Preparing for the role of Silda in Black Swan Theatre Company’s up-coming production of Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities, actor Vivienne Garrett took time to talk with Aussie Theatre’s Cicely Binford. They spoke of Perth, India, family and, of course, the art of acting.
What brought you to Perth? What is your favourite and least favourite thing about Perth?
Love brought me to Perth. I married a West Australian and we moved here in 1987 with 2 small children. I love the fact that Perth is a desert city…falling into the sea…the landscape. Anyone who has read Tim Winton would understand the beauty and rawness of the landscape.
What aspect of your training (either at NIDA or elsewhere) helped you the most as a professional?
All my training has been a great adventure and a huge boon. I love working with my voice, breath and body on great texts and ideas with creative people. I simply LOVE IT. So training helped both professionally and personally. Post Graduate studies in Canada BC on Voice and Movement really inspired me to teach.( in 1998) I felt that I had something to offer from that experience. NIDA was a blast but I don’t remember much about it. I was 17 years old! I graduated in 1970 at the beginning of the golden era of Australian theatre. I had a ball.
Your father was a sportsman, and you were into sport as a child. In what ways, if any, did that background shape your practice as a performer?
My father was a great sportsman and a great man. A POW Changi Survivor and member of the famous Changi concert party. He came back from WW11 half blind and starved. He became Australian professional Squash champion for 11 years running. He kept his war experiences to himself until later in his life and then he revealed them in poignant detail. It was heartbreaking.
I learnt so much from my father. He died with dignity at 93 years of age. Squash and tennis taught me a commitment to fitness and a healthy attitude to competition. He would say “you always play yourself. Your strengths and weaknesses.” So true. Acting is extremely competitive and your reviews are published for all to see ! You have to learn resilience and fortitude. You have to be a team player. I learnt that from playing sport.
Your wiki article says you went to India at one point to live and meditate in a religious community for 18 months – is it true? If so, what did you take away from that experience?
Ah India…I went travelling to find myself. And I did find something real and rich and everlasting. My practice. I lived in a spiritual community and learnt Yoga and meditation with a master. It was possibly the most beautiful, peaceful, perfect time of my life. I felt connected to all of life and developed a deep relationship with myself – my true Self. When I came home to Australia I was changed – for the better. I have recently retraced my steps and went back to India 37 years later. I studied with the same community and am now a certified yoga teacher. India has changed but the knowledge of the Vedic tradition is immortal. What I learnt in India in my twenties has shaped my understanding of love, work, life, art and the whole glorious experience of being human.
You’re a veteran of Black Swan State Theatre Company – what have been your favourite productions or roles with the company?
I’ve been lucky to have played a variety of roles. Black Swan has a quality production team of creatives and often co-productions with other national theatre companies, so one gets to develop the role over a longer rehearsal and season. The Clean House also directed by Kate Cherry has to be my favourite. I loved the role of Anna. She was the heart of the play. She was love incarnate.
What do you think of the State Theatre Centre? Are there any particular challenges in performing there? Any aspects that you really enjoy?
It’s a great space and a quality venue.
What similarities are there between you and your character? What differences?
None – other than we are a similar age and both have a healthy sense of humour. I’m playing a recovering Jewish TV writer – has-been, alcoholic – who is literally supported by her sister. So no…we are very different people.
What kinds of challenges does the character and/or the script present? Are these challenges that you relish or dread?
I relish all the challenges involved in creating a character. It’s great writing, a truly remarkable play and Silda is a formidable role. A joy to perform.
What are your favourite elements of the play? Least favourite elements?
The play moves from comedy to drama seamlessly. It is emotionally loaded and all the characters on stage are highly intelligent people. Really, really smart, erudite and politically aware.
It is an American play – the best of American plays – but could be anywhere in the world. It’s universal. It’s cutting, clever, cunning with a whole heap of HEART. It’s about family. And we are all part of a family. We can all relate.
Any juicy tidbits of gossip you can reveal about the show? No spoilers, of course, but anything unexpected or unusual about the show we should look out for?
Ah…. good writing, great plot, fantastic characters and beautiful performances…no surprises except for a huge bombshell… Hmmm I said it was about families didn’t I?
What attracts you most to a project? Is it the people, the script, the character, the company, the costumes, the pay?
The script, the director and the creatives, In that order.
I’m stealing this one from James Lipton – if you could choose any other career besides acting, what would it be?
A SUCCESSFUL writer and poet. Or a female Bob Dylan or Paul Kelly. I love storytelling
What advice do you give most often to your students?
Be authentic. Stand on your own two feet. Keep your spine long and breathe. and YOUR TALENT LIES IN YOUR CHOICES.
Acting is not a way of life …it is a way to life. (Peter Brook)
Do you have any particular words you live by?
To thine own self be true (Shakespeare)
Other Desert Cities presented by Black Swan State Theatre Company commences performances on July 20