Friday, December 22, 2017

Paper Cuts

Paper Cuts, written and directed by Kirsty Budding.  Launch of Paper Cuts: Comedic and Satirical Monologues for Audition or Performance, published by Blemish Books, Canberra.  Canberra Theatre Centre, Courtyard Studio, December 21, 2017.

Reviewed by Frank McKone

I began to take notes as ‘Emcee’ Jasper Lindell got us underway with some mildly amusing banter, but soon realised that I was sounding (to myself) just like the rather unfunny Rob Defries performing the first of the 30 monologues as an extremely old-fashioned, I presume amateur, Director giving his Notes to his cast before opening night of a Birth of Jesus Christmas play.

So I forgot about trying to review, by my count, 28 performers of 30 of the 36 monologues in Kirsty Budding’s book, and decided to focus on the overall success of the event – in effect, a new use of theatre to launch a theatrical book.  The ploy, the commercial or unpaid status of which I am not sure about, certainly filled the Courtyard Studio with an enthusiastic crowd – including two who bid up a framed poster of the book and a signed-by-the-cast copy of the book to $150 each, to be donated to the RSPCA.

The original thought on Budding’s part was to write a new up-to-date book of monologues “as an accessible resource for performers of all ages and dramatic interests, with lengths ranging from 1 to 7 minutes covering a spectrum that includes physical comedy, light-hearted humour rooted in realism, black comedy, and satire.”  That’s a tall order in itself.

The next original idea was to act out what has turned out to be a large proportion of the items in book, with book sales by Blemish Books at interval, the charity auction to kick off the second fifteen, and a post-launch party to round out the night.  I can’t comment on the party, and I haven’t checked how many books were sold, but the sessions in the theatre went off pretty well.

Since the monologues were designed for people to use as audition pieces, the evidence on stage was a bit tainted for serious judgement from a critic.  Among the actors were those very well-known, well-known, not so well-known, or even almost entirely unknown around Canberra’s theatre traps.  There were some pieces which seemed to me to be cleverly put together for comedic effect, such as Helen Way’s Disturbed Dance Instructor or Cameron Thomas’ Things I Hate, which concluded the first and second halves respectively; some which may have been better written than they seemed, such as The Actor severely overplayed by Patrick Galen-Mules; and some, like the opening Director’s Notes, which were without much to offer either way.

Perhaps the one showing most maturity was Gertrude’s Sweetheart, played to great effect by Phillip Mackenzie.  The ageing resident’s success in defeating his equally ageing superficial unethical rival for the hand of Gertrude, herself aged to the point of second teenage-hood, genuinely won the hearts of the audience, fulfilling the author’s hope of writing “light-hearted humour rooted in realism”.

Of course, my age may cause me to be biassed, and it’s true that much of the modern twitter about selfies on Facebook which got laughs, more or less bypassed me, but the question I came away with is about the purpose of the theatre presentation.

My own book on auditioning (for theatre training rather than for parts in plays) also may by now be old hat, but the key to choosing really useful audition pieces must be that each demands a great depth of the actor in personal understanding to create a fully-developed character (or show that the actor could with good direction); while the actor also needs a vehicle to demonstrate performance skills and understanding of theatrical style.

It’s often better, then, to choose a speech from the middle of a great play, which provides all that context.  Pieces written specifically for auditioning, but without all those before and after connections, have to be remarkably well written.  Watching many of the Paper Cuts items seemed to me to be a bit like watching a night at the Comedy Club, full of short-lived stand-up comedians – only some of whom were clever enough to absolutely engage the audience beyond the immediate laughter.

I guess the two examples in recent times who demonstrate my point are Tom Gleeson and Maggie McKenna.  To write an audition piece to match Gleeson’s scripting and improvisation for another actor would be a rare work of art; and to watch the ABC’s Making Muriel is to show what an auditionee needs.

So Paper Cuts provided an interesting evening and some new thoughts about using theatre for advertising and promotion.  In the end, though, each actor-in-waiting must select carefully from a very wide range, perhaps including but also certainly from far beyond this book.

Helen Way as Disturbed Dance Instructor
in Paper Cuts by Kirsty Budding

Cameron Thomas performing Things I Hate
in Paper Cuts by Kirsty Budding

Phillip Mackenzie performing Gertrude's Sweetheart
in Paper Cuts by Kirsty Budding

Frank McKone’s First Audition: how to get into drama school was published by Currency Press, Sydney, 2002.