Inspired by songs from the celebrated childrens book I’m Still Awake Still by celebrated children’s authors Elizabeth Honey and Sue Johnson and fresh from a triumphant tour of the USA, Still Awake Still is set to tour Australia.
Described in the New York Times as “as soporific as Robin Williams doing stand-up on amphetamines”, Still Awake Still begins its Australian Tour in Regional Western Australia this August. Perth correspondent Craig Dalglish caught up with Director Jessica Wilson to discover what delights and mischief audiences are in store for.
What can audiences expect from Still Awake Still?
It’s a very joyful experience. Its unexpected and super rich musically. The whole narrative is held up with music, which is just superbly performed and nestled in comedy and visual magic. The three performers are incredibly talented – they are funny, physical actors and wonderful musicians. It is actually a very different experience to most theatre for children.
What excites you about the show?
I love that the show engages the audience from the moment it starts. There is a Theatre Manager voice and it’s the only text in the show, and it tells us to prepare our pillows because Miss Tinklefinger is going to put us to sleep. So we instantly feel like we are part of the premise and we instantly feel opinionated about that. “There’s no way she’s going to put ME to sleep!”. Kids are very vocal and animated and it really does create a framework for them to express themselves in response to what is going on.
Can you tell us about the journey of Still Awake Still from children’s book to stage.
I was approached by Jump Leads to adapt the book. Early on in the process we realised that the main character in the book – a little boy who wants to go to sleep – actually should be the audience, rather than a literal interpretation of that boy. So from there we invented a whole new premise around Miss Tinklefinger and her piano. I am very proud of where we got to. The central visual motif is the massive white piano – it makes the music, it contains the magic and allows us to reveal all sorts of things, it works as a metaphor of her mind and it’s visually strong.
Working up a narrative arc around a suite of songs is no easy feat, but it worked! Collaborating with Sue Johnson who wrote the music for the songs really allowed us to connect the book and the stage work and really use music to shape narrative rather than to just pepper a story with break out moments.
Jump Leads were always so open to the choices we made. The whole process to stage was a long one as we kept getting partial funding and needed all of it to go ahead. When we finally made the show it was instantly picked by New York and I came on board to produce as well as direct.
What do you hope audiences take away from the performance?
I hope they have a great time and reflect on the value of live music as well as the idea that chaos is part of play and is necessary in the lives of kids. People in New York said that they had never seen their kids laugh so much and were so thankful that we had provided that rare and joyful experience for the parents as they watched their kids.
As director what has been the hardest thing?
I am not a musically literate director so it was difficult crossing the divide to really genuinely use the expression of music in the making of the work.
Collaborating with such a strong group of artist. When the content flowed – on the floor or around the table – it was really a very joyful thing.
Can you tell us about the cast and what it is like working with them?
Carolyn Connors is Miss Tinklefinger and Dan Witton and Renato Vacirca are the Boys who emerge from her piano and tempt her to loosen her approach to music and the children in the audience. I sit in the audience and continue to shake my head in amazement at the versatility and precision of this team of performers. They are very committed to the work, very playful and yet extremely concise.
How did you get into directing?
After graduating from QUT with a BA in Drama I quickly felt disempowered by the whole nature of auditioning. This led me to want to make my own work. I saw a lot of very striking visual theatre work in Europe in the early 90’s and this really propelled me to make a distinctive Australian attempt at visual, site specific and puppet based theatre. I started to make anarchic stuff on cliff faces and abandoned docks and folk got excited about it. As an ‘emerging artist’ I was really encouraged and funded to continue to explore and make work in my company in Brisbane which was called BRINK. Then I was appointed as the AD of Terrapin Theatre, a puppet company in Hobart and after making and learning a lot there for 4 years I began freelancing in Melbourne. Freelancing has really brought out my best work.
Who/ what has been your greatest influence in pursuing your career?
Early inspiration came from DV8, Robert Wilson, La Fura Dels Baus, Redmoon Theatre in Chicago, Royale Deluxe, Dogtroep, but most of my current inspiration comes from installation and visual arts.
What advice would you give others looking to a career in directing?
Just make work and follow your drive to do that. Out of generating rather than waiting, you form collaborations, make important mistakes, learn wonderful things and gain yourself a profile.
What is next for you after Still Awake Still?
I am working on a number of different projects. One is an immersive theatrical journey aboard a bus and another is a kids TV version of Still Awake Still!
Australian Tour Dates
Mandurah Performing Arts Centre, 8 August
Esperance Civic Centre, 12 August
Margaret River Cultural Centre, 15 August
Matt Dann Cultural Centre, South Hedland, 18-19 August
Darwin Entertainment Centre, 22 August
Riverway Arts Centre, Townsville, 26 August
Centre of Contemporary Arts, Cairns, 29 August
New South Wales
Dubbo Regional Theatre, 5 September
Capitol Theatre Tamworth, 8-9 September
Griffith Regional Theatre, 12 September
Civic Theatre Newcastle, 16 September
Riverside Theatre Parramatta, 19-20 September
Sydney Children’s Festival, Seymour Centre, 23-27 September
Darebin Arts & Entertainment Centre, Preston, 1 October
Whitehorse Centre, Nunawading, 3 October
Colac Otway Performing Arts Centre, 8-9 October
Geelong Performing Arts Centre, 11 October
Bookings and info: http://stillawakestilltours.net