Actors from the Queensland Conservatorium have collaborated with industry professionals and student composers to create a thought-provoking new production of the theatre classic, Summerfolk.
Written by famed Russian playwright Maxim Gorky at the beginning of the 20th century, the play explores a group of middle-class intellectuals who are oblivious to the political and social revolution fomenting around them.
The final-year production was beset by COVID lockdowns and floods, but the results of the extraordinary creative collaboration speak for themselves.
Bachelor of Acting students worked with renowned theatre director and writer Kate Wild, who created a new adaptation of the play for the Queensland Conservatorium 2022 season.
Queensland Conservatorium composition students were also commissioned to write a new score for the production – an example of the interdisciplinary collaboration that Queensland Conservatorium is known for.
Bachelor of Acting student Izzy Berlese said the production had been a steep learning curve for the young cast.
“This show has been hit by COVID lockdowns and the recent floods, but it has challenged all of us to really grow and adapt,” she said.
“We’ve been able to transfer with ease from Zoom rehearsals to stage and back again.
“It has generated this very strong, resilient mindset throughout the entire ensemble.”
Izzy said a highlight of the rehearsal process was working with director Kate Wild, who has helmed productions around the world, including at the famed Young Vic in London.
“Not only is she directing, but Kate has also created this version of Summerfolk for us at the Queensland Conservatorium,” she said.
“Kate allows every individual’s voice to be heard in the rehearsal space and that has created this amazing environment in which we can all take risks and bring our very best.
“Being able to work with industry professionals on our first professional public show is really thrilling and has really helped us evolve from students to emerging artists.”
Izzy said the creative cross-pollination between acting and composition students elevated the production to a new level.
“Once we heard those pieces of music, it was another element that helped all of us solidify our characters as these living, breathing three dimensional beings.”
Composition student Emma Percival said the opportunity to collaborate with students across the Queensland Conservatorium had allowed her to develop new skills.
“Studying composition at Griffith is an experience that can quite literally be tailored to you and your individual needs and wants as a composer,” she said.
“The opportunities for composers at Griffith are endless. Not only do we cross-collaborate on projects like Summerfolk, but we are also offered orchestral readings and composition department showcase concerts which are a rare commodity, even globally, when it comes to composition studies.”
Director Kate Wild said despite Summerfolk being written more than a century ago, its themes would resonate with contemporary audiences.
“It is a comedy filled with highly-relatable characters and great fun to watch,” she said.
“The play also has an important point to make about responsibility and privilege.
“Should those with wealth and security make sure others have the same? Can we really feel we are living our best lives when we aren’t ensuring the well-being of all?
“Despite the play being written from a different place and time, these dilemmas still feel very pertinent.”
Bachelor of Acting Program Director Jacqui Somerville said the production was designed to develop students’ potential as creatives, providing an industry-level experience that extended beyond the stage.
“This production has given our students the opportunity to learn more about the industry and their craft,” she said.
“Kate Wild has adapted this version of Gorky’s play especially for QCGU which has given the actors the unique benefit of working closely with both the writer and director.
“From this experience they have learnt to interpret a character, explore and research the complete world of a play, work closely with a professional director and understand what it means to work and be treated as a professional actor.
“As well as performing in the production, the third-year actors are also taking on a production role. They might work on the set design, source props, find sound effects and support the stage manager.
“The industry and general public are invited to see the performances, and it’s a great opportunity to showcase the students’ work to agents, potential industry employers and future collaborators.”
Later in the year the Bachelor of Acting students will perform in self-led projects as part of the Anywhere Theatre Festival and work with Lee Lewis, Artistic Director at Queensland Theatre. In August, the third-year students will also be performing The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Burke Street Studios, a play by Stephen Adly Guirgis and directed by Tim Hill.
Summerfolk, Burke Street Theatre, 31 March – 9 April.