Interview: Kate Dunn – Micro Theatre
I’m greeted with a wide smile and a friendly handshake from Kate Dunn, the director of Micro Theatre. As the former producer of Short and Sweet festival, Kate has many years of experience in live theatre organisation as well as a passion for niche theatre. Micro Theatre’s 2015 pilot year was a success with many of the participants putting their hands up to be involved again in 2016 and will be accepting applications from new & emerging writers, actors and directors. The concept of Micro Theatre came to Kate when she spun two different concepts together,
“The idea of the short plays came from Short and Sweet. I had the idea of doing a short play festival kicking around in my head, with all the lessons we had learnt from Short and Sweet but also different. A lot of people involved in Short and Sweet were saying they would love to do it again but it’s a model. We can’t copy it otherwise we would have someone knocking on our door with copyright saying ‘excuse me’. Then I was chatting with a friend from Sweden. In winter there they put on performances in coffee shops and small restaurants. What happens is someone will stand up and start reading then people from the audience will take on roles from the story, it changes from being a story to a play.
I just thought, wow, we have so many fantastic coffee shops around we could put theatre in and use that blurring between the lines of audience and actors, and create really great theatre in a different space. Bringing the audience much closer and into the play, rather than just sitting and watching, and that’s how the idea started of using these spaces.”
Kate has chosen the Press Book House, Vinyl Café and Curve Gallery as the three venues for Micro Theatre. Each venue will have four performances and each has a special attribute that adds another element of story; from the books that line the walls of the Press Book house, the drum kit and piano at Vinyl Café and the big, white space at Curve Gallery. The spaces can be versatile and engaging, creating a whole new scene with the right script,
“There’s a lot of creativity that you can use in using the spaces. Some writers were using the spaces for what they actually were, like writing a play to be an art gallery, but others were using the audience instead. In one play, the audience were all a part of the school reunion, and the actors were mingling around talking to different people. One poor person was told her hair was a lot better than it was in school!”
The pilot year was hugely successful for Micro Theatre with 8 of 9 shows selling out. Micro Theatre doesn’t have any sponsors, they are not a charity or community group. They are a social enterprise company, one which a lot of hard work goes into. Last year ticket sales were divvied up to pay festival costs with a percentage going to the venue, insurance, printing as well as a $4 profit for Kate. The aim is to get a sponsor so prize money can be awarded to the winning performance.
At each venue 3 judges will be present to score the performances with a winner for Best Original Script, Best Performance, Best Actor and Best Improvisation. Last year the award for best improvisation went to an actor who before the performance started had an audience member complain to him about his food not coming out. The actor handled the matter with such professionalism that when the performance began and the audience member realised he was part of it, he was shocked.
Kate tells me there are two different script categories people can enter,
“We have two categories: best new script, one that has never been performed before, and performance category for plays that have been performed but reworked. There’s lots of plays that are written for competition or for an event but for a short play they never get seen again, we thought it would be really great to give them another airing. Some of them are fantastic, it may have been a year or two since they were performed so the writers can go back and tweak them if they need to, just make it that much better.”
From meeting Kate and knowing not much at all about Micro Theatre, her enthusiasm has hooked me. Kate wants to provide the best performances to her audience, the best actors and script for the directors and vice versa. Micro Theatre is still in its infancy stage but Kate has a strong idea of what she wants and how to get that however she is lenient in her model,
“I get sick of enforcing rules on people so we thought we would just try and see what happens without the rules. Last year we asked everyone to start the play with some short narrative from one person but we decided that we would drop that this year because there are so many other ways you can start the play. We have to have some rules, like a time limit but even for the fact of the content we’ve said it doesn’t have to be a certain age group but people do have to accept that it will be in a public place. The venues also have to agree to perform it, if they don’t agree it’s not going to go on no matter how good it is.”
There are many benefits to a short play. The performances are played during the week, allowing the audience to experience a unique night out of theatre but still able to get home at a reasonable time. Many of the actors commended the model to Kate, as they were able to do what they loved with little interference to their personal life,
“We found lots of people got involved last year who were actors in their younger days but with work and family commitments just didn’t have the time to commit to a full time production anymore, so now there’s this 15 minute play that’s on for a week. They don’t have to take time off work to do it or any commitment that makes them divert their life from its usual course. It was a factor I hadn’t really thought about until everyone kept telling me how great it was.”
Applications are still open for 2016 with performance dates announced in early July. Applications are open to anyone; first time directors are encouraged to apply, you will meet for an interview with Kate and you may be successful in directing your own play or acting as an assistant to another director. Writers are able to submit their work from wherever they are, directors and actors obviously have to travel to Newcastle to take part in the festival but don’t have to live in the Hunter region,
“Writers can enter from wherever they are but if someone [a director or actor] wants to be a part of it they are welcome to come from wherever they are. If they did I’d be pretty honoured.”
Kate and the Micro Theatre group are enthusiastic about giving chances to first timers as well as those with experience. If you have a script you would like to submit or would like to take part in Micro Theatre, please visit Micro Theatre’s Culture Hunter listing or their website for more information.
2016 Festival Timeline
Script entries close: 20 June 2016
Selected scripts announced: 11 July 2016 (12 Scripts will be selected)
Performance week: 22 – 27 August 2016
(each venue open 5-6 nights)
Lunch and awards presentation: 28 August 2016
Performance dates and times will be announced in early July 2016.
The Press – 462 Hunter Street, Newcastle
Curve Gallery – 61 Hunter Street, Newcastle and
Vinyl Café – 4 Perkins Street, Newcastle.
Interview by Jodie Millard on behalf of Culture Hunter.
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Photo: The Wisdom of Solomon won Best Performance, written by Tristram Baumber and Directed by Maurice Silver