Thursday, May 28, 2020

Ensemble Conversations

Ben Wood in his upcoming role as Kenny
Ensemble Theatre Conversations

Media Contact: Susanne Briggs 0412 268 320 or

Commentary by Frank McKone
May 28

Led by Ensemble Theatre’s Artistic Director Mark Kilmurry, each week people can tune in on Facebook for Ensemble Theatre’s latest news and a glimpse behind the scenes.

Ensemble Conversations features interviews with actors and creatives, exclusive scene reads, interactive Q&A sessions and more. Ensemble Ambassadors Georgie Parker, Todd McKenney, Kate Raison and Brian Meegan, writer Melanie Tait, director Priscilla Jackman and actor Ben Wood were the first to start the brand new series answering questions about the world of theatre and television
followed so far by actor Sharon Millerchip, writer Joanna Murray-Smith, director Kate Champion and this year’s Sydney Festival director, proud Noonuccal Nuugi man, Wesley Enoch.

Georgie Parker
Mark Kilmurry, Ben Smith
Melanie Tait, Priscilla Jackson

Kate Raison, Brian Meegan

Todd McKenney

Mark Kilmurry, Sharon Millerchip

Mark Kilmurry, Kate Champion
Joanna Murray-Smith appeared on a separate screen
While theatres are unable to stage shows for full-audience live performances, many like The Street, in Canberra, and Sydney Theatre Company, Belvoir and others in Sydney, are presenting live-streaming events.  Ensemble’s Conversations are not performances, in the ordinary sense, so this is not a formal review, and I admit my bias here.

Ensemble Theatre, “Australia's longest continuously running professional theatre group, having given its first performance in Cammeray Children's Library on 11 May 1958. ... was founded by Hayes Gordon AO OBE along with the Ensemble Studios acting school, which introduced Stanislavsky-influenced method acting to Australia” has always been a place where I have felt personally connected – including having a nephew who trained there, a student who teched there in the 1980s, and one-time student, now actor/writer/director Steve Rodgers who performed in The Odd Couple at the Ensemble last November and is currently adapting for stage the Jacobson Brothers’ Kenny, in rehearsal now but delayed by coronavirus.

Though I was never directly involved in the company, in the late 1960s I took students to see Hayes Gordon directing in rehearsal, and sat on a NSW Department of Education panel chaired by Sandra Bates (to whom Hayes later passed on the role of artistic director) to design the state’s first high school drama teaching studios.  This experience helped inform my work in the 1970s setting up and teaching drama in Canberra; while more recently as a reviewer I have followed David Williamson’s productions at the Ensemble which has become his favoured small theatre especially since Sandra directed Face to Face in 2000.  (

So I am happy, and certainly not surprised, to watch the current artistic director, Mark Kilmurry, having such personal family-like conversations with actors, writers and directors.  The atmosphere of friendly cooperation among practical people putting on plays, without being pedantic or seeking fame, is my Ensemble – yet these conversations are anything but mere theatre gossip.

Mark is an interviewer to the extent that he has in mind a series of similar questions for each conversation, but because he has often acted with, directed or worked with each of his colleagues, the questions are put in the context of a particular production,  rehearsal or development process.

For viewers with little if any backstage experience, the conversations are thoroughly enjoyable while also providing a new insight into what writers, actors and directors of live stage works actually do to create quality theatre.

Especially important, I think, is to show how much brainwork is involved in playing roles, knowing the boundaries between role-playing and non-acting states, and in creatively playing with social cues expressed in words and movement.  Georgie Parker emphasises the process of researching a character, for instance, and also spoke about the differences between acting on camera for television or film compared with being on stage with an audience, and explained how she finds stage more satisfying.  Ben Wood talks of how good writers give the actor words with a rhythm and timing which create the moments when a feeling ‘lands’ and spreads throughout the audience, sometimes in laughter, sometimes in silence.  Either is as satisfying for the actor, whether it be written by Shakespeare, David Williamson or for his recent role as Henry VIII in The Last Wife by Kate Hennig (reviewed here September 2019).

Today, May 28, Wesley Enoch – in isolation during Reconciliation Week – says: “I miss being close to people, telling their stories.”  For this, he explains, we need live theatre rather than screens.

The series of Ensemble Conversations continues while Convid-19 rages.

Mark Kilmurry, Wesley Enoch