Saturday 27 November 2010

Lights! Camera! St Kilda!

I spend yesterday afternoon in Melbourne's bayside suburb of St Kilda, being an unpaid extra.

Myself and dozens of other volunteers were taking part in crowd scenes for an episode of the upcoming Australian Broadcasting Corporation TV sitcom Outland.

Written by my brother John Richards and featuring the members of a gay science fiction fan club, it's a story about belonging, no matter who you are (according to the ABC's blurb).

The episodes mostly take place in characters' homes, but the final episode includes sequences played to the backdrop of a gay pride march in St Kilda.

So there we were in Catani Gardens, a beautiful stretch of parkland by the sea which was decked out with multi-coloured banners. Many volunteers had put in an effort to look fabulous, wearing an assortment of feathers, leather, PVC and/or nun's habits.

The ABC's art department had produced a fascinating array of placards for extras to carry, bearing slogans from the topical ("Gay Marriage Rights Now") to the slightly surreal ("Adam and Steve in the Garden of Even"). I was at first carrying a placard adorned with a rainbow-coloured heart, then later a placard with a mystifying symbol. Maybe it'll all make sense on screen.

While we milled and mimed, the paid actors (including singer Christine Anu) performed scenes in lurid purple sci-fi uniforms. They looked lovey. Well, lovely-ish. As lovely as one can look in a purple knee-length frock.

The interesting thing is that this isn't the only time I've seen a TV episode filmed in St Kilda. A few years ago I was walking along the Esplanade above the iconic Luna Park and Palais Theatre, to see a collection of characters dressed in 1920s gear being filmed, along with period cars. I realised years later that they were filming an episode of Stephen King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes.

St Kilda is also famous of course as the setting for the popular TV drama series The Secret Life of Us which screened a few years ago. It seemed as if an episode of Secret Life was incomplete if the characters didn't play a casual game of soccer in Catani Gardens.

And I also once stumbled across a film set in Little Lonsdale Street in Melbourne's downtown area, which turned out to be part of Ghost Rider, starring Nicholas Cage.

In fact, with big movie studios located in Melbourne's Docklands, you have a decent chance of bumping into exterior scenes of a movie or TV series being shot in the city's streets - and you can read more about that in this posting at at John Richards' Outland Institute blog.

But remember to present your best side to the cameras. Annnnnnnnnnnnnnd - action!

Saturday 20 November 2010

Streetscapes of Sydney's West

Another month, another conference in Sydney - at least, my second in three months. And as I usually do on these occasions, I've been wandering around interesting bits of the city's inner suburbs.

Here are some photos of the streets of Pyrmont and Glebe, former working class suburbs (now thoroughly gentrified) just west of Sydney's downtown area...

1. I liked the look of this stretch of Harris Street, Pyrmont. It tells you so much about the suburb's trajectory, from the derelict corner shop to the cool modern cafe just a few doors on. Out of shot is the Terminus Hotel, a pub which has been closed since the 1980s and bears period signage on its ivy-covered facade.

2. This is Glebe Point Road in Glebe. I love the building on the right, now housing a Thai restaurant; it's markedly grander than its neighbours.

3. This pic just speaks "gentrified suburb" to me: the old building, the playful use of the word "junk", the flower baskets hanging in front of it...

4. Spotted this attractive mural referencing Aboriginal legends on the side of a shopfront...

5. This bar brightens up the street with an non-traditional colour on a traditional facade...

 6. This greengrocer's obviously survived the transition from a working class clientele to the organic-aware residents of today. Either that, or the owner is a clever marketer - it looks exactly like the sort of Stuff White People Like.

7. Finally, the Pudding Shop. How could you go pass a sign like that?

Friday 12 November 2010

Shakespeare Untranslated: To See, or Not to See?

To be, or not to be? To see, or not see a Shakespeare play in a foreign language? Now, that really is the question.

When travelling in a country with a different language from your own, a lot of its culture is still open to you.

Music and dance are no problem, opera is OK, and films might have subtitles. However, theatre is a problem, so reliant it is upon language.

But I love theatre, so I've always been keen to see it when travelling, if I can.

A few years ago, I hit on a solution to the language barrier - choose a Shakespeare play you're familiar with that's being performed in a foreign language, so at least you know the plot.

That frees you to focus on the acting, intonation, costumes, set design, direction and other elements without feeling bemused by the storyline. And if you know a little of the local language, you can still pick up something of what's being said.

Here's some of the foreign-language Shakespeare I've caught over the years:

The Merchant of Venice in Japanese

I caught this production in 2001 at The Other Place, which was then a secondary venue used by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon, UK, the Bard's hometown. To be precise, it was a Japanese production with a Romanian director, staged by the Euro-Japan Theatre Organisation.

It was great - the costumes were particularly memorable, an eye-catching mix of traditional and modern (eg Lorenzo in Japanese robes with a biker's jacket on top). 

Antony and Cleopatra in Italian

Well, it's a perfect fit, isn't it? Saw this in 2001 in a magnificent horseshoe-shaped old theatre in Rome - the sort of place you imagine opera being performed. It was done in a striking modern style on a candlelit stage - the men in Zegna suits, the women in classy black dresses.

The Tempest in Lithuanian

When I saw the poster for Burza in the Polish city of Toruń, with Shakespeare's name attached, I was puzzled as to which play it was. A look at my Polish dictionary produced the translation "storm" - of course, it's The Tempest! It was being staged in 2008 as part of the city's annual Kontakt festival (see the cool poster above). Kontakt started in 1991, and primarily aims to bring together great theatre work from Western and Eastern Europe.

To aid comprehension, patrons hired little radio-pickup boxes with headphones, which played live translation of the Lithuanian delivery into Polish, Russian and English. I did occasionally dip into the Russian, just because it sounded so portentous.

A Midsummer Night's Dream in Polish

All that time in Poland, and I finally got to see a Shakespeare work in Polish in 2007, courtesy of the much-respected Stary Teatr. It was magnificent. Working from a fresh translation (a luxury we English-speakers don't have), the company produced an edgy work in upmarket contemporary costumes and settings, laced with black humour.

The company managed the impressive feat of turning Shakespeare's famous comedy into something dark and uncomfortable. The scene directly after the four lovers are released from their magical enchantments was pricelessly awkward, and reminded the viewer that the characters had just been drugged and psychologically manipulated in the most humiliating way. Not really a laughing matter, when you think about it. 

There was also a nod to the original text - of the Rude Mechanicals, Snug (the one who plays the lion) could only speak in English. So we did get to hear some of Shakespeare's text, along with his attempt at a roar. That was fun.

Friday 5 November 2010

Capel Secrets

The following article, written by me, was published in The West Australian newspaper in 2004; but why not spread the knowledge of this pleasant little town? Read on...

“Not just a one horse town”.

That’s what the local business directory says about Capel, in the southwest of Western Australia. But at first glance, you’d be doubtful.

The one horse is in fact Rogan Josh, winner of the 1999 Melbourne Cup. He lives in a paddock on the main street next to the local pub, with a big sign pointing out his identity.

It’s a generous space, and the thoroughbred seems quite comfortable in retirement, grazing contentedly with his pony companion. Capel may not have many famous locals, but it knows how to look after them.

The town started as nothing more than a 19th century rest stop on the stagecoach route between Bunbury and Busselton, which explains Capel’s position exactly halfway between the two busy regional cities.

It doesn’t look much more than a slumbering hamlet, and most traffic speeds by on the recently built bypass. Travel guides have little to say about it. But there are some interesting features to the area which make it worth a visit.

The first is wine. Capel sits at the northern edge of the wine-growing zone which stretches southward through Margaret River and beyond. From humble beginnings, viticulture has become a thriving industry. The local success story is Capel Vale, a winery situated two kilometres from the township on the other side of the highway.

It certainly impresses the visitor. A two-storey building hosts tastings, sales and an upmarket restaurant, with sweeping views of the vineyard below.

It’s easy to forget that the industry is relatively new to the southwest. Keith Warrick, Capel Vale’s sales manager, says its principal vineyard was a stonefruit farm 30 years ago. “The first vines were planted in 1974. They were a combination of merlot and chardonnay, which produce our two reserve wines today.”

However, Capel’s hidden jewel must be its beach coast. There are 29 kilometres of white sand beaches in the local shire, stretching along the Indian Ocean.

The best is Peppermint Grove Beach, eight kilometres from the town. Once a sleepy holiday village with fibro shacks, Peppermint Grove is fast evolving into a small coastal town. But don’t be put off. On a weekday, you can often be the only person on the sand.

Facilities are simple: toilets, a children’s playground and a few shelters on the sand. To the south is fast-growing Busselton and the curve of Cape Naturaliste, to the north is Bunbury and its busy port. But in the middle there’s nothing much to do except lie on the sand and relax.

If even this is too much like the big smoke, try Forrest Beach, Peppermint Grove’s sister beach a few kilometres south. It’s accessible by road, through flat, dry cattle pastures that reach right to the dunes. At the beach there’s nothing but some basic toilets, a bin and a couple of shelters. You can’t get more “away from it all” than this.

Capel may seem overlooked at present, but there’s a whiff of change in the air. Its proximity to rapidly gentrifying Bunbury and improvements in local infrastructure point to future development, and already land prices are rising. For the moment, however, it’s a sleepy town just off the tourist highway, with some interesting surprises on offer.

Note: As this article was researched some years ago, the author takes no responsibility for readers' reliance on the information within. Always check on the current wine/beach/retired horse situation before travelling to Capel.