Tennessee goes retro

Posted on October 13, 2016 by Basement

Our blogger sat down to the team behind Tennessee retro to discuss their upcoming play, on next week in the Theatre.

What can we expect to see from the show?

Romy Hooper: Our audience will be immersed in a distinctly Southern environment from the outset, a tone quintessential of Williams’ writing, and a quality that makes it sing. Our landscape is sparse and vast, mirroring the isolation of the characters both in their physical and emotional environments. The company, comprised of experienced and respected veterans of our industry, are coupled with emerging talents in these complex and fragile stories, giving each cast member the chance to learn, extend and perform these 4 touching ‘slice of life’ tales from a time and place that captures the essence of working class humanity in all of it’s desperate, delicate beauty. Speckle that with clever hilarity and Louisianan blues, and you’ve got ‘Tennessee retro’ in all it’s glory.

What do you love about Tennessee Williams?

Romy Hooper: I love the way he is able to imbue mundane moments with multiple layers of depth and innuendo that make the research and performance of his characters feel like you’re navigating a minefield, to get to a playground. He writes people who seem so lethargic and bereft, in a way that forces you to seek the light and hope in them, bringing catharsis into the room before you open your mouth. His conservative upbringing jarred with his natural eccentricity so palpably, and his powers of observation and translation of the context surrounding him were so strong – no matter what you read or see of his, from whatever era of his career, it is always brutally honest and viscerally moving.

How did you select the four plays?

James Beaumont: Independent theatre work is so critical for our growth. It often takes the big risks; developing new writing or work-in-development or devised pieces. It speaks adroitly to a demographic. To some degree, we’re swimming against that current; reviving vintage material, characters removed from our current reality. As independents, the black doris project wanted to work on text that would challenge our craft and offer a range of age/experience diversity. And though poetically described, the realities turn out to be not so removed at all.

All four plays were written between 1941-42, taken from his first collection of short plays ever published, pre-dating Tennessee Williams’ first major success on Broadway in 1945, The Glass Menagerie.

How did you assemble the cast?

James Beaumont: I asked people to read the scripts. Then if interested, to read a some text with me and to have a conversation. It’s a large group. It’s been a challenge to wrangle. Mary Rinaldi our producer, the team and I, have had to hone our communication. Most of the team have travelled from late May to October on this journey. As a group we committed to monthly text meetings, before undertaking a more intense rehearsal framework over the last few weeks. It is tough for people hold down jobs and family. Every person I looked at in this process, all those who read or contributed in some measure, were highly skilled practitioners. Talent is not rare, opportunities are.

Were there any surprises in the development of the show?

Romy Hooper: When you’re working on a singular play within a series it’s always an exciting surprise to get to the point of sharing, getting to see the work your peripheral cast members have been doing and the ways in which they’re lifting their roles off the page. It’s so enriching to bring together all of the parts of a machine and see them working well, especially knowing the small cog you are in it! It’s also wonderful to see joy, despite that these pieces may seem heavy at times there is a humour to these people that the skill of the actors is exposing in such a satisfying way, you can’t help but share a giggle.

Tennessee retro is on from the 18 – 22 October at 8pm. Info and tickets can be found here. More of Jonty’s writing can be found on his blog.