GETTING TO KNOW: DENE KERMOND

Dene Kermond is a graduate actor and theatre maker from Theatre Nepean, Western Sydney University. He has received critical acclaim and awards for his work across screen and theatre such as A Country Practice, G.P., Twelfth Night, and Bartleby. Dene has further credits in landmark Australian theatre and film productions including Gavroche in the original cast of Les Miserable, Louis in The King and I with Hayley Mills, and All My Sons with the Sydney Theatre Company, Bobby in The Distant Home, Two Ships, and as Malcolm Heslop in Muriel’s Wedding.

Dene Kermond is an accomplished actor and skilled performer with a consummate energy, gravitas and physicality that excites and leans the audience forward into the world of the character.

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THE STREET TALKS TO DENE AS REHEARSALS BEGIN FOR 7 GREAT INVENTIONS OF THE MODERN INDUSTRIAL AGE.

YOU ARE A FOURTH GENERATION PERFORMER. HAVE FAMILY INFLUENCES BEEN THE DRIVING FORCE BEHIND YOUR BECOMING AN ACTOR?

It was and still is an influence. When I first started at the age of five, whether I was on stage or in front of a camera it felt very comfortable – something humans do. As I got older it became apparent that my life experience was not normal. However, I did consider and occasionally did other work at a couple of points in my life. Early on it was an attempt to discover what else I could do and who I wanted to be. In the last several years it has been out of necessity to achieve some life goals.

My parents and my older brother have focused their skills toward Variety and Music Theatre and I still tap dance, acrobat and sing for corporate gigs – just not on Canberra stages. I decided to pursue acting as a more singular professional focus when I was working on All My Sons with the Sydney Theatre Company. That was a watershed production for me. Slapstick is probably the greatest influence I have taken from my family. I rediscovered this at Theatre Nepean under the mentoring of master movement teacher Yana Taylor. I owe much to her. I began a study of slapstick that is probably my greatest passion and life goal to uncover its use far beyond bawdy comedy. While Canberra stages haven’t supported projects focusing on this, it is always in my work and something that most directors love that I bring to the physicality of projects, but are not aware that it is in fact an element of Slapstick.

YOU HAVE APPEARED ON TV AND THE STAGE. WHAT DO YOU FIND ARE THE DIFFERENT CHALLENGES FOR AN ACTOR IN EACH?

For stage it is about the ensemble. When you are playing a lead role, while you often feel a greater burden, you are still reliant on your colleagues to help you develop your character and journey. For screen in Australia, there is little rehearsal time before you’re on set – if any at all. Both forms require respect and trust in and from your colleagues. Stage rehearsals allow any issues that arise in differences of approaches to acting to be worked through so that there is a shared language to allow each actor to get where they need to be during every show. Screen acting requires the providing of options for ‘takes’ – similar to stage rehearsal. With screen an actor has to be on top of their skills from the outset, so they can adjust quickly through the simplicity of ‘focus of attention’ and their character’s ‘intention’ upon the others.

 

WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE ROLE OF HARRY HAWKINS, A 19TH CENTURY JOURNALIST, IN 7 GREAT ADVENTURES OF THE MODERN INDUSTRIAL AGE?

This production was less about the role, as it is more presentational in construct, and really about my interest in the concept. The construct of a single performer with musicians for a non-musical structure is thought-provoking to me. There will always be varying degrees of success in my own performative outcomes, and for the production also. Sometimes, in new work, both achieve their desired outcomes but that is not the point of the first staging of a production. The focus must be toward making sense of and bringing to realisation the text. This allows the writers and the composer to make final edits and rewrites. On large scale productions or touring shows, this happens during the season. If you haven’t seen a new work at the beginning and at the end of a season you’d be surprised by the changes. This process is very satisfying and what commonly attracts me to new work.

TALK US THROUGH YOUR PROCESS OF BRINGING HARRY HAWKINS TO LIFE.

Initially I read and jot down notes of my thoughts and imaginings. I research words, phrases, concepts, and anything else I’m unsure about. Then I devise a process of preparation for that character and production. For this one I’ve collected relevant images for facial hair and some of the innovations referenced in the text.

Since day one of rehearsals, Shelly Higgs and I have been working on the logic of Harry’s reality so that he is a character rather than a simple representation, which is easy to fall into with solo performer productions that require the character to talk to the audience. We’ve been testing the theatricality of Harry’s world and actions/activities. There have been a couple of surprising discoveries made that head in a different direction to what I saw when I first read the script. The relationship to a character’s space on stage is essential and we have been exploring that through key scenes, or are they movements? Finally, once the dialogue is memorised (a process I’ve had to adapt for this project) and we are in technical rehearsals with Syzygy, we’ll start editing again so that there is flow and synergy with text, sound, and intention.

7 GREAT INVENTIONS OF THE MODERN INDUSTRIAL AGE FOR THE STREET STAGE IS A NEW WORK FOR THEATRE DRIVEN BY THE MUSIC OF SALLY GREENAWAY. WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING TO DISCOVER PERFORMING ALONGSIDE THE SYZYGY MUSIC ENSEMBLE?

The true heart of this production is the music. Sally Greenway is a master at composing to evoke memory, individual and collective. As a physical theatre performer and trained dancer, I see whole worlds of physical (silent) performance when I listen to Greenway’s compositions for this production. During rehearsal I’ve often thought I will need to remain very attentive during the songs so I don’t miss my cues. They subtly seduce you into the interior world.

Unfortunately, we only have a small amount of time to explore the relationship between Syzygy and myself in this iteration of the project.  Even so, I am hopeful to discover that which I cannot predetermine and I am always interested in the relationship between the body (including voice), text and space.

WHAT IS IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO A SUCCESSFUL AND FRUITFUL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN AN ACTOR AND DIRECTOR?

Earth, Wind and Fire (the band or the elements?)

I usually don’t like to talk too much about the work. I’d rather play bit by bit, applying a range of different approaches to discover it. Still, some processes require more talking.

Directors also bring their own approaches to the rehearsal room and that can vary from production to production. In the end, the best directors know that they are the audiences’ senses and can communicate to the actor(s) the effect they are having. Even better directors learn how their actors work and can fluidly adjust rehearsal to help each actor and the ensemble get to where everyone wants to be by the start of the season run.

I enjoy when a director wants to work in a particular practice. As I have a wide range of experience in practices I tend to bring a selection to rehearsal to discover the character and their journey. However, narrowing the options to a single practice makes for a great challenge and refines my skills in that approach. It also ensures a unified world on stage that every actor is engaged in.

YOU ARE A STRONG SUPPORTER OF THE STREET ON STAGE AND BEHIND THE SCENES IN ITS DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE PATHWAYS AVAILABLE TO THEATRE-MAKERS IN CANBERRA AND WHAT HAVE BEEN THE MOST VALUABLE IN YOUR OWN CAREER.

I think very highly of The Street Theatre’s programs. The Hive is excellent for writers and those writing a vehicle to direct and/or perform in. There is obviously great dramaturgical support but it also provides a community of writing.  I have seen, for those who embrace it and allow their work to be scrutinised and magnified and embrace rewrites, that the text is much better for it and the writers learn essential playwrighting skills for their new projects.

As an actor, it has allowed me to play with a range of characters and stories, some of which my type casting would exclude me from. It’s greatest value for me though are the relationships the Street programs help to develop – between writers and directors, directors and actors/performers. Most importantly, it provides a space for conversation around themes and theatrical practice, which is sorely missing across much of the nation in the dog eat dog world of ‘grant’ based theatre.

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

I’m not superstitious but I am ritualistic. I create a process for the time I arrive at the theatre to my first entrance on stage. What is included in that process has a lot to do with the requirements of the role and the production, and what is happening in my own life. It always includes a soundtrack and I always do a physical warm up, both created specifically for that production. This has a meditative element to it as it is focusing my senses and self-observation. It often includes repetition of a tricky part of dialogue – every production has one chunk that requires mental strength to tackle. Sometimes it’s from weakness in the writing, other times from a weakness in my technical abilities – occasionally both which is always scary.

WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?

This would normally require a multifaceted answer but I’ll refine it to an out of the ordinary inspiration. I have been rehearsing the Pigeonhole Theatre Company production of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, and working with Karen Vickery as director has been piquing my imagination – this is a good thing. It is a return to a more traditional stage acting and craft, how I remember it when I was a kid on the main stages of Australia, Sydney Theatre Company and the like. Working with Karen has reminded me of the skill of the stalwart actors I worked with years ago, who I learnt from before I attended Theatre Nepean. I have been inspired to dig into approaches to acting I let go of in order to embrace new millennium performance. It’s like waking anew the romance of a long-term love. It’s very familiar but there are fresh discoveries, new perspectives on aspects I haven’t considered for some time.

WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND WATCHING?

I listen to music more than reading and watching, often while reading. Prince is always around – his catalogue is so vast in genre, era and life experiences that there is always something on rotation for reflection and the funk. There is always an Anne Bogart and a Howard Barker text nearby, currently Viewpoints and Arguments For A Theatre, respectively. Both are the foremost thinkers in theatre philosophy – a personal passion. I am rereading the Routledge Performance Practitioners series on Jacques Copeau as I approach another project with Aspen Island Theatre Company and Julian Hobba. Copeau was a contemporary of Stanislavksi, his approach to acting deserves more consideration and credit. I read a lot of plays each year, currently I counted three around the house.

I have again been watching the films of Jacques Tati, the French master of cinema often compared to Chaplin. Tati carried on the mantle but there is a more European approach to his storytelling that I equally love with Chaplin’s.

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