Experimental Freshworks at Old 505 Theatre

Sex. Death. Memory. Loss. Greed. Oh, and women’s Olympic boxing. The 2015 Freshworks season at the Old 505 Theatre in Surry Hills taps into the profound concerns that have driven theatre since the days of Greek tragedy—and addresses modern-day themes as well.

Freshworks, at the Old 505 Theatre, Surry Hills.
Freshworks, at the Old 505 Theatre, Surry Hills.

But the productions in Freshworks experiment with the ways they push and poke at these ideas, going places that are strange, uncomfortable, even grotesque. They play around with content, with expression, with their process of creation. They mess with audience interactions.

And that is the point—for the productions, the companies, and the venue itself. The Old 505 Theatre, an intimate space seating only 30, opened in early 2011. It is a new addition to a venue with dedicated spaces for music and theatre, originally established in 2004 “as a meeting place for artists from two genres (music and theatre) to see each other’s work and initiate collaborations.”

Kerri Glasscock, the venue’s founder and director, explains that when she met co-founder Cameron Undy, they realized “there wasn’t really any space that was dedicated to experimental and artist-based performance with a dedicated audience and where it wasn’t about making lots of money.”

She adds: “We’ve both very much been the sort of people who say, ‘What’s the problem? Can we fix it? Let’s try to do that.’ Really, when we started out in 2004, we had no intention of becoming venue owners. But it just struck a nerve within the city and, before we knew it, there were hundreds of people wanting to come and see what was going on there.”

This is the second year for Freshworks. Glasscock says that the 2014 season “was a really exciting month for those young companies. Then, when we opened our submissions for the 2015 season, we found that about 90 percent specifically requested Freshworks. So [Associate Artistic Director] Gareth Boylan and I said to each other, ‘Well, we have to give these guys a home.” As a result, the season this year has been expanded to eight weeks, all new works, and nearly all of it Australian.

Glasscock notes that they hadn’t set Australian-origin as a criterion, but she believes in the value of telling stories that relate to our own lives and environment—right now: “One of the things we’re able to do at Old 505 is to offer artists the opportunity to voice their current concerns. It’s vital that we tell those stories.”

Although there is great variety among the pieces this year, typically the people involved are at the beginning of their theatrical careers. Says Glasscock: “When you’re starting out and really trying to find out what you’re about, you tend to be much more open to trying things and pushing the boundaries.”

She quickly adds: “It’s not to say that everything works out all the time, but there’s something very unique about seeing people at that stage of their career.”

So, in this season—to pick two productions at random—the ensemble Hurrah Hurrah presents their group-devised piece Trade (Tuesday May 12-Sunday May 17 May). Their inspiration was Jerôme Kerivel, a French futures trader who lost €5 billion in illegal trading. The company describes the work as “a highly physical and grotesque exploration of the kind of money we can only dream about”, but ultimately they focus on the possibility of redemption through facing guilt. Alison Bennett and Alison Windsor, founders of Hurrah Hurrah, have both studied at Le Coq School of Theatre in Paris, and they—as well as Dymphna Carew, Naomi Livingstone and Cheyne Finn, the additional creators of Trade—draw on a broad range of performance models for their exploration.

If physical theatre seems an unlikely way to explore financial wrong-doing, then Eclective Productions’ “bleak, moving and uncomfortably funny” Decay (Tuesday May 19-Sunday May 24) pushes boundaries by using humour to probe death, loss and disintegration. Like Trade, it is based on a true story. A man’s wife dies and he is forced to keep her body at home until the funeral. Rachel Chant and Melissa Le Speyer investigate “how we can preserve ourselves, when the one we love is decaying before us”.

Katherine Shearer in Bull Ant Productions' Bitch Boxer.
Katherine Shearer in Bull Ant Productions’ Bitch Boxer.

And there’s Bull Ant Productions’ Bitch Boxer, set against a background of women’s boxing at the 2012 Olympic Games. Glasscock expects actor Katherine Shearer will deliver “a powerful experience” in the theatre’s intimate space.

These pieces, like all in the season, accept new challenges, go down less-travelled paths.

What happens to the plays after this initial exposure? “I hope the people involved continue working on them,” says Glasscock. “I know already that a couple of them have seasons planned later in the year, so I think that they will have other lives. If they don’t, then hopefully the companies that have formed around them will continue working together.”

Audiences too are invited to embark on an adventure. “It’s such an intimate space,” says Glasscock, “and also it’s such a crazy building that people’s boundaries are worn down a little before they even step into the space. People come in and they’re already on an adventure. You’re literally feet away from the performers. All too often in theatre, there’s space between us and the rest of the audience, and between us and what’s going on on-stage. In a small space like this, you can’t escape. But you’re also given the privilege to be completely absorbed.”

So, if she had to pick, which play would Glasscock recommend to someone ready to take on the Freshworks adventure? “I would recommend seeing a couple,” she says. “They’re all fabulous works, in their own different ways.”

Freshworks continues at Old 505 Theatre:

Trade 12-17 May 2015. For on-line bookings, click here.

Decay 19-24 May 2015. For on-line bookings, click here.

Bitch Boxer 26-31 May 2015. For on-line bookings, click here.

Godface  9-14 June 2015. For on-line bookings, click here.

Re: Memory  6-21 June 2015. For on-line bookings, click here.

This is Not Mills & Boon  23-28 June 2015. For on-line bookings, click here.

An Hour With Kay  30 June-5 July 2015.  For on-line bookings, 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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