GETTING TO KNOW: WILLIAM TRAN

An actor of superb versatility, Will draws from his culture and experiences as a second-generation Vietnamese-Australian to bring an earnest and often humorous performance to the stage and screen. Will has over a decade worth of dance and choreography training under his belt. Some of his accolades include Top 80 So You Think You Can Dance Australia, and choreographing/performing for London based Australian artist Anders for his ‘You Didn’t Need My Love’ Music Video. A dynamite presenter both on stage and in front of the camera, Will has worked as a TV Presenter for Southern Cross Austereo presenting news, sports and weather across Australia. Will has featured front and centre for global brands including American Express, Microsoft and HP. Will is best known for his guest role as a love interest on the ABC Drama series The Heights. In his down time Will works in another field of his passion, as a Zoo-Keeper and Guide for The National Zoo and Aquarium.

The Street talks to William about his acting role in the FIRST SEEN creative development of Barren Ground by Helen Machalias.

HOW HAS COVID-19 IMPACTED ON YOUR WORK AND CAREER?

It’s been a challenging time for all in the entertainment industry, friends and colleagues in various fields and also myself were severely impacted by the current pandemic. So much was taken for granted, the gift of being together. But there is a silver lining and a real tribute to the resourcefulness of the community, to pursue our passions via an online platform. In a way, we haven’t been more connected than ever, not just within our own backyard but globally with creators all across the world.

I had a number of shoots lined up for March/April and within a week, each and every one of my contracts was cancelled. The dance studios I worked for quickly followed. But with time, like all things, all was healed and have continued again.

YOU WILL BE DEVELOPING THE CHARACTER OF CALIBAN IN THIS NEW WORK BY HELEN MACHALIAS. HOW DID YOU RESPOND TO THE CHARACTER?

I remember watching a Bell Shakespeare production of The Tempest held at the Canberra Theatre when I was 16, I had vague recollections of the character. And this was an interesting starting point to understanding what Helen has created with her work Barren Ground. After reading the script several times over and doing some background research into the material, the character of ‘Caliban’ began to evolve into this complicated misunderstood individual who speaks for one of many voices involved with the incidents that occurred on Christmas Island.

There were several tangents I drew from the character’s experience that were similar to my own. Growing up as an ‘Other’ and having to find a sense of identity when internally you don’t think like the way you look and vice-a-versa.

Caliban is an earthy delight, entrenched in the land and a yearning to share and be understood. It has been a pleasure to explore a character of such complexity.

BARREN GROUND PRESENTS LIFE IN THE CHRISTMAS ISLAND DETENTION CENTRE. WHAT’S BEEN MOST COMPELLING FOR YOU IN THE MATERIAL?

We have been lucky enough to have resources during the creative process to advise on the reality of life on Christmas Island. The anecdotal information is derived from individuals who lived the experience and others who observed in close proximity. And I found it extremely confronting hearing some of the dark stories that happened.

What struck me as the most challenging after absorbing this information, was how do we as artists and creators create a piece that is respectful to the material. It makes you question your choices as an actor as to what is most appropriate to the piece. You can get in your head a lot with the insecurity that you may not do the incident justice. Thankfully, the whole team has been so supportive and open. I believe the result with be all that the team wishes to achieve.

DO YOU THINK BARREN GROUND IS A WORK FOR OUR TIMES?

In short, yes. And what a time it has been! 2020 has been just a year of trials hasn’t it? From fires to hail to now this pandemic and all other things happening across the globe, Aussies are being inundated with information. And it’s easy to get lost in the noise. And in that noise, it’s also easy to forget about those quiet voices in the background who have been singing their songs waiting to be heard, waiting for their time in the spotlight. To discuss, share and perhaps have some sort of consolation.

I truly feel Helen’s work is a work that is returning our attention to some important events in the world. It is created with thoughtfulness and respect. A movement for the oppressed and misunderstood has continued on in 2020 across the globe. Barren Ground is perhaps joining that conversation with events much closer to home, in our own backyard.

THIS YEAR’S FIRST SEEN SEASON IS BEING DEVELOPED AND SHOWN VIA ZOOM. WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES IN DEVELOPING A CHARACTER IN THIS WAY?

You realise how much you miss being around people! When I had to teach dance over zoom, I thought that was hard. But creating a performance piece, that’s a whole different ball game. There is a certain electricity and excitement when creatives get in a room together. You bounce off your colleagues and form a greater understanding of your place in this world.

But it’s been a very positive and interesting experience. What we have is an opportunity to not be constrained to distance, the play itself involves many people across Australia. And having their input in my creative process to form who ‘Caliban’ is has been fantastic. I love moving around, so during the creative exercises I’ve taken a liking to grabbing my laptop and treating it like my other actors, going for walks across the room and to position the camera so I can grab some great perspectives.

It’s been an eye-opening experience.

WITH A BACKGROUND IN DANCE, HOW WILL YOU DRAW ON YOUR PHYSICAL SKILLS TO CREATE LIVENESS ONLINE?

So adaptation is key. I’ve been lucky enough to move into a lot of screen work and it’s a much different platform than seeing something live. My focus is always on energy, bringing an energy that is able to permeate through the screen to the viewer. Also utilising the camera as a player, you might not be aware, but your field of view is obviously far greater during a live performance.

I think the best asset in my creative arsenal is how many self-tapes I have done for TV, film and TVC’s. I invested a lot of my work into creating a great audition tape that may offer something alternative than other actors auditioning for the same role. Positioning of the body, proximity to the camera, utilising volume, these are all things I’ve taken from my self-tapes into the production.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE STREET AND LIVE PERFORMANCE IN CANBERRA?

I’ve done a fair bit of performing at The Street Theatre, albeit in different capacities. When I was in a dance crew, many competitions would utilise the space annually. So, we would find ourselves there once, maybe twice a year with the local dance community, vying for a spot in Nationals. With my MC experience my role evolved to hosting a number of dance shows and concerts held within the theatre. The most ‘theatre’ role I’ve had is when The Street produced Dido and Aeneas and booked me as a choreographer and dancer for the play. It was a great experience and very different to the dance work I had at the time.

Being a dancer, there are many fads you go through and The Street is a time capsule for my journey as a dancer. On the wall you’ll find a young Will Tran who erred towards a long, coloured fringe… While my haircut styles have changed with time, the wall always brings a smile to my face.

WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?

I spent the lockdown and subsequent period working on my dialect for the US. I found it fascinating that accents are far more challenging than just taking a punt. Currently I am furthering my craft part-taking in a course for the character creation process and self-taping with a renowned Aussie Casting Director. The pandemic kind of felt like a full stop on all things, and while I and everyone else had a period of grieving, I took it as an opportunity to ready myself for when the work returns. So, improving my entertainment education and exploring my threshold has been invigorating.

WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?

I just finished binge watching the US version of The Office. It’s a bit of an annual event heading back to Scranton. Now it’s Scrubs. What’s been really great this time around with both series is there are a handful of podcasts with the cast and crew that give a great insight into the production process. While watching these shows initially was a form of comfort and joy, approaching these shows with the actor’s lens has been like going to uni lectures. Especially with The Office, I love the bare bones approach and subtle nuances that make it so wonderfully relatable.