GETTING TO KNOW: CAMILLA BLUNDEN

Camilla Blunden has worked in professional theatre for over 35 years as an actor/director/ creator/ mentor/ educator. Her work has a strong focus on social issues which, for ALL THIS LIVING!, meant undertaking a period of in depth consultation with women in their 50s to 80s, seeking to draw out the experiences of older women in Canberra.

Camilla Blunden talks to The Street ahead of the 2016 return season of her work, All This Living!, which kicks off the official opening celebrations for ACT Seniors Week.All_This_Living_2016_2048x1536

ALL THIS LIVING! HAS BEEN IN THE MAKING SINCE LATE 2012 WHEN YOU ENTERED THE HIVE WRITING PROGRAM TO CREATE A SOLO WORK FOR YOURSELF TO PERFORM.  TALK US THROUGH THE GENESIS OF THE CONCEPT.

When I saw that The Hive wanted actors to create a solo show I had already been thinking about myself now ‘the older woman’. Frustration existed among friends of a similar age about what we are represented as being and what we really are in this day and age. How we are seen (or not seen most of the time) in theatre, films and in our society. I wanted to use some real stories relating to our experiences, we are very good at chatting to each other about everything.  I also wanted to break away from the everyday too by looking at some of the wonderful stories relating to mythical women and for the work to reach out in an intimate space directly to audiences across generations.

 

ALL THIS LIVING! SHINES A LIGHT ON THE EXPERIENCE OF OLDER WOMEN. IS THERE A MESSAGE IN THE WORK THAT YOU FELT IT WAS IMPERATIVE TO CONVEY? HAVE ANY CHALLENGES ARISEN FROM THAT?

The imperative is the assertion and the presence of an older woman centre stage and her journey, it is not a message. Older women are like everyone else, individuals with a plurality of experience. My character Jay has reached a tipping point and is working out what’s bothered and got at her –  like feeling invisible, being ignored, of supposedly lacking sexuality and being stereotyped. She isn’t prepared to accept these limitations, which many in focus groups I held felt were present in our society. There are so many other possible stories this is just a pinprick about one older woman.

 

THIS PROJECT INVOLVED QUITE AL OT OF RESEARCH, WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THAT PROCESS?

When I started this project I wanted to set up a number of focus groups with a variety of women in this age bracket (about 55 upwards to 80s) to get a feel for their experiences, attitudes and understandings about themselves ageing, death in our society. They were happy for me to record all they said, didn’t all know each other, and were open, honest, outspoken, funny, clever, serious, and there were some cultural differences amongst them. They were certainly “not all the same”. The other research I was doing was into a huge range of mythical, powerful women across many cultures. So the next step was to start to plot out a story and character. I knew I wanted to combine the everyday with some mythical characters. This involved many drafts and redrafts probably about 25 altogether. I am a creator, actor and director, so now was being challenged to get words of my own on a page.  Sometimes things jumped out at me like the name of the character, the internal story of Jay, sometimes it was just perseverance on the computer and the support of the dramaturg urging me to keep at it.

IT’S GREAT TO HAVE YOU BACK AT THE STREET, HOW DID THIS RETURN SEASON COME ABOUT?

Canberra’s Council On the Aging (COTA) asked The Street Theatre if they had anything appropriate for Seniors week. The theatre said yes and spoke to me about doing performances of All This Living! again and I agreed. It has been useful as we are working on setting up touring for the future for the piece. It was designed to be totally portable so it can play in a variety of spaces. It has already been to Gunning where it played in the Old Courthouse went very well with some of the audience almost in the performing area.

 

YOU’VE WORN LOTS OF DIFFERENT HATS DURING YOUR CAREER IN THE ARTS, WHAT MAKES THIS EXPERIENCE UNIQUE?

It is the first time I have written a solo performance for myself. I have been involved in many creative developments of original work  both as a director and actor working often with writers.  So this was unique. After receiving a grant from ArtsACT and with support from The Street Theatre to produce the work I then had to let go as writer to concentrate on being the actor and make the story live for an audience. The team with their creative inputs were Director Rochelle Whyte, Designer Imogen Keen, Sound Designer Kimmo Vennonen, Lighting Designer Gillian Schwab, Stage Manager/Operator Lea Collins. Together we made the production.

 

HOW DO YOU GET INTO THE HEAD OF A NEW CHARACTER? IS THERE A KEY PIECE OF INFORMATION THAT YOU ALWAYS NEED ABOUT THEM BEFORE YOU CAN SAY, ‘AHA! THAT’S THEM. THAT’S WHAT MOTIVATES THEM TO MAKE THESE DECISIONS’? TALK US THROUGH THE PROCESS.

As an actor you have to be open and be willing to explore and take risks. Getting inside a character is also a process of building blocks and discovery. You search through every bit of information about a character their perspective of themselves and that of others around them. You break down the moments in a play to explore everything that happens to them, because of them, with them, with other characters. You also have to be ready to explore time and place and a variety of conventions and different approaches in the writing which may lead to a particular style of performance. For example, playing Mistress Overdo in Bartholomew Fair by Ben Jonson, Ratty in Wind in the Willows, Pauline in Pinter’s A Kind of Alaska, “A” in Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women, The Woman in Coming Home by Franca Rama, Elaine in Breathing Corpses by Laura Wade; all of these offered different challenges and approaches to me as actor. There is no one way. You are digging inside the play, the environment, the journey and the person you may be trying to find and each experience is different.

 

ARE YOU SUPERSTITIOUS? IS THERE A PROCESS THAT YOU ALWAYS LIKE TO GO THROUGH BEFORE STEPPING OUT ON STAGE?

I am not superstitious but before going on stage I have to prepare my body and mind so I can step into the world that is to be created on stage.  I have to be ready physically and tuned in to where I am and ready for a journey.

 

WHERE TO NEXT?

Next? As we know our profession is an uncertain one so who knows where next. My creative impulses are still alive and kicking!

However, relating to All This Living!, next is the tour that we’re working on securing. That is a strong focus. Lea Collins has been working on this with a small grant I obtained from Arts ACT, so this will continue even as the grant runs out, as the determination is there and we already have some lined up.  The show can go anywhere and play to audiences across the generations. It is an intimate piece and is followed by a Q&A/chat.  Keep an eye on my website for more news. Get in touch if you are interested in us coming to you to perform.

http://www.camillablunden.com/

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