Interview: Kristina Brew of the Artisan Collective
Kristina Brew is a writer, and one of the members of the independent theatre company the Artisan Collective, a company that aims to “explore the ever-expanding possibilities of theatre”.
Their latest piece, The Collector, opens on the 24th July. Based on John Fowles’ best-selling novel, adapted by Kristina Brew and directed by Ben Pfeiffer, The Collector is the “mesmerising and startling examination” of Frederick, a lonely clerk who collects butterflies, and a young art student who is his ultimate quarry.
We had a chat with Kristina Brew, one of the actors and the adaptor of this piece.
What made you want to adapt Fowles’ work for the stage?
I had been meaning to read the novel for years. And when I finally did, I could see the potential it might have as a stage production or how it could resonate with a contemporary audience almost 60 years after first being published. I was confronted not only by the story, but by my immediate obsession with it. I couldn’t let it go.
Q2. Was it daunting taking on Fowles’ story, adapting it for a completely different medium?
Absolutely, but I was quite determined.
Still within copyright, I made contact with the writer’s literary agent and from there began a correspondence that would last months before I was given the opportunity to present the writer’s estate and proprietors with my stage version of the novel. And even then there weren’t any guarantees. Not wanting to be influenced by the artistic choices of others, I decided against reading other adaptations or watching the film. I made notes, created timelines and set a routine for myself by which to work; wishing to maintain the integrity of the original text while allowing myself some creative freedom.
Q3. What attracted you to working with The Artisan Collective?
Ben Pfeiffer and I have been friends since our time together at VCA. When I graduated, I produced and performed in ‘Self Torture and Strenuous Exercise’, which I asked Ben to direct after I saw The Artisan Collectives first production, ‘Two’. We have a similar way of working (which most probably stems from our training) and a shared interest in creating a quality of work with the hope of contributing to the fabric of Australian theatre.
Q4. Being a part of The Artisan Collective, how do you feel that the different styles of theatre employed by your organisation make the play different?
I don’t believe we have one particular theatrical style. With each new project the process changes. You have to adjust to support the story and to create the world. You have to work from a place of authenticity in order to find the stylistic pitch of the piece.
Q5. In the book, Fowles’ influences hail from Greek philosophy. Do you agree with his ideas, or have you adapted them to fit in more contemporary times? Or are there new concepts that you are hoping to get across?
What Fowles touches on, when relating the Greek philosopher Heraclitus’ meditations on society with ‘The Collector’ remains quite pertinent – the danger of class and intellectual division. We tend to make judgements based on our perception of something rather than our understanding of it, which can stem from our upbringing, our education and our backgrounds. What he wished for his readers to understand is “that the dividing line should run through individuals, not between them”. That we have little control over who we are, but there is always the opportunity to change…and that change is a choice.
Q6. Given the fact that the play is about a man who kidnaps a young woman, how do you feel that this scenario will highlight issues surrounding violence against women?
And after the show on the 25th, there will be a panel discussing violence against women. How do you feel about the play being used as a vehicle for social activism? And are you a believer in art having political overtones/flavourings, no matter how it aims to be separate from influences?
I believe that theatre has the potential to change you, if you as an audience member are open to it. Not that any one production should aim to be overtly political or controversial for the sake of it, but if the story supports it…
It is our hope that The Collector will be a catalyst for discussion. Bearing witness to the events on stage will hopefully allow an audience to reflect on how we approach or seek to prevent violence against women within our society. The panel on the 25th is a necessary extension of that. An opportunity for discussion. I feel very strongly about this issue and I am extremely grateful to the women involved who are lending their time and energy to this project.
It’s a start, but the conversation has to be on going.
Q8. From an artistic perspective, was it difficult attempting to create a play based on two people’s different perspectives?
Absolutely! I had to constantly remind myself to remain unbiased. Quite difficult with this territory. As I mentioned above, I set a routine for myself. A specific way of working. Lots of timelines and lists to keep myself in check.
Q9. What do you think critics of the play will enjoy about it?
I don’t think it’s helpful to set out to please anyone in particular, that will only blur what it is you wish to fulfil creatively. It has to be about the work. The story. And hopefully, what you offer an audience will resonate with them in some way.
‘The Collector’ will run from 24th July to 3rd August, 7.30pm, at Collingwood Underground Arts Park. Bookings can be made online via: www.trybooking.com.au, and at the door. Check out the Artisan Collective at their website: www.theartisancollective.com.