Starting a new independent theatre company is a difficult thing under the best of circumstances, let alone the current climate of arts funding cuts. Mark Yeates and Artefact Theatre Company have done more than just rise to the occasion; they have eagerly embraced the situation by opening the Company’s inaugural production of the Tony and Pulitzer winning play Proof, at the Alex Theatre in St. Kilda.
Mark Yeates is the man at the centre of Artefact, and Chris Fung sat down to have a chat to him about what that has been like.
CF: One of the most fascinating things about you is that you’ve decided to do this now. Tell me about starting out, what got you going?
MY: It started out… I have loved theatre for a long time, I’m very, very passionate about it. Working at 16th street, training at the acting studio there, I found myself surrounded by very talented, hard working people and sort of wanted to do something … independent theatre is a great way for emerging talent to flourish and be challenged. Proof is our first production.
MY: Thank you very much! So it’s a very steep learning curve, producing theatre. It’s been great and I’ve had a lot of help from producers and directors and all kinds of people who have really encouraged me.
CF: Let’s talk more about that. I imagine that the responsibilities of running a theatre company are very different indeed to the solo pursuit of just looking after yourself as an actor.
MY: Yeah, it’s all very different. I had a couple of mentors. Matthew Cox sat down with me in the early stages, and he’s quite a prolific producer, I worked with him on a production of Seussical the Musical the year before last, for the comedy festival, and he does work with the Old Kerry performing arts club. And so I sat down with him and said “I want to produce a piece of theatre, what do I do?”
He took me through lots of basic rules of thumb, from things like budget, how to create one with very limited resources, where funds should be directed, different marketing and publicity ideas for a grass roots independent theatre group. And then later in the process, I met with a professional producer, Andrew Barker from Wander Productions. And he sat down with me about 3 weeks out from the show, and he kind of ran me through a list of things that I needed to have done, and how to move forward…
CF: So these people have kind of stepped in to help you because they were drawn to your project? They were just looking to help you succeed?
MY: Well yeah, I’ve really been overwhelmed by the support that the industry in Melbourne have shown me… Andrew Barker is a professional producer and he saw a young up and comer and he simply decided to give of his time to help out..
CF: That’s incredible! So let’s go to how your company formed, were you involved in the casting process as well? How did you find the cast for this show Proof? Did it organically form from the people that you trained with?
MY: Well yeah, it all started with Madeleine Jevic who plays Catherine, she is just incredibly talented. We were filming something for a workshop project, I studied with her full time at 16th street, and we were talking and we were like “We really want to do some theatre, we should really do a show” and those kinds of conversations happen all the time between actors. I don’t know if you…
CF: Yeah, but very few actually go ahead and build a theatre company…
MY: Well yes, that’s sort of what happened! I read Proof about 6 years ago and it had always stayed with me, and I had always wanted to put it on. So I gave it to Madeleine and I asked her if she had read it, and she instantly said “I love that play”, and then from there the cast are all people that I have worked with before. Anna Burgess I did a Masterclass with, run by Larry Moss. And Roy Barker is also someone that I met through 16th street, so the cast were kind of pulled together, and were all people that I had known, trained with, worked with, and were all incredibly willing and very excited to come on board.
CF: All of this sounds like it’s been a great amount of work! Do you mind if I ask, what is your company model?
MY: We are a co-operative company, so we have a profit-share agreement, which, for starting off, is kind of where you need to be for an independent company. The amount of work that these guys have put into this show has been astounding. I would love to one day be able to pay full rates, but for the entire cast it really is a passion project.
CF: So Proof is moving towards the end of its run, and already you seem to have a great deal on your plate. What’s next?
MY: Well, it’s been really interesting that, because of Proof, now people are starting to approach me with their passion projects, saying “Hey I want to produce this, can you give me a hand with it?” and having had so many people sit me down and walk me through basic things. I’ve been more than happy to sort of help them as well. It’s a community. The whole concept of Artefact is really to leave something behind with your audience, so if I see a play that kind of comes home with me and stays with me, those are the shows that I’m looking at, but unfortunately I can’t tell you anything more than that right now.
CF: Let’s talk about the genesis of the idea for Proof, what was it 6 years ago that stayed with you and now allowed you to say, “I need to do this play and no other?” What was it that grabbed hold of your imagination, and told you that it would be worth all of the organisation to put on this specific show. What was that thing?
MY: The writing. It’s such a fast-paced play featuring four very intelligent people. It tackles some pretty big issues, but it does it in a very tight, dialogue driven show. And it’s so exciting to be a part of that.
Proof plays at the Alex Theatre in St. Kilda until this Sunday June 19. Tickets available at alextheatrestk.com