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Published July 25, 2014

Those who were only children or not yet born during the 1980s, when AIDS was first identified, may not have a very clear understanding of what it is exactly, or its impacts on society and individuals. That is what makes STATUS such an engaging play and why I’d encourage all, especially those who perhaps don’t really understand AIDS, to visit the 20th AIDS Conference in Melbourne.

Pop Culture-y was there at the premiere of STATUS, which we reviewed here. We also had the chance to speak to director Cameron Menzies and one of the four actors, Kath Gordon.

Cameron Menzies 1
Director Cameron Menzies

STATUS is a very thoroughly researched, very real play. What were the challenges of directing a play with so much real life input?

It’s an interesting question, because once I was in the process of directing the piece I had to treat is as a script. However this was a script that had many authors, and they’re the generous contributors to STATUS.

Like all scripts, they come with challenges, but realistically we are creating a new piece of theatre which is exciting. The origin of the stories has always been respected and we have tried to always drive towards the truth of each story that appears in the production.

What kind of personal input did you have with Status? Obviously you influence the play a lot as a director, but is there anything that really stands out?

Directorially, I have had a lot of input across this piece, as I was also the script creator. I transcribed all of the interviews and then set about creating the script through thematic material related to experiences of stigma. I have obviously put theatrical device across the piece and given it structure, but I have not put any of the content through an artistic filter.

What has been your previous association with the International AIDS Conference? Have you ever attended one, and did it shape your perspective of HIV/AIDS?

I’ve had no previous experience with the AIDS Conference, and this will be my first experience of the International Conference.

I went to the Global Village on Monday to do a rehearsal for our performance of STATUS on the mainstage and the buzz what just exceptional. I am very much looking forward to being a part of the AIDS Conference and performing the show for an international audience.

What messages do you hope to get across with Status?

STATUS was designed to start the discussion around HIV stigma. We’re re-telling personal stories in verbatim style, and the stories appear on stage in exactly the same way we were told them.

As a production we are not trying to drive the audience to any conclusion, but open them up to real experiences and then to start their curiosity. We are trying to deal with stigma specifically surrounding HIV and to look at the disease as a human condition, not as a sexuality issue.

Status is only an hour long – how do so many different stories translate in a relatively short time period? Is it difficult making sure so many different voices are heard in the time you have?

The theatrical device across STATUS was utilised in order to facilitate the notion of telling many stories.

I have constructed word symphonies to book-end the piece. Sections where we hear very small snippets of people’s stories that feel like these select moments of people’s lives are filtering into the theatre. Moments that are present for the whole show, and then, in the finale, there is another word symphony that allows all of the stories to filter back out into the universe.

This is all aided by the amazing original score that has been composed by Tony Nominated sound designer Russell Goldsmith.

The objective is to tour the piece and wherever we tour to, I would go ahead of the production to gather stories to incorporate into the production, so that STATUS would always be evolving, just as the stigma does.

About your other works: you made your European debut in London this year and seem to have a lot going on. How do you keep it all separate? Do some works influence others when you’re working on a lot at the same time?

I actually made my European debut this year in April in London with a new production of Don Giovanni.

As a freelance artist, it’s the only way to build your career and reputation, by taking on many and varied projects. I have been very lucky with what has come my way in terms of work. I love working across all genres such as opera, theatre, music theatre.

I guess in some ways different works influences others, but for me it’s always about finding the truth of whatever story and whatever genre I am working in. I do have a style that I like throughout my work and this thread, I guess, can be described as my aesthetic.

Being fully committed to whatever job I am currently working on is a priority, and in terms of keeping work separate I find I spend a lot of time doing prep work for upcoming events in the very limited down time I have.

For example, I am obviously working and putting STATUS into the Fairfax Studio for opening night on Wednesday night, but I am also doing some prep work and organising meetings for another gig that is coming up in October for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. It is just the way of a freelance artist.

 

This is a two part interview: read the second part here.

For more information and for tickets, visit the STATUS website.

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