Lisa O'Neill on directing Love and Information coming to Metro Arts
Born from an era of ever-connectedness, Metro Arts welcomes Love and Information by esteemed playwright Caryl Churchill from 31 July – 10 August.
In this sentimental play, you’ll get to know more than 100 characters in over 50 tantalising vignettes, all exposing truths about human nature as we navigate the modern world.
Fast-paced and structured like you’re scrolling through Instagram, Love and Information is inventive and highly relevant, exploring how people attempt to understand one another in this day and age.
We caught up with director Lisa O’Neill to share her experience working on this kaleidoscope of human connection.
TCI: How long have you been a director and where did you get your start?
Lisa O’Neill: I have been a performance maker for the past 25 years, working across dance, theatre, contemporary performance, and new media. I initially trained as a dancer, however, segued into theatre practice with my years of training and performance with the company Frank Theatre, under the direction of Jacqui Carroll and John Nobbs. We were very fortunate to travel the world with our productions, viewing a lot of theatre from across the globe. At the same time, I began teaching at TAFE Queensland (TQ) with playwright Norman Price. This is where I began directing plays for the first time. I have to date directed 38 plays with our students across a broad range of styles and genres. Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information marks my first co-direction with teaching colleague and director Anatoly Frusin, and my first ‘play’ to be directed in the industry as such.
TCI: Did you always want to become a director?
LO: I have always wanted to make performance work, and that is exactly what I did upon finishing my university studies in Dance at QUT. I never thought a few years later I would be performing Shakespeare and Greek Tragedies! It was my experience of performing in plays that started my interest in directing plays. My time teaching and directing students at TQ has allowed me the opportunity to practice and engage in the craft of directing. I have spent my whole career directing ‘performance’ works across numerous mediums; however, directing ‘plays’ is yet another creative space and one which I enjoy very much.
TCI: Where do you find your inspiration as a director? Who are some of your mentors or people you look up to?
LO: I find inspiration in the actual plays in which I am directing, the actors with whom I am working, and of course life itself. I am particularly inspired by playwrights such as Edward Bond and Caryl Churchill. I relate to their work in terms of dealing with difficult subject matter and their stark but truthful take on the world and its occupants. In terms of theatre and directors, I have enjoyed work from across the board, from small independent collectives to the larger companies. One theatre work stands out: a few years ago Anatoly, Rosalind Williams (our vocal coach) and I travelled to the Adelaide Festival. We saw Romeo Castellucci’s Go Down, Moses. It was so powerful we could barely put our hands together at the end to clap; we were just stuck there in awe, transfixed by the experience.
TCI: Have you worked with Metro Arts before? If so, what do you love about working with the organisation? If not, what excites you about working with them?
LO: I certainly have, many times! As is the case for most Brisbane based independent performance artists, Metro has been the place for the development and presentation of new work, from early career and beyond. I was only a couple of years out of University and there I was, making work. I have had the pleasure of working with numerous artistic directors from the early ’90s onwards. My CV is littered with developments and productions at Metro Arts. What more can I say? This organisation has been a crucial part of my performance practice.
TCI: Love and Information tells the stories of over 100 characters which seems like a huge feat for a director. What do you find most challenging about bringing this show to life?
LO: Yes, it is most certainly a challenging work. With many plays you are concentrating on a reasonably sized group of characters, occupying a singular world and narrative. So you zone in on this and explore in detail all the possibilities. With over 50 scenes, over 50 separate worlds and narratives have to be bought into existence. We have had to contextualise every scene in terms of what is happening in the larger picture and why, and who the characters are, as Churchill has left the characters unnamed and gender unassigned, and in most cases the context of the scene ambiguous. So for every scene, we have worked with the actors to develop a detailed back-story for the characters- the events which lead to the moment in the play when we hear from them. We may only witness a character for 30 seconds as they utter a couple of lines, however, their whole life has to be known to us. Yes, so 50 stand-alone narratives, and about 120 character worlds. This is a huge undertaking, however exciting, as we have had so much creative licence in terms of creating character and context.
TCI: Every director has a different style. How would you explain your directing process?
LO: It starts with the script. Research and character study is very important. I work very closely with my student actors, setting them numerous written tasks over the course of the rehearsal period, one task is to keep a detailed character diary. In this, they must think, feel and write as their assigned characters in response to the scripted text. I find activities such as these assists the actors in ‘living’ the characters, so their performances feel as honest and real as is possible. In terms of the form of the work and on-floor direction, I have a keen eye for composition, rhythm, and space, a skill that comes with being a choreographer and dancer. I would say my works are very detailed and crafted. I work with the actors very closely on the floor, giving them room to explore and improvise with their characters, and at the same time being quite descriptive with how particular moments should or might unfold. In some ways it’s quite cinematic in approach, detailing and crafting interactions between the characters with a careful eye on the overall composition of the work, including the choreography of sound, light, and AV with the spoken text.
TCI: What excites you most about Love and Information?
LO: Working on another Churchill text, having directed The Skriker with our students a few years ago. Having the opportunity to co-direct with Anatoly Frusin, a very experienced director, and collaborate with Rosalind Williams, a very experienced vocal coach, and Geoff Squires, a very experienced lighting designer! And of course, the opportunity to work with our graduate students once more is a complete joy… and the opportunity to engage with Metro Arts again and present our work within the industry to a wider audience base.
TCI: What can audiences expect to get out of Love and Information?
LO: In terms of the play, a performance where they might reflect on their own lives and how we occupy this planet. Of course, we can do this anytime in terms of just thinking, reading a book, and watching current affairs, cinema, social media. However, how nice to be able to reflect and think things through with the aid of a live performance, with people on stage living and breathing, as the audience sits there watching, living and breathing! In terms of the performance, we hope the audience will particularly enjoy the work of our actors; they are a very diverse group, highly skilled, creative and a great group of human beings.
What: Love and Information
Where: Metro Arts, Level 2, 109 Edward St Brisbane QLD 4000
When: 31 July – 10 August at 7:00 p.m.
How Much: General Admission $32 + booking fee, Concession $25 + booking fee, Preview $25 + booking fee
More Info: Play lasts approximately 75 minutes with no intermission. Contains adult themes, smoking, and smoke effects. Lockout period applies.