We met in Belgrave, where a diner served the all-too-rare Russian Caravan tea. I’d just reviewed his latest play, “The Memory of Water” at Chapel Off Chapel, and was burning to know what processes he employed to create a piece of Melbourne threatre that felt authentic, realistic, like bearing witness, the way a play should, that is, nothing like one would expect from Melbourne’s usual play-by-play of typical Australian mediocrity. There are a few exceptions to that; Melbourne Actor’s Lab is a fine example of work worthy of Stanislavsky, or off-Broadway. But Peter Kalos is an actor, first and foremost, and trained for twenty years at the famed Actor’s Studio. Richard Sarell has no such background. So, where did he get his ideas from?
‘I work in Australian television,’ he told me.
‘But the acting on (commercial) Australian television is shit!’ I cried. ‘So is the writing!’
‘Well, they’re not employing my process.’
What process? The name came up again: Stanislavsky. Americans say “Strasbourg”, but we all know the truth. Strasbourg taught one draft of Konstantin Stanislavsky’s “An Actor Prepares”, Adler taught another, a hundred years of rivalry was born, so too was the so-called Method, in America. One of the fruits of Russian immigration was a Russian reverence for the theatre. I sighed, bemoaning the hundred odd schools in Melbourne claiming to the Meisner-this and Actor’s Studio-that, names which are fine advertising ploys, while offering next to nothing of what these great people and institutions actually give to acting. Australia never had enough Russians.
What they teach, basically, is not acting at all. Sarell agreed. What we were talking about was The Rehearsal Room.
Thirty-two years ago, while working on “Neighbors”, an American writer visited the set and broke down what Strasberg, Adler, Meisner, Uta Hagen and all the wonderful others were actually trying to teach, along with Hays Gordon in Australia way back in the 70’s and Kalos today, that is, a simplification of the process, not more analysis, more talking, or more thinking. Less of everything. Certainly, no performing!
A conversation, like a story, has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The theme is the relationship between those who converse. Quite simply, an actor embodies the relationship, and has the conversation, while the director delivers the story.
That sounds gloriously simple, but having worked like this for five years, with Peter Kalos, Jasper Bagg and Dmitri Pronin, I can tell you, it’s not. It’s grueling hours of conditioning the body to go into subtle, intimate spaces while cameras or audiences are watching. There is no distinction between theatre and film, the work is the work.
Sarell and Kalos are both putting their work out there, in the form of plays for anyone to come see, and appreciate. There is a theatre revolution happening in Melbourne right now, spearheaded by these two, amongst a few others. I, working with Good Vibes Melbourne, intend to bring them to your attention.
We hope you’ll join us for the ride.