I sat down with Shaun Rennie, the director of The View UpStairs, to find out a little bit more about our intrepid leader and his ideas on the subject matter that we are all tackling together.
Shaun, you started your career as an actor; what inspired you to become a director?
“It was when I started doing Light The Night – the benefit concert – to raise money for leukaemia when my brother was sick. Once a year I would have this day in November where I would direct Light The Night and it was my favourite day of the year. I started to recognise that it matched my temperament and skill set and I just loved that. And so over the years of doing Light The Night I always knew that one day I’d want to move into directing theatre.”
Have there been things that as an actor you’ve found tough to transfer over to being a director?
“I never really thought I was a very good actor! I find as an actor I was always very full of self doubt and self esteem issues, was bad at accents, was always very self conscious and my energy felt very inner. Whereas when I’m directing it feels very outwards; I’m focused on you guys and it feels healthier. I get so much more joy, the days go by much quicker than they ever did when I was acting. I actually think that that part of the experience of being onstage, working with other directors and having a career as an actor has definitely informed what toolbox I have in terms of helping actors (or trying to help actors!). But really I haven’t found the transition tricky, I’ve loved it.”
So what lead you to The View UpStairs?
“It came to me. Gus Murray [our producer] brought it to me. I was aware of it through [photographer] Kurt Sneddon; he took the production shots of the Off Broadway production right around the time we were working on Only Heaven Knows at the Hayes. It was a queer musical, small theatre, 10 people in the cast, and when Gus brought it to me and asked me to direct it, to be honest I was a little concerned about the content being similar in terms of “a look at historical gay themes in a musical.” But then the plebiscite was happening and it became clear that this was a very different conversation than Only Heaven Knows was.”
What do you want the audience to walk away with after coming to see the show?
“I hope the younger gays who come for the sass, the Ru Paul, the music and the fun drag queen sassiness of it, I hope that they walk away with a sense of appreciating our elders, essentially, and those who fought so hard so that we can stand on their shoulders now. Hopefully the show leaves people with a sense of hope, and a sense of respect for those who have come before us. We’ve said this from day one, and I know you wrote about this, “why this play and why now?”. And to me, the answer was always: on this long march towards real equality, we have to honour the voices who have come before us and give them a voice because they never had one before, especially people who were killed in gay hate crimes around the world.”
You’ve said to the cast in discussions about the themes of the play, that even in the time since you’ve come out that the gay community has changed dramatically. What are your hopes for the future of the gay community?
“I hope that we – not necessary just the gay community but the human race – I hope that we remember that what makes us human is our desire to connect with each other and, as much as technology is a challenge to that, that we’ll start to value things like shared spaces, like theatres for example. I think that we’ll start, as a human race, to remember that there is strength in our shared experience; as a gay man or as a human or as an LGBTQI community member. That essentially our strength and the way forward, this is a lofty answer, is working together.”
One final question, out of all the characters in the show, who you do connect with or would you see yourself playing?
[Shaun seems genuinely stumped by this question, and after pondering the similarities he holds with all the characters, he changes tack.]
“I don’t know. I’m so lucky that I’ve been able to live a happy authentic life since I came out when I was 16, I haven’t had to sublimate my desires or my love and that’s what the shows about; what that does to these characters and how that comes out in many different ways and facets. So I feel lucky that I don’t have to feel the need to turn to religion or the need to lie about my sexuality to my partner or to make up wild stories in order to cover the pain. I don’t feel that need because these people who lived in the past who had to do those things fought so hard so that I can just be me.”
The View UpStairs will be playing at the Hayes Theatre from February 8th. Tickets at www.hayestheatre.com.au