In conversation with Damon Lockwood, Assistant Director of Signs of Life

After the success of Rising Water in 2011, Black Swan State Theatre Company presents the second of Tim Winton’s plays, Signs of Life in its winter 2012 season.

Signs of Life is about people with uncertain futures, in a country where nobody belongs, and everyone’s fate seems to have been determined by those who came before.

AussieTheatre’s Craig Dalglish had the chance to talk with assistant director Damon Lockwood about the upcoming production in this quirky and poignant interview.

Damon Lockwood
Damon Lockwood

What can Perth audiences expect from Signs of Life?

A tight, expertly crafted show that is at times sharp and humorous and other times sonorous and beautiful.  It is a play that speaks to a lot of different people on a lot of different levels. It addresses how at some point in all our lives we all feel lost and unsure of where to go to next.

What excites you about the show?

Signs of Life is a great example of all the disparate elements of the theatrical experience coming together to support each other in collective harmony. Ben Collins sound design, Zoe Atkinson’s set design, Kate Cherry’s direction and John Buswell’s lighting plan all ultimately assist the play to be the best it can be. Having Tim Winton write the thing ain’t such a bad result either…

What is it about Tim’s writing that excites you?

Witnessing an exemplary prose writer tangle with and nail the completely different genre of dramatic text is very exciting. His ability to directly reveal the innermost thoughts of his characters through inference and suggestion rather than blatant statement is masterful.  Also, with all great dramatists, his skill at blending comedy and depth within the space of half a page is a delight to witness.

Can you give us a brief summary of the development of the show?

Many years of script development, rapid script development when rehearsals started, before the endlessly exciting, nerve-wracking time of a putting a new play on its feet.  As with all new dramatic work it was a wrestle early on and now, especially since the play has been performing to regional audiences, it has really begun to find its feet and take off.

What do you hope audiences take away from the performance?

Perhaps a greater understanding that no matter where you come from, who you are, what your background is, or what you look like, we are all actually in this life thing together, and if you take a step back, nobody is greater or lesser than anybody else in this world.  I personally think it’s a great message for a play to push.

As assistant director what has been the hardest thing?

Knowing when to talk and when to keep my mouth shut, though I think I’m a pretty good supporter. I do believe humility is the greatest tool in the creation of theatre.

The easiest?

Knowing when to talk and when to keep my mouth shut. Director Kate Cherry is very supportive as well as a clear visionary – she’s a perfect mix of push and nurture. We have a really strong collaboration going on there I think.

Can you tell us about the cast and what it is like working with them?

Signs of Life
George Shevtsov & Pauline Whyman
Image Garry Ferguson

It was an exceptional honour to walk into the same room as the cast every day to be honest.  They all have incredible CVs so to be able to witness their work processes was incredibly humbling and enlightening all at the same time. They were all very open to suggestion and direction, and in making sure the play was the best possible production it could be. Watching Helen Morse suddenly nail some key moments in the rehearsal room was awesome.

How did you get into directing?

It was always a goal of mine but first I wanted experience in all facets of the theatrical creation process. I felt this way allowed me the best possible lines of communication with my fellow creatives when the time came to direct. So far I think it’s working out!

Who/ what has been your greatest influence in pursuing your career?

A man called Grahame Gavin (ex-artistic director of Barking Gecko Theatre Company, amongst other things) gave me a start and I have always respected his opinions and work ethic. Kate Cherry taking a chance on me was unbelievably encouraging and I learn from her every day.  And novelist Patrick White has influenced my whole work practice greatly as well.

What advice would you give others looking to a career in directing?

I think diligence and humility can serve you well in this ridiculous industry.  Times are getting tougher in an employment sense for the creative arts so any chance you get you just have to work so hard at it. Opportunities are rare so make the most of them when they come – there are no dress rehearsals in life. Creating your own independent work for people to see is important too.

What excites you about theatre in Perth?

Perth allows you to be bold with your choices and perhaps get results if you choose to work hard enough. There’s a great group of core people really working hard to do the best they can.  A number of companies and independents are doing a whole lot with very little.

What is next for you after Signs of Life?

Continuing my role as Artistic Associate at Black Swan, off to Queensland in September to remount a play called Boundary Street for the Brisbane Festival, a couple of creative developments here and there, and then trying to find any jobs in this silly industry that will allow me to feed my family… don’t know anyone who needs their gutters cleaned, do you?

Signs of Life

State Theatre Centre of WA

Heath Ledger Theatre

21 July – 12 August

Tickets through BOCS or 9484 1133

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