Independent Spotlight Perth: Joe Lui and Renegade Productions

Perth’s theatre scene is full of enterprising people who want to work on creatively fulfilling projects that allow them to produce cutting-edge works, maintain artistic control, and provide Perth audiences with quality, unique productions.

Cicely Binford takes an up-close look at some of the ‘independents’ in Perth and their steadfast commitment to producing exciting theatrical works of superior quality for Perth audiences.

Joe Lui
Joe Lui

Joe Lui stands out from the crowd. Once you’ve seen or met Joe at some show in Perth, you’ll start to see him all over town. One time I stepped into an elevator in a car park under King’s Perth Hotel and there was Joe, carrying an amp on his way to a gig. I wanted to serenade him with, “Hey Joe, where you goin’ with that amp in your hand?” but then I figured he’s probably heard the “Hey Joe” reference all his life, and he probably doesn’t think it’s funny anymore.

Lui stands out from the crowd, not just because of his mad pants, long black hair and distinctive eyewear, but because he is a leader in the independent theatre sector in Perth; he’s a jack of all trades and he is constantly involved in doing as much work as he can, with lots of different people. He’s known for his beautiful lighting designs, his original sound design and music, and playing live gigs. But the thing that drives him the most is creating his own work under the banner of the company that he founded with fellow students back at Murdoch University: Renegade Productions.

Renegade has been around since 2007, when they produced a modern adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, and have produced roughly two shows a year since then. They are currently developing a piece called The Tribe, for which Lui is writing, directing and composing the music; he is devising it along with performers Mikala Westall, Paul Grabovac and Ella Hetherington, designer India Mehta, and videographer Mia Holton.

“The Tribe is basically about the human urge to belong to a group,” says Lui, “and how easy it is to forget that people are people. It’s about the tribal nature in which the world is seen [them versus us]. Palestinians vs. Israelis, Muslims vs. Christians. This makes ‘them’ so much easier to kill because they’re crazy, faceless terrorists. We have to remind ourselves that every single human being is a summation of friends and family and laughter and sadness and joy and tragedy.”

Mikala Westall and Paul Grabovac Photo: Mia Holton and Joe Lui
Mikala Westall and Paul Grabovac
Photo: Joe Lui

I asked Lui if he felt like he was part of a tribe and he replied, “It’s impossible to not be part of one;  but I’m not advocating not having a sense of identity.” The show does explore some of the more positive aspects of being part of a group, but Lui wants to urge his fellow artists and his audience to constantly be “taking their own temperature” through self-examination, the lack of which, in his opinion, “leads to tragedy.” In his work Lui finds this self-examination to be a kind of motif and it pops up in The Tribe as he explores the idea of “being okay with not belonging, being okay with not agreeing with your tribe.”

It could be said that there are quite a number of ‘tribes’ in Perth’s independent theatre sector, and it follows that there is a significant level of competition amongst those ‘tribes’ for space, funding and publicity. Lui finds this one of the tougher aspects of being an independent theatre artist, and even though “it’s a lovely community”, he says the funding battles can quickly turn “catty and nasty.” He adds that “no one views the competition for funding as artistic competition.”

The aspect of independent theatre Lui finds most difficult to deal with is when he is unable to pay people he collaborates with what they’re truly worth. “That above all keeps me awake at night. I’m really blessed to have some amazing people with really beautiful, creative minds who think that my work is worth contributing to; and the fact that a lot of the time I can’t give them what they’re worth kills me.”

Of course, I don’t think anyone does independent theatre for financial gain and, if they do, they’re going to be almost instantly disappointed. I asked Lui why he keeps at it and he replied, in his unique dry way, “Stupidity; hatred of money and comfort.” But he’s also an idealist and says that he plays the game in the hopes that one day he won’t have to play the game and will be able to focus solely on making his own work.

Lui also has some advice for up-and-comers who are just getting into it: “Don’t assume people know who you are. Be thorough in your applications [to The Blue Room or for funding], keep in constant contact. Be in the community, be a contributing part of the community, come to shows, hang out after, talk to people.” He counts that as one of the many reasons why he has been able to support himself as a theatre artist over the last couple of years.

The Tribe is being shown at The Blue Room as part of the work’s ongoing development, funded by the Theatre Works Grant Program of 2013. Lui was one of only six recipients of this grant, which has reallocated monies that had previously gone to two small to medium companies who ended operations in 2012: Deckchair Theatre Company (with which Joe had also been actively involved) and Thin Ice Productions.

The Tribe should be a unique and somewhat immersive experience, as they are “taking over the venue,” and it’s being told in three parts. The team have created a teaser video (Mia Holton) which they’ve just released this week:

Season: 15 Oct – 2 Nov // Days: Tues – Sat // Time: 7pm // Duration: 100 min inc interval

Preview: Tues 15 Oct // Members’ Night: Wed 16 Oct // Meet The Artists: Wed 23 Oct

Information and booking for The Tribe:

Cicely Binford

Cicely originally hails from Dallas, deep in the heart of Texas, USA. She graduated from Texas Woman's University with a Bachelor of Arts in Drama. While at university, she had the opportunity to explore as many aspects of the theatre world as she could fit under her belt, both as a performer, as well as in a number of different design and technical roles. After moving to Australia in 2007, she found herself back in the theatre world, performing, designing, and even directing once again, with a passion rekindled by the increasingly vibrant theatre and performing arts scene in Perth. She is also an avid photographer and can often be found around town at various performing arts events with a camera strapped to her neck. Her aim is to have her finger on the thriving pulse of the arts scene in WA through participation and immersion in everything it has to offer.

Cicely Binford

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