IN DA HOUSE – Inside MTC’s NEON Workshops

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been lucky enough to take part in two Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) workshops being held in conjunction with the NEON Festival of Independent Theatre. First up was a Directing workshop with Associate Artistic Director Sam Strong and Associate Director Leticia Cáseres. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, but it was much, much better.

MTC's Neon Festival
MTC’s Neon Festival

Held in a rehearsal studio at MTC HQ on Sturt Street, I found myself sitting in an intimate circle of chairs with Sam Strong and only nine other independent theatre directors. Gulp. The first half of the workshop was spent getting to know one another by talking through our favourite theatre experiences – a very telling exercise. Sam then generously shared his own story and career path along with some hot directing tips collected from heroes and mentors over the years including Neil Armfield and Anne Bogart. The group discussion that followed was very easy – partly because Sam is so open, and partly because sandwiches and coffee were being consumed at the time.

The next portion of the workshop was spent with the delightful Leticia Cáseres. Once again, we were let in on a unique story and career path that included a life in Argentina and Canada before being mentored by Michael Gow at Queensland Theatre Company.

Leticia then introduced us to an exercise called Line of Action. Used to articulate the fundamental action of a play rather than its themes, this writing task involved condensing a play into two sentences. Hard, but worth it. After hearing Leticia’s draft Line of Action for her upcoming Belvoir production of Simon Stone’s Miss Julie, we all had a go at writing a Line of Action for a production we have in the works. I used Reception: The Musical (that’s right – it’s coming!).

After this, Leticia let us in on some practical directing exercises she uses to introduce actors to the rehearsal space and their relationship to one another within it. This was great fun – even though it involved jumping up and pretending to be actors. Heaven forbid!

Two days later, I found myself sitting in the VIP room of MTC’s Southbank Theatre awaiting another workshop entitled ‘The Pitch’ – an invaluable session with arts management royalty, Josephine Ridge (Artistic Director of Melbourne Festival) and Brett Sheehy (Artistic Director of MTC). Also joining us around the shiny black table was The Rabble’s Emma Valente, fresh from an extended sell-out season of her NEON offering, ‘Story of O’.

[pull_left]Tune your ear to who you take advice from. You don’t have to be someone you’re not, but learn to talk about your work and have good documentation[/pull_left]

After hearing the incredible steps that both Brett and Josephine’s careers have taken – it appears a gardener can end up curating some of the world’s most dynamic arts events – Emma talked us through a successful pitch she had once given to Brett when he was heading up the Melbourne Festival. This, of course, included some helpful hints. “Tune your ear to who you take advice from. You don’t have to be someone you’re not, but learn to talk about your work and have good documentation. And, if you have an ‘in’ – use it!”

As you can imagine, both Brett and Josephine have been ‘pitched at’ a lot over the course of their impressive careers. Brett maintains that telling the truth is key. “It’s not a sales pitch. Drop the jargon and tell me ‘why’. We are in this because we love audiences and the human experience. I don’t like the hard sell – speak from the heart.” Josephine also added an insight into why a pitch may not be successful. “A panel might love an idea, but we’re also thinking about the mix, a wider context. Also, don’t just come to us needing money!”

Armed with hot drinks and decadent chocolate slice, we moved into the final section of the workshop – practice pitching. As we went around the table, hearing everything from wild or vague ideas to full-blown pitches complete with miniature rubber chickens, I tried to go over everything we had learnt so far. When it was my turn, I decided to have a crack at giving a light-hearted and punchy pitch for Reception: The Musical. Scary exercise? Sure. Beneficial exercise? You betcha! I was thrilled to receive positive feedback from the panel as well as my peers. “I want to see it! Is it on You Tube?”

It most certainly is!

Reception The Musical

I would like to thank the team from MTC for being so generous with both their knowledge and resources throughout the NEON festival. The independent sector really is buzzing as a result.

Be sure to catch the final NEON EXTRA forum, ‘The Art of Adaptation’, with panel members Simon Stone, Andrew Upton, Adena Jacobs, Dr Jane Montgomery Griffiths, Cameron Woodhead and Joanna Murray-Smith.

‘The Art of Adaptation’ – Free Forum
Sunday 21 July, 1.30pm
The Sumner, Southbank Theatre.
More info here:

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