“I Often Feel Like The Future Is Now” – Interview: Amanda Falson & Gareth Ellis
Melbourne is full of independent theatre companies, but Feat in Space Theatre company has a unique story. They have been around since 2010 and this year are premiering their original work, Receivers. The absurd, dark, sci-fi comedy begins on the 19th November and tickets can be purchased here.
We caught up with the two behind Feat in Space Theatre, director/actor/dancer Amanda Falson and writer/actor Gareth Ellis.
Origin story! Can you tell us how you two met and started Feat Theatre?
Amanda: We met in 1999 when we were both in the same class at the VCA drama school.
Apparently I made quite an impression on him when I handed him detailed notes of homework he’d missed! Though I don’t really recall that. Mostly I remember I thought he was rather loud-mouthed and offensive, until he basically became my best friend.
We got together (as a couple) years after drama school when we’d both gone on to have our own careers to varied success. We both felt we were never truly afforded artistic opportunities as actors that really fulfilled us, and used all of our talents and creative vision. Feat Theatre was born out of a passionate desire to push and empower ourselves, and to see how far we could take our skills; what were we capable of achieving if we were our own boss?
We moved into a shop front with a residence out the back, which was our first venue. It was falling apart, leaked all through our bedroom and everywhere else when it rained and was basically a mouldy dump. We painted it, hung curtains and put in some donated chairs and lighting, and we had our first theatre!
We literally held it together with gaffer tape and bulldog clips and we both also had our day jobs the whole time. It sat 35 people, but our first show had about two or three people in the audience.
There have been a lot of independent companies who spring up and disappear again. What are the secrets to your longevity?
Gareth: Not really any secrets to tell. Just hard work and pretty much not taking a break or having a weekend ever!
But on a more serious note we survive by combining our skills. We’ve built our business around our talents rather than the other way around.
For instance, Amanda was a ballet dancer and is a Pilates instructor, so she teaches both these disciplines at the venue and the student numbers are growing. These classes along with hirers (other independent artists and performers) help support the theatre.
This means that we have a regular income that hopefully can only grow and increase as our reputation builds, unlike government arts funding that is almost nonexistent and likely to be cut without warning. A lot of companies have gone under this way. Venues close down all the time due to lack of funding. Artists are also constantly tweaking or compromising their visions in order to be eligible for grants. We wanted to make our own company our way and be beholden to no-one, be entirely self sufficient and sustain ourselves.
We both have a lot of different skills that complement one another and we share a vision.
Amanda is a director and actor and Gareth is a writer. Do you find that your roles mix together when making plays for Feat Theatre, or do you have clearly demarcated positions?
Amanda: Well, Gareth has directed the last two plays we produced (both his own writing) and we co-directed the first one. Our roles definitely morph and combine and it’s absolutely a team effort all the way.
We both do administration, writing, directing, acting. I teach and keeps social media updated amongst other things, Gareth constructs sets and designs lighting, sound and props and looks after the website and much more.
We’re always crossing over and stepping in for the other.
Do you find that you work better together now after having worked together for so long? Is there anything particularly good about working together on a play, as opposed to with a different writer or director?
Gareth: We know each other so well now and spent years dreaming and talking together about the kind of theatre we did or didn’t want to see before we gave this a shot. Although we always worked really well together, we now really understand how to best combine our strengths to achieve our vision.
There are so many good things about working together, as opposed to getting in other directors or writers.
We understand one another and share the same humour. We like the same kind of theatre and enjoy the same approach to making work. We live it and breath it and run it together, which does make it very hard to switch off at the end of the day but it can also mean getting stuff done is much more efficient. We share creative roles and babysitting our daughter. We share domestic and business duties and seem to mostly strike a good balance in supporting one another.
If one of us is having a meltdown, the other will usually step in and take over. That goes for theatre making, parenting, creative problem-solving, and life in general.
The best part of the business is being in rehearsal together with actors. For our current project, Receivers, Amanda is directing and I throw in rewrites as we go. It keeps it fresh, funny, exciting and alive, and we bounce off one another very fluidly because we both want the same end result. What’s great is that we achieve it by coming from different angles, depending on our own strengths.
We also trust one another implicitly and constantly encourage and push the other to be brave.
Working with other directors or writers just seems like hard work in comparison. Not that we’re ruling it out, not at all! But we’d each both need a lot of creative control if we were to work with others now, to make it worth our while.
Amanda, you’re a ballet dancer as well as an actor and director. How does your acting and ballet background inform your direction?
My acting background is paramount to my work as a director. I personally wouldn’t be able to direct without that experience.
I play all the roles while I’m directing as well as orchestrate the piece from the outside. I make offers, I throw up possibilities, I ask myself what would I do? What would feel powerful and how would it read from the audience perspective? And what do I want to see/hear as an audience member?
My ballet background helps me carve interesting shapes, fluid movements and seamless transitions with the actor’s bodies in the space. It helps me create interesting rhythms and shifting dynamics that are pleasing to the audience’s eye.
All too often actors are unsure of or too timid to use their bodies in an expansive way. Ballet gives the body precision, discipline of form and is all about fine tuning, so I choreograph the movements very specifically with the actors and am always encouraging bigger bolder gestures and reactions of both body and voice.
Can we expect any dancing in Receivers?
While there’s no dancing in Receivers, it is highly physical theatre. Characters are larger than life. Every movement is thought out and carved in detail. It should look fluid and seamless but not in a Swan Lake, Sugar Plum Fairy kind of way. More in a Monty Python, The Young Ones kind of way!
It’s like sketch comedy. Absurd, and over the top.
Gareth, maybe I’m just terribly uncultured, but I believe sci-fi theatre is a fairly uncommon, niche area. What inspired you to write in this genre?
When I first drafted Receivers over a decade ago I was trying to take all limitations off myself, and that’s what I’m still doing.
Every time I start a new piece I choose (or discover) a new structure, and every character I try to push as far as possible. I think sci-fi opens up so many possibilities for writers, I don’t know why there isn’t more of it on the scene. Theatres are generally black, and so is deep space, so it’s not really a big leap.
We live in an age overawed by technology and I’m surprised that isn’t reflected in more contemporary theatre. Most of the plays I write I consider to be science fiction. I guess I feel the future isn’t really that far away.
I often feel like the future is now.
Receivers runs from 19th November to 1st December. Tickets start from $15 and for more information and to buy tickets, check out the Feat In Space site.