With the 2013 Anywhere Theatre Festival season fast approaching, a handful of Brisbane’s independent theatre artists are swapping theatre stages for warehouses, restaurants or, in Claire Pearson’s case, miniature trains.
Even before I’ve sat down to coffee with Claire to discuss her show Mona Brow Williams: Retired Actress and Cabaret Star, I can tell from her beaming smile and ecstatic movements that the zany leading character, Mona Brow, might not be an act so much as an extension of herself.
“I think when you play a character, it’s just yourself and you’re just heightening certain parts,” she tells me enthusiastically. “Mona is just my inner clown, really.”
Eccentric, mono-browed, and blissfully unaware, Mona’s character has appeared in earlier shows produced by the Unfortune Cookies independent theatre ensemble.
Previous episodes saw the character, a reclusive theatre artist, hit destitution and subsequently take up residency in a cardboard box as a sly acknowledgement of misconceptions regarding theatre performers.
“The original series was all about how acting and theatre weren’t seen as real jobs,” says the show’s director, Elizabeth Millington. “And so all actors need to go and get a real job – they need to go and work in an office, and to go and take their lives seriously.”
The narrative mirrors Claire’s own experiences as a theatre graduate struggling to find stable work in the theatre industry. Mona allows her to channel these experiences from a comedic standpoint.
“I enjoy playing Mona because it’s really just like an inner clown role,” she says. “And good clowns are never just happy jokes, most are in fact quite sad because they have an issue going on behind them.”
[pull_left]Anywhere Theatre Festival is saying the theatre is not only for people who come to a proper theatre, pay for a proper ticket and sit down in a nice seat[/pull_left]
The next biographical instalment of Claire’s alter ego will be set on the three-carriage train that courses free range throughout Brisbane’s Roma St Parklands. In transposing the show onto a train where Mona works as a tour guide, Claire can take the series’ founding irony one step further.
“Mona’s gone and got a real job, but there’s still this underlying desire for her to be famous, or to be a performer,” says Claire, excitedly. “So she gets a bit distracted along the way.”
“I think it’s just that classic thing where you see actors working in cafes making coffee, saying ‘I’m just waiting to be discovered’,” adds Elizabeth.
“Some of the themes and issues might go over kids’ heads,” says Claire. “So the whole thing is adults squished into this little kids train, and that’s what I love about it. It’s quite nostalgic.”
I ask Claire if she’s ever nervous about performing as the outlandish character on a precariously mobile train.
“Well, anything that happens on the train I just have to take on as the character and how would she react to it,” she explains. “And if something goes wrong, it’s okay because I’m Mona, and Mona has to deal with something in her own Mona way, whether it’s funny or just awkward.”
As the only moving stage in this year’s season, the miniature train certainly stands out as one of the Anywhere Theatre Festival’s most daring locations. Yet this kind of innovation sits at the heart of the festival’s commitment to bringing theatre to new spaces and broader audiences.
“Anywhere Theatre Festival is saying the theatre is not only for people who come to a proper theatre, pay for a proper ticket and sit down in a nice seat,” says Claire. “It’s a great way of bringing it to people as well, so suddenly we have a new group of people who are becoming exposed to the show because they hang out at the park with their kids.”
“It’s a practical thing too,” she goes on. “Because it’s pretty hard to get theatre space in Brisbane if you’re an independent artist, and no-one has money for what’s available… So the festival director, Paul Osuch, said ‘okay, let’s just make it anywhere and everywhere, where some of the spaces are free as well.’”
Claire will fulfil Mona’s shoes over six showings on May 10-12 and 17-19 from 4pm, though each show is strictly limited to sixteen seats.
Claire is also appealing for donations towards a Pozible campaign to gain reimbursement for production expenses and channel money back into independent theatre.