Aussie Theatre’s Jan Chandler recently had the pleasure of speaking with Leticia Caceres about her new role at Melbourne Theatre Company and the challenges she faces in directing her first main stage production.
Leticia Caceres is the first woman to be appointed as Associate Director at the Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) in eight years and her main stage debut - Constellations - opens on 13 February, with previews from Friday 8 February.
Caceres tells me that it is early days in terms of her role at MTC, as the artistic team has only just come together. However she is very clear about what it means to her.
“To me, it means the opportunity to extend myself, hone my skills with other playwrights and in other venues that sometimes make commercial demands, which are quite challenging to me, and I’m thrilled to be entrusted with that challenge”, says Caceres.
Although Caceres and writer Angela Betzien have been running the award-winning independent theatre Company theRealTV since 2000, Leading a flagship theatre company will be a new experience and, as she says, ‘an extraordinary opportunity’. One of her main concerns will be learning to find the necessary balance between the commercial and the artistic.
“I think we sometimes forget that what makes a company really amazing is its artists and we can be a bit caught up in the way of the world which is a core business model … we’re not a business, we’re theatre makers.”“To me, it means the opportunity to extend myself, hone my skills with other playwrights“
It is possible, Caceres believes, to find this balance without having to compromise either the artists or the company. For her, it is a matter of ‘re-imagining’ how the company might operate so that it feels more inclusive, more artist-centric.
Constellations will be Caceres’ first main stage work at MTC. The play is the work of young British writer Nick Payne and was such a hit in London last year that following its season at the Royal Court it was transferred to the West End. Caceres describes Constellations as having everything that she finds delightful about theatre.
“It plays with form and it talks about big ideas. It’s quite challenging and delightful at the same time and it has a kind of grace that for a director is a dream. It feels like the complete play in that I can be as imaginative as I want to be as an artist, with respect for the playwright of course, but I’m not stuck in naturalism and I’m not trying to do a kitchen sink drama. It’s so much bigger and I love that.”
Caceres describes herself as a political theatre-maker, so the idea of her directing what sounds, at one level, like a traditional ‘Rom Com’ had me guessing.
Caceres quickly assures me that whilst the story line has the classic girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy back, in the worlds of the play, the ending is not so simple. ‘Worlds’ is the key word. There is deeper layer to the narrative which involves the theories of quantum mechanics, in particular the many worlds theory. Consequently every single outcome of the relationship is a probable; it could happen. Caceres tells me this results in our being exposed to some big ideas about the purpose of life and death, and the ways in which we interact as humans.
“What feels like a very pedestrian story actually encompasses so much philosophical scope. It feels little but immense and I love that”, laughs Caceres.
The challenges in directing such a play are as immense as the ideas that underpin it but Caceres is particularly happy with the actors she is working with. She describes them as incredibly sensitive artists who have the ability to combine the skills of clowning with dramatic acting. As a result they are able to successfully reveal the very dark undercurrents of the play without losing the enjoyment of a very light journey.
Caceres finds Alison Bell, with her law degree, intimidatingly intelligent but also very warm and this combination fits perfectly with Bell’s role as Marianne. Marianne is a complex character, able to grasp the enormity of the cosmos whilst being loveable and quirky.
As a writer and director in his own right, Leon Ford (Roland) brings a ‘very analytical mind’ to the work. What Caceres loves about him is that he makes incredible offers.
“There’s nothing more delightful than working with an actor who says ‘I’ve got an idea’. We’ll test the idea and they’re great. I feel that I’m really collaborating with these guys. That’s what you want” says Caceres“There’s nothing more delightful than working with an actor who says ‘I’ve got an idea’”
The staging is yet another challenge. Given the many worlds the characters move through, there is a need to be very specific in transferring from one universe to another. Caceres has decided to avoid the obvious signposts of black outs or specific changes of lighting. Instead she’s developing a purely theatrical language to make the transitions work for her audience. She laughs in appreciation of the challenge she has set herself.
Ultimately the audience will be the judge. One thing they may be sure of is that there will be both light and dark, lots of ideas and, of course, laughter. Caceres hopes the production will reveal the power we have as individuals to make choices.
“I just want them [the audience] to have a glorious hour where they can fall madly in love with these characters. And see themselves reflected in all the things we do to make things right and wrong in our lives.”
Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio
Season dates: 8 February to 23 March 2013
Opening night: Wednesday 13 February 2013 at 8pm
Tickets: from $58, Under 30s just $33
Southbank Theatre Box Office 03 8688 0800 or mtc.com.au
Arts Centre Melbourne 1300 182 183 or artscentremelbourne.com.au