The Kin Collective is a new Melbourne performance group with a distinctive pedigree and they came together purely by chance. The members have backgrounds in an wide range of genres including film, radio, television, theatre and stand-up comedy and in
clude actors, directors, producers, and an animator. Some, like Noni Hazelhurst and Marg Downey, have careers that are decades long, whilst the youngest member, Tom Barton, graduated from the VCA in 2010. Others have been working at building their careers, both here and overseas, over the last decade or so.
Their first production Glimpse has just finished a season in Melbourne, at fortyfivedownstairs, and I met up with Laura Maitland, co-director (with Noni Hazelhurst) and cast member, over a coffee during a lunch break from her ‘paying the bills’ job. Maitland is pleased about the success of Glimpse, which sold out its opening season last month.
“It’s really exciting to sell out a show, not financially, but for the longer term in word of mouth”, she explained. And she is equally delighted to be able to talk about how it all began.
The ten team members – Michala Banas, Tom Barton, Keith Brockett, Jason Chatfield, Mark Diaco, Marg Downey, Dan Hamil, Linc Hasler, Noni Hazelhurst and Laura Maitland – met at a masterclass led by Larry Moss, a New York based acting coach of over thirty-five years experience.
According to Maitland, bringing teachers to Australia from different parts of the world to offer masterclasses is something that’s quite new within the local acting scene. Although she did not know much about Moss before auditioning for a place in the class, she had read his book (Intent to Live) and watched some interviews.
“What Moss was saying really connected with me and what I want to do as an actor. His whole philosophy is ‘it’s not about you, it’s about the work’, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for ego, because it’s not about the actor, it’s about the story”, she said.
Maitland believes it was their shared interest in storytelling that brought the group together so quickly.
“We just met at the masterclass and fell in love with each other”, she said with a laugh, and they’ve been working together once a week ever since.
Weekly meetings gradually became more involved and they started inviting different practitioners to work with them, amongst them Jimmy James Eaton, Artistic Director of The Big HOO-HAA! Melbourne, who Maitland describes as “a brilliant comic improviser”.
Maitland believes strongly in the need for actors to have a place where they can go back to basics and keep working on improving their skills: it’s “really easy to get into work mode and actually neglect the basic skill set you need, especially vocally and physically”. She has tried on numerous occasions to establish such a group but, until now, whilst each started out with a lot of energy, sooner or later the people got work and moved on.
And what about Glimpse; what has the group learned from the experience of their first production?
”There’s that wonderful saying, it’s a favourite of my mother’s and will be mine from now on, ‘hold on tightly; let go lightly’. It’s about fighting for stories and characters with your life blood and being able to let them go, as quickly as you have fought for them, when and if it’s not serving the larger story. That’s the most important lesson we’ve all learned from the experience.”
This and the importance of direction are the two major lessons that the collective has taken away from the experience of Glimpse. As an ensemble with a very wide set of skills, there was a tendency to think ‘oh it’s fine, we’ll just direct each other’. However they all learned very quickly that direction, as Maitland explains, is about more than attending to details scene by scene, rather it’s about having on clear voice for the idea as a whole. She found the process of directing such a talented group of actors very humbling and discovered that whilst it is important to hold strongly to the overall vision, a director also has to be brave enough to admit that something simply doesn’t work.
[pull_left]There’s that wonderful saying, it’s a favourite of my mother’s and will be mine from now on, ‘hold on tightly; let go lightly'[/pull_left]
Apart from the joy of working with the actors, Maitland is full of praise for the contributions of Jason Chatfield whose projected animations were featured in the stead of elaborate sets. This allowed the team to create a world around the actors which reflected the way in which the stories had been created in in random rehearsal rooms with nothing but themselves to tell the story.
“What he gave us in terms of what he saw withing the scenes was just extraordinary”, Maitland explained.
Will people have another opportunity to see Glimpse? Maitland is quietly confident that this show will have life beyond their fortyfivedownstairs season.
“We’d love to tour it and we’re talking to people about that. Hopefully we’ll get to do it again”, she said with a laugh.
“We’ve kept all the props, put it that way.”