Interview: Thomas Burt in Punk Rock, King St Theatre

Thomas Burt describes his younger self as “incredibly awkward and socially anxious.” So how did he end up in the lead role of William in Punk Rock, a play about teenage bullying and violence?

From far left: Luke Beattie, Chloe Higson, Alec Council, Thomas G Burt, Hannah Lehmann, Alannah Robertson and Jaime Santos.  Photo by Sinui Pavino.
From far left: Luke Beattie, Chloe Higson, Alec Council, Thomas G Burt, Hannah Lehmann, Alannah Robertson and Jaime Santos.
Photo by Sinui Pavino.

“I was a big computer guy,” he says. His aptitude for technology led to working on sound and lighting for school productions, which in turn led to doing the sound for the Marion Street Theatre for Young People’s Babe the Sheep Pig. The production’s 2011 Glug Award for Young People’s Theatre motivated him to get on stage himself, and he describes how he “signed on for stage manager for the next show, started classes with Marion Street, and a few months later, was cast in my first play.”

He has never stopped looking for opportunities to learn more about theatre. Recently, he attended a master class with Larry Moss, teacher of Hollywood actors such as Tobey Maguire and Leonardo Di Caprio. “Acting keeps interesting me,” says Burt, “not just as way to have a bit of a laugh, and not as a hobby, but because of the incredible power I think it has over people. There’s no one who can honestly claim that they have never cried a little at the theatre, or laughed their guts out at a comedy.”

Slap is a new company, with Luke Beattie and Alec Council sharing many of the company’s roles: directing, producing, acting, and set and costume design. They like it that way, Council says. “We’re trying to grow as one organism, to create a collective to encourage everyone. And by doing everything in-house, you have more control, and the show evolves as a whole.”

Punk Rock is their first full-length production, after a number of short films and plays.

Written by English playwright Simon Stephens and first performed in 2009, the script is described as “edgy and acute … a slow-building story of story of violence”. In the library of a co-educational private school, a group of students, supposed to be preparing for exams, are instead falling in love, feeling the pain of jealousy, and needling each other’s insecurities. According to publicity material, “as exam pressure builds, anxiety flares up into aggression, revealing a raw undercurrent of panic and hostility.”

Burt’s character, William Carlisle, is bright, hoping to make it into a top university. But he has fallen under the spell of Lilly, a new girl—and she, however, has fixed her eye elsewhere.

Burt describes William as “your average over-achieving teen. He’s snarky, witty, and he’s close with his group of friends. But he starts developing an almost pathological need for control, and becomes fiercely defensive of himself and the few friends he needs.”

“This isn’t my first lead role,” he adds, “but it is by far my favourite. I’m loving sinking my teeth into this text.”

Burt himself graduated from high school only last year. So, in playing William, “all the experiences from my schooling are right there to draw on. It seems to be a common theme with people drawn to acting and the arts, but I’ve been through some seriously rough patches, both relationship-wise and in finding myself and where I belong. With William, I’m drawing on that, and asking myself the age-old acting question: ‘What if things had all gone wrong for me? What if I’d never found my niche?’”

Indeed, the journey from socially awkward young boy to leading roles has not taken many years but Thomas Burt’s stage experiences have taken him in directions that that awkward kid could never have predicted.

Punk Rock opens on Tuesday, May 12 2015, and closes on Saturday, May 16 2015, at the King Street Theatre, Newtown.

To book online, click here.

Jeannette Delamoir

An ex-Queenslander and former academic, Jeannette has also managed a three-screen arthouse cinema in upstate New York, sold theatre tickets in London, and baked brownies at a cafe called Sweet Stuff.

Jeannette Delamoir

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