NINE at the Seymour Centre
Set in 1960s Italy, Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit’s Tony Award-winning musical NINE follows film director Guido Contini as he suffers a midlife crisis fueled by his crumbling marriage and a smattering of unsuccessful films. His failure at the box office is mirrored in his life behind the silver screen – caught in a web of romantic entanglements, involving his wife, his mistress, his muse, and every girl in Venice. Haunted by images and memories from his past and bereft of an idea for a new film, Guido watches as his reality blurs into fantasy. The women in his life, emerge from the shadows of his mind to serenade, seduce or scold him. Though his body is clearing forty, his mind is nearing ten; Guido must grow up if he is to recapture his creativity and save his marriage.
Carly spoke with performer Petronella van Tienen about this award-winning show and why this is the right time to bring it back to the stage. Read the full interview below:
Petronella van Tienen
NINE is a Tony Award winning musical set in 1960s Italy that follows film director Guido Contini through his midlife crisis fueled by failure both professionally and romantically. Within this, you take on the role of Claudia – can you tell us a bit about Claudia and how you have gone about preparing for the role, as well as what excites you about taking on this character.
So Nine is based on the semi-autobiographical film 8 ½ by Italian film producer of the 60s Federico Fellini, and the role of Claudia is supposedly based on actress Anita Eckberg who starred in Fellini’s films. Guido refers to Claudia as his muse, one of his main creative inspirations, yet one of the tensions for her is that Guido sees in her only the star he has created rather than the evolving human being in front of him.
I think Claudia is a beautiful character- there is so much going on underneath the surface, as we see in some of her scenes in Act II, yet to Guido she appears as this perfect, elusive, expression of feminine beauty and grace. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to play an actress who’s so driven and who has the freedom to devote daily time to growing in and practicing her craft. I’m particularly intrigued by Claudia’s relationship with Guido and also with Guido’s wife Luisa- what is it that keeps Claudia coming back, keeps her vulnerable to Guido, & what is their relationship that holds such a strong attraction for them both yet which they never pursue in an exclusive way?
In terms of preparing for the role- yoga, daily voice work, and reading have been my staples over the last few months. I’m currently working through An Actor Speaks by Patsy Rodenburg and The Intent to Live by Larry Moss, both of which have provided much insight and guidance. I’m also an avid podcast listener, which keeps me inspired and curious in the work.
This is your Sydney debut after graduating from VCA. What initially drew you to NINE and made you so excited to be a part of it?
Yes, I recently moved up here with my husband and we’re loving life in NSW! I remember hearing a tape of Nine when I was about 10 years old, and being captured by the beauty of the songs in it, particularly the Bells of St Sebastian and Unusual Way (which I sing in the show). It’s been on my bucket list since then really to be in a show by Maury Yeston- I just love the way he expresses through music the glorious breadth of the human experience, be that in luscious soaring orchestrations, haunting motifs, or deeply private vocal lines. His music really moves me, and when I learned of Little Triangle’s production, it felt like a good fit.
With a cast of 1 man and 17 women, can you tell us about the style, the choreography that we can expect and also about the rehearsal process along the way.
One of the unique things about this show, I think, is that- like Fellini’s films- it’s not strongly narrative-driven as so many of our mainstream musicals are. It’s quite abstract, and because of that has been really interesting to nut out as an ensemble. There are moments where you’re intimately drawn into a character’s internal world, and other moments where you have no clue what’s going on, and I think this is indicative both of Fellini’s style as a filmmaker and also of his (Guido’s) state of mind throughout the play.
Madi Lee’s choreography is amazing- tantalizingly sensual, and leaves you wanting more.
One of the most rewarding things about this rehearsal process for me has been the sheer awe of being in the room with such incredible artists. Andy (who’s playing Guido), Tayla and Caitlin (who play Guido’s other two main romantic interests), and all of the ladies in the ensemble are extremely talented, frequently move me to tears, and deeply inspire me in the way they are able to communicate ideas through melody.
Though set in the 1960s, what themes or concerns do you feel the musical addresses that makes the show relevant for today’s audiences? What do you hope that audiences leave the theatre talking about long after seeing the show?
I think one of the striking themes in the show, which we experience through Guido’s life, is that struggle we often face in growing up. We need to make choices, we can’t have everything all the time- or we risk being rendered stuck and unable to move forward in life, or experience any real satisfaction, be that professionally or personally.
I also think it raises questions about how to be a healthy artist- how to give yourself to the work and pursue excellence in your craft, without sacrificing other human needs such as long term relationships and emotional processing.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS
Favourite production you have ever seen?
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
Ireland, to the Cliffs of Moher!
Dream role to perform?
Maria in The Sound of Music.
Plays or musicals?
A hobby you have beyond the theatre?
Hiking in the bush and hanging out with the animals at the farm where we live.
What’s next for you after this show?
I’m stoked to be rehearsing my first KXT bakehouse show Coram Boy which will show at KXT in Nov/Dec! I’m also recording a second album with Melbourne composer Nathan Glenn.
NINE opens at the Seymour Centre on September 5, 2019. You can get your tickets here.