New kids on the block: Orphans at Q44 Theatre

There are some new kids on the theatrical block in Melbourne and we want you to know!

The team behind the brand spanking new Q44 Theatre Company are a passionate group of theatre makers who aspire to build an ensemble of players from within an artist-driven theatre company. Their first play, Delores, premiered last month to great acclaim and their second offering – Lyle Kessler’s gripping play Orphans – is about to kick off tomorrow night.

Q44 Theatre's production of Orphans
Q44 Theatre’s production of Orphans

Orphans is now 31 years old, premiering in Los Angeles in 1983 and making its way Off-Broadway in 1985-86. An emotionally charged play that can take you from laughter to heart-break in a minute, Orphans deals with the feeling of abandonment – whether it be by a parent, lover, partner, co-worker or friend, we have all felt ‘orphaned’ in one way or another.

We spoke with Producer and actor Ashley Mckenzie about the importance of Q44 Theatre Company, and this exciting new production.

How did working on this play – Orphans – come about for you? What was the impetus for staging this work?

I first discovered this play whilst working as an actor in the ‘Larry Moss’ masterclass in 2013. A scene from Orphans was put up by two other actors and i was immediately hooked. Whilst watching these actors working, I could not help but immediately think… “I need to work on this play”. It is so alive with passion, angst, and emotion, that it grabs you and just doesn’t let go.

[pull_left]It is so alive with passion, angst, and emotion, that it grabs you and just doesn’t let go[/pull_left]

During this same workshop I was drawn to something else, an actor named Mark Davis. I didn’t know Mark before thes workshop, but when I was watching him work I was instantly drawn to him. Mark had an amazing presence and nature on stage. I guess there is no other way to say it… I just felt a connection to the way he worked.

So I walked away with two things stuck in my head, Orphans by Lyle Kessler and an actor named Mark… The maths was pretty simple, I got in contact with Mark and asked him how he felt about working on Orphans with me. His ‘yes’ came out pretty damn quick! Through rehearsals, our connection developed instantaneously and has grown stronger every day and is something I will be eternally grateful for.

What does the play mean to you? 

The more I read the play, the more it spoke to me. Orphans deals with these boys being trapped in a cycle and as the play unfolds we see them try to break free and face their demons. There is no man I know that doesn’t have something in their lives that can make them feel trapped. Orphans spoke to me for this reason, as it challenged me to face up to things I needed to deal with. That, and it’s also just an awesome piece of theatre that I knew needed to be seen in Melbourne!

Tell us a little about producing your own work

[pull_right]There is no man I know that doesn’t have something in their lives that can make them feel trapped[/pull_right]The producing side of things came about by accident in a way. I wanted to put this play up and be in it, and seeing so there was nobody around to help me… the answer was simple, ‘do it yourself’. The story is that simple. I wanted a chance to be in a play with writing this amazing, so I just made it happen!

The next part was by pure chance. Mark and I happened to work under the same acting coach, Gabriella Rose-Carter. When we asked her to direct it, she not only said yes, but also informed us of a Theatre Company she was trying to start up. The name of that company is ‘Q44’, and we have never looked back.

Why is Q44 theatre so important to the Melbourne independent theatre scene?

Q44 Theatre's production of Orphans
Q44 Theatre’s production of Orphans

This question is a tough one. I could write a million things as to why I, Ashley Mckenzie, think Q44 is important, but when I think about it, that’s not actually the point.

All Independent Theatre in Melbourne is vital, the work being produced by independent companies here is nothing short of phenomenal. Why is Q44, specifically important? I can only speak from my experience with it and my reason is this. Q44 is about 2 things. 1: Using great writers to tell human stories and 2: Creating a supportive and creative platform for actors to work from. Q44 is doing this for no other reasons but these. ‘Important’ is just one of many words I think stick solidly to this.

You sourced much of your finances for this production via a very effective Pozible campaign. How has crowd funding affected the way we produce theatre? Is it a viable way to get something off the ground?

After using ‘Pozible’ to help get Orphans off the ground and running, I definitely speak highly of it and am beyond grateful that platform was already existing for me to use. That said, publicly asking for financial help is a bloody scary thing to do. Most nights during our campaign, I second-guessed myself and worried endlessly that I was “asking for a free ride” in a way. Who was I to say I deserved peoples money for something I wanted to put up? However in the end I realise how much it has helped me see this little dream of mine become a reality. If that’s what crowd-funding can do, I say bring it on.

What I have learnt through this project is that people will only donate to a project they want to support and believe in. If you are asking the public to help decide what theatre deserves a helping hand, what is wrong with that? I trust that people are smart enough to support the works that deserve it. Therefore, yes I do think it’s a viable way to help produce theatre. As long as you are smart about it and use it as a ‘start-up’ tool and not just a professional hand-out system.

You were hooked from the first moment you saw a scene from this work. Who else do you think this play will speak to? 

When looking at this play at face value, it directly looks at the lives of three ‘men’, but really it speaks to every father,mother, girlfriend or boyfriend who has lived with one of these characters in their lives. I think really good theatre doesn’t have a ‘target audience’. I believe the plays and musicals that last through time speak to all audiences in different ways.

Orphans will speak to anyone who knows what it’s like to be caught in a cycle they need to get out of – be it theirs or someone close to them. Kessler’s words are articulate, relevant and electric and definitely don’t have any audience boundaries in my mind. Whatever group it is that you call family in your, life traditional or not. I guarantee you will relate the themes of this play back to it!

Orphans stars Ashley Mckenzie as Treat, Mark Davis as Phillip and Gareth Reeves as Harold and is Directed by Gabriella Rose-Carter.

Season runs from 14 June – 29 June at Q44 Theatre Company




Erin James

Erin James is's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

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