producers and mentors, given the resources and support as well as a space like the Trades Hall, New Ballroom which has the old-world aesthetic and charm that suits our piece – we are very fortunate!
What has surprised you in the process of creating or rehearsing your show?
We have been surprised by our research – the breadth of original pamphlets, images and quotes from the 18th Century has been a fruitful basis for our exploration. Then, there are the endless examples of modern parallels – from Princess Diana, to Hilary Clinton, to Monica Lewinsky– women in the public eye, placed on pedestals, who are almost trapped by their public profiles and society’s fascination with them.
Do you see a future for the work beyond the Poppy Seed Theatre Festival?
We would love to develop LadyCake and potentially take it interstate. We’ve always dreamed about doing a show with a live band or orchestra… So that would be an amazing further development!
This festival allows artists to interact with their counterparts from each of the other performances, have you learned anything from someone participating in a different show? If so, what?
One of the greatest parts of the festival model is the opportunity to liaise with other artists involved in the festival. We are surrounded by an incredible bunch of people!
One of the most impressive moments on our Poppy Seed journey was the chance to watch the other three shows “re-pitch” to one another, so we could learn about the content and idea behind Blessed, What’s Yours Is Mine and F. Each group presented so uniquely, with a performance, a radical interactive spectacle and a provocative and confronting lecture-style pitch. It certainly made us reflect upon the power of a strong and passionate pitching of a concept. Bravery and boldness is key!
What is the benefit in people from different works sharing resources and problem solving together?
Working together as a cohesive festival unit has been integral to the whole process. Weekly ensemble meetings have been so valuable for everybody, to pool ideas and resources to make the festival take shape to the best of its ability. Some of the greatest benefits have been asking around for equipment amongst contacts and mates, gaining momentum as a collective with our advertising of the four works, and generally being given a chance to share our progress and then learn from one another’s individual backgrounds and experience within arts industries.
The thinking behind working as a festival ensemble is that we personally will experience a successful season if we invest our time, energy and commitment to the other three shows. We’ve become a sort of theatre family these past few months!
What have you learned from someone participating in your show?
We don’t stop learning from one another! One thing we learned from our set designer, Anastassia Poppenberg, is that it is so important to keep questioning and mining an idea in order to fully realise it’s potential and worth to the overall show. At the beginning of the process many months ago, Anastassia asked us “So… why Marie Antoinette?”
That moment was so crucial to the direction the show has taken since then.
Why are you excited for audiences to see your show?
We are super excited for audiences to see the world premiere of LadyCake because it is not only a fun and entertaining piece of theatre but it’s also our second show created under our new company, Three Birds Theatre. We think audiences will love our use of comedy, our heightened style and our unique way of story-telling.
Why are you excited for audiences
to see the other festival performances?
Audiences will love Blessed, What’s Yours Is Mine and F. because they are all provocative, ambitious and challenging new works created by Melbourne-based independent artists.
What would you say to artists who would like to apply to be a part of future Poppy Seed Festival’s?
My advice would be to attend the information session, make sure your idea is really fleshed out, surround yourself with an excellent team of creatives and be brave! If you’re an emerging theatre company, Poppy Seed Festival is the perfect platform to help launch you into the independent sector.
LadyCake closes 27 November, with tickets to be booked at this link.