The Serpent's Teeth at KXT

Michelle spoke with the team behind The Serpent's Teeth at KXT Theatre this week - producers Nicholas Hasemann, Jens Radda and Danny Ball and director Kristine Landon Smith. With a large cast and a story that spans two narratives, The Serpent's Teeth is certainly a massive undertaking! Have a read below to see how they have done it:

What do each of you think is the most important message of this show and what was the reason you wanted to bring it to the stage in 2018?

KRISTINE: We thought this play was more relevant than ever. Today on my Facebook I saw a post about Berlin Wall and since its fall they stated how many km of walls of separation have been put up...so that goes to show that it’s now more relevant more than ever. The play is simple and poetic and gets right under the skin of how everyday people are affected by war and conflict and so there is an honesty about it which we liked very much.

JENS: I think audiences walk away from this show having watched people living their ordinary lives in a war zone and living with the repercussions of war. And the stories are played out by actors from different cultural backgrounds, different ages, different languages, different socioeconomic backgrounds, and this just highlights how universal the effects of war really are. Every audience member can relate to someone on the stage and put themselves in their shoes. We’re seeing many ‘walls of separation’ come up today, not just physical walls but also countries closing off their borders and nations pushing cultures out. That’s why this play speaks so truly to the global climate in 2018.

DANNY: For me personally, the strength of the play lies in its exploration of barriers and the way they can exclude and marginalise us all. Language, culture, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, age, socio-economic status are often used to exclude people from society, and I think this production, particularly with our cast, gives a voice to people on the margins.

NICK: The most important message I take from this play is the universality of grief and suffering as a result of war. Daniel Keene has masterfully written this text without pointing to any particular culture or society as superior or more “right”. He sensitively allows us to see the universal truth that war is hurting all of humanity and separating us.

Are there any challenges associated with being both the producers and part of the cast of this production? Kristine for you, what are the challenges of directing them? And then for all of you, what are the joys of working in this team?

KRISTINE: I found that there weren’t really any additional challenges because the three producers could multitask very well and separate duties and be fully engaged as actors in the rehearsal room. It was very useful and helpful to have 3 members of the company who were so invested in the production so there wasn't just one person who was driving and leading the production. So it does add value to have the producers in the show.

JENS: It took a bit of adjusting in the start to be able to switch off the producer brain and bring the actor to the rehearsal room, but it didn’t take much time to find a good balance of duties and separate the two jobs. If anything, it was super exciting to have worked both in and on the production. Being able to work on both the creative and business side of things was immensely rewarding and being able to have a voice on the big decisions was really great.

DANNY: To be honest not really. It’s an easy switch from producer duties to actor duties. My favourite part of working in this team is the sheer diversity. The actors and creative team come from different socio-economic backgrounds, different levels of training and experience, different ages, cultures, sexualities. It’s exciting.

NICK: Being both a Producer and Actor in the same production definitely comes with challenges, most of which are rewarding. When I’m acting I must give my full attention to my scene partner, so the challenge there lies in staying in that moment and not thinking about technical things such as the budget! On the plus side, I’ve found it rewarding to be able to feel a production from the ground up. To really know how each element has come together. It has added an extra layer of comfort on stage.

Having quite a large cast can be a challenge in itself – how have you found working as part of such a large cast and producing/directing a play with so many? And Kristine, I understand you have directed in both London and Sydney recently – how has it been returning to Sydney with this show and what have you enjoyed about working with this very large group?

KRISTINE: From my perspective, it's always a thrill to work with large companies. I probably prefer it. But what is very thrilling is doing avery big show in a very small space and working out how aesthetically you can do that. And since 2016, when I have been developing a portfolio in both countries, I have continued to make relationships and close colleagues. And as seen in this production, they are made up largely of old student who I love working with as peers after training. It’s very invigorating and nourishing thing to do.

JENS: Managing just myself can sometimes be a challenge, let alone 15 actors and a creative team! Scheduling and getting a message out to so many people who all use different means of communication was sometimes quite tricky. But seeing such a big production come together felt all the more rewarding because of it.

DANNY: It’s very tricky working with such a larger cast in the independent sector - scheduling rehearsals around work commitments is hellish, costuming 30 characters was a herculean task for our designer Nick Fry and fitting into the dressing room is certainly interesting. However the pay off is worth it. I think we are seeing smaller and smaller casts on stage and granted this is often financial, but I think there is something very special about seeing 15 people on stage - it gives a greater sense of an ensemble and a community and allows this story to be told in the most rewarding way possible.

NICK: It has been one of the most enjoyable productions of worked on. Predominantly thanks to the large cast, their talent and their beautiful energies. Many Creatives will tell you the best part of the job is the people you work with and that is absolutely true in this case. Scheduling rehearsals was a huge challenge with so many people but it is totally worth it.

The story spans across two narratives – without giving too much away can you tell us how/ if these narratives intertwine and how they form together to make a cohesive piece of work? What can audiences expect?

DANNY: The two acts take place on opposite sides of the world with completely different characters and as such, are linked thematically rather than logically. Without giving away too much, the audience meet people who are affected by war despite having nothing to do with the actual conflict itself. In the first act we meet the citizens of a war-torn country engaged in everyday life: moving house, taking their dog to the VET, swapping text books for school. The second act we meet several families in Sydney awaiting the bodies of their loved ones to return from the war.

NICK: The two narratives are mostly separate from each other with the only real connection being that both are a response to war and global conflict. Audiences can expect delicate, meaningful writing which presents like poetry thanks to the brilliant writing from Daniel Keene and skilful, charming performances from our talented cast.

This play was first produced in 2008. Ten years later, what is it that each of you think make it relevant to today’s audiences?

DANNY: Take a look at the cast in 2008 and then look at our cast. We’ve all evolved in our understanding and practice of inclusivity. Kristine’s approach of employing each actor’s cultural context ensures the production uses difference, rather than homogeny, and I think that gently elevates the ideas of Daniel Keene’s play.

JENS: The themes are stronger and more relevant than ever. Now we have presidents speaking about building huge walls of separation between countries, prime ministers speaking about closing off our borders to people seeking asylum and ongoing wars that are being fought in vain.

NICK: The way the play puts the spotlight on separation and literally walls of separation and the global cries of grief resulting from war.

RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS

Favourite production you have ever seen?

KRISTINE: Beware of Pity by Complicite. It’s a collaboration with Complicite and The Schaubühne in Berlin.

JENS: Anatomy of a Suicide in London

DANNY: Lipsync by Robert LePage

NICK: ‘Einstein on the Beach’ Composed by Philip Glass, Directed by Robert Wilson at Arts Centre Melbourne 2013

You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?

KRISTINE: Paris

JENS: My mother country of Denmark

DANNY: Italy

NICK: The Rockies!

Dream role to perform? Kirsten – dream show to direct?

KRISTINE: I do see the odd thing and think, “I would have loved to direct that.” Generations by Debbie Tucker Green is one that comes to mind.

JENS: Jamie in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

DANNY: Austin - True West by Sam Shepard. That’s such an actor thing to say a Shepard character as dream role. Sue me.

NICK: Frank N Furter in Rocky Horror Show. My life would be complete.

Plays or musicals?

KRISTINE: Both

JENS: Both

DANNY: Plays

NICK: Musicals (because of Rocky Horror, Hedwig, Little Shop of Horrors)

A hobby you have beyond the theatre?

KRISTINE: Squash

JENS: Playing piano. And some light investment reading. And Yoga.

DANNY: I don’t really have hobbies? Gym, cooking, history? Do they count?

NICK: Fitness and the ocean

What’s next for you after this show?

KRISTINE: A Headphone Verbatim theatre project about decolonisation of the curriculum in university settings.

JENS: A bit more acting work to round up the year, then a wonderful sunny Christmas with my family in Queensland. Then some exciting producing work next year. Oh, and a trip to Denmark.

DANNY: A HOLIDAY WITH MY HANDSOME BOYFRIEND

NICK: See my family in Queensland. Then come back to keep performing and producing!

The Serpent's Teeth plays at KXT until November 24th so be quick so as not to miss it! Tickets are available here

Producers Nicholas Hasemann, Jens Radda and Danny Ball and Director Kristine Landon Smith

The Serpent's Teeth - Photo Credit: Clare Hawley

The Serpent's Teeth - Photo Credit: Clare Hawley

The Serpent's Teeth - Photo Credit: Clare Hawley

The Serpent's Teeth - Photo Credit: Clare Hawley

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