The Rime of the Ancient Mariner at KXT
After their critically-acclaimed season of PINOCCHIO at the Sydney Fringe Festival, The Little Eggs Collective – in association with JackRabbit Theatre – present a contemporary reimagining of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
First published in 1798, the epic ballad explores complacency, existentialism and guilt; ideas that could not be more relevant today, where our current socio-political environment and entrenched lifestyle habits continue to cast a dark shadow on the future, worldwide.
Sasha spoke to actor Grace Stamnas about this new devised work and the future of independent theatre in Sydney. Read the full interview below:
Last year you were in Little Egg’s incredible and award winning production of Pinocchio (Sydney Fringe Critics Pick). What drew you back in for a second production and what has been different about the devising process for Rime of the Ancient Mariner?
Pinocchio was definitely the most fun I’ve had working on a show! It was full of surprises and the devising process was so open and supported. Everyone in the room brought something different; whether that be musical, composition, acting, comedy, movement, dance, thought provoking concepts etc. I just felt like there was never a shortage of knowledge and great ideas. I fully trusted Julia’s (our director) concept for the show and I think that’s why it worked so well, we all trusted our director. As whacky and insane it was, we all believed it could be something mind-blowing. We never had an issue in the rehearsal room. I’ve never worked in a more productive and healthy production. The creative team were so organised and dedicated, I didn’t imagine it would blow up to be the production it was! Nick Fry’s lighting & set design really brought us up to the next level. And for all of those reasons (and a lot more), I suppose that’s why I am back.
The difference this time is we have started from scratch. It wasn’t an idea bubbling in Julia’s head for a very long time and being brought to life through rehearsal. There were hardly any pre-conceived ideas on day one, it was a blank canvas. We had all individually done our own research, and found our own inspirations and things we wanted to try. Plus, we have five brand new cast members, who all bring their own diverse thoughts, cultures and ideas into the rehearsal room, which has been so valuable and important for Little Eggs. Nicole, our beautiful albatross, has inspired her dance of the albatross from her cultural background. It’s unique, it’s refreshing and it is honestly so mesmerizing to watch her embody such a divine yet playful creature. It’s been a completely different rehearsal process, mainly because there are so many different ideas for each section of the poem; physically, conceptually, musically, culturally etc. Rather than just our director’s idea of the entire show, and the cast supporting & trusting that one individual’s idea. It’s a huge process, but I’m learning a lot.
Devising a performance pulls on many different skill sets, how do you prepare for a rehearsal process, what are the challenges and how does devising reward you as a performer?
As I mentioned, the cast consists of a very diverse range of skills, so everyone brings something different to the table in rehearsal. For myself, when doing research prior to rehearsal I’m always looking for physical inspiration; through clips of dance on the internet, or going and seeing a contemporary dance production – as I come from a dance/musical theatre background.
I think a challenge I face is I can sometimes fall into that nitty-gritty technique freak during rehearsal. I sometimes feel insecure that if some physical movement or choreography is not ‘dancer-technique-perfect’, it’s not worth exploring or developing. Having ballet technique beaten into me from such a young age has really blocked my creative inspiration at times, I doubt or judge it before I’ve really given myself the time to explore the potential of it.
However, through our devising process for both Pinocchio and Mariner, I’ve witnessed others really commit to the exploration of their idea, and believe in its potential to be of value to the show. It’s been a real eye-opener for me. I’ve learned to try physicality I would never usually consider, or learn to feel a sense of trust in those moments of discomfort whilst developing choreography or movement. It’s been really refreshing and inspiring watching someone really go for it, whole-heartedly, when they think of a new crazy idea. But what’s even more inspiring is witnessing the entire company go ‘hell yeah let’s give it a go!’. And continually bouncing off each other’s ideas – ‘Yes, and?’. The support in the rehearsal room is something I cherish each and every rehearsal.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Coleridge was written in 1798, yet your show will be teasing out environmental lessons and warnings that are still relevant to today. How did these themes emerge and develop? What was it like to evolve a show from a text as culturally mythic as The Rime of the Ancient Mariner?
It has been interesting to work with concepts from a poem written hundreds of years ago, that are still prevalent today. Prior to rehearsals commencing, Julia linked us a short-film/documentary called ‘Albatross’. It was so elegant, cinematic and poetic in its delivery, describing these wonderful creatures. We watched them be born, grow up, have its parents’ leave, learn to fly, meet a mate, fall in love, have a baby, go out to sea to find it food etc. The film humanised this bird and the journey of its life, so the viewer feels incredibly attached from birth to death.
But through every natural phase of the albatross’s life, we see the disruption of human-kind. The disruption of plastic. Why is it that we as human beings get to dictate the life-span of the albatross? Why is it that we are the race that has the power to ruin the natural progression of animals lives? And yet, why is it that we still don’t do everything in our power to stop the harm we are causing these animals and the planet? Especially since we know now more than ever the damage we have done and continue to do through the mass-manufacturing, over-consumption and harmful littering of plastic. Which is created to last forever, but is only used once.
In the poem, the Mariner makes the decision to kill the albatross. He decides that he has the right to dictate the fate of the bird. And what’s worse is that there is no real reason; no justification for his selfish action. He just does it. Because he believes he is entitled to do so. This is the same dilemma we face today. Some people or corporations or governments believe they are entitled to dictate the fate of future generations, animals and the planet, for no real reason other than greed and instant gratification. It’s a dilemma that Coleridge addressed in 1798, and it’s the dilemma that is even more significant today.
This production is a part of KXT Bakehouse’s Hi Jacked Rabbit Season, a season that celebrates original and independent Australian theatre. As an artist, how do you feel about the growth and support for independent theatre over your career? What would you like to see more of?
I grew up on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, where there is really no community of independent artists and hardly any demand for original or emerging creative works. Moving to Sydney in 2017, I immediately felt the opportunities were endless. Everyone you meet in a foyer is working on something; whether they are producing, co-directing, writing or acting. Right now, there is an overwhelming amount of theatre on in Sydney, I can’t make it to everything I want to see. It’s incredible! But most of the things I want to see are in fact independent, maybe because its more affordable?
But in saying that, the most fun I’ve had at the theatre in a while was the production of ‘Wrath’ showing at KXT in the Hi Jacked Rabbit Season. I’m constantly blown away by the high-standard of independent theatre, and how it is growing and getting better and better! As an emerging artist, I feel very grateful for the growth and support of independent theatre. It’s allowing young artists to really express themselves without limitation and grow into the future leading artists in our industry.
I’d like to listen to more stories from diverse cultures, and more women on the stage & in the creative teams. Working on Mariner with everyone apart of Little Eggs, all from different backgrounds, has made me realise I haven’t heard enough stories from people of cultures other than Western, or places other than England or the US. But its changing, and the growth of more diverse theatre is slowly building, and I’m excited to listen to different voices and stories, and new ways of telling them.
Lastly - since it is original and we love the unknown, what can people expect from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner? What would you like to stay with people when they leave the theatre?
I won’t say too much about this one (we love to surprise an audience). I think people can expect their ears to melt to some rich harmonious soundscapes, feel enriched by Samuel Coleridge’s expressive poetry, feel they’ve experienced a new or different way of being told a story. And hopefully, leave the show with an opinion.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
Favourite production you’ve ever seen?
Mr Burns – Belvoir 2017 (And honestly, I can’t say enough good things about Wrath at KXT, WOW!!)
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
Rhodes Island, Greece (the home I’ve never visited)
Dream show/role to perform in?
I don’t know exactly what role or show, but I would love to explore a predominant male character in theatre or musicals (whether that be Romeo, or Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar – I don’t know!). Rosalie Craig playing Bobbie in Company on the West End is a huge inspiration for me.
Plays or musicals?
Unfortunately, I cannot choose – SORRY!
A hobby you have beyond the theatre?
Hiking, reading self-help books, dirt bike riding. Now that I mention it, I don’t do any of these things enough.
What’s next for you after this show?
I’m finally going overseas for the FIRST TIME! I’m very excited!
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner opens April 3rd 2019 at KXT as part of the Hi-Jacked Rabbit season. You can get your tickets here.