GETTING TO KNOW: BEN CROWLEY

In the last decade, Benjamin Crowley has been heavily involved in the Canberra theatre scene as an actor, creator, director and producer.

Ben performed the titled role for The Street’s production of Bartleby by Julian Hobba with Max Cullen and Dene Kermond in 2014. In 2016, Ben premiered his first solo show Much Ado About Ben, showcasing original comedic poems and sketches. He also co-starred in BnC Theatre’s Pirates as Seamus and Crooners as arrogant jazz singer Bernie Donaldson (a role he’ll reprise in late 2017).

Other recent roles include Guilt in Hour of the Wolf at Improvention 2016 (improvised theatre festival), creator/director/performer in the sell-out season of The Dinner Party (2015), the 2014 Melbourne Fringe Festival in A tumbler of sketches with comedy trio, The Modern Gentlemen, and as a special guest at the 2014 New Zealand Impro Festival presenting his co-devised piece Ghost Conference.

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Photo Credit: Mark Gambino

THE STREET TALKED WITH BEN CROWLEY BEFORE CANBERRA UNSCRIPTED OPENS AT THE THEATRE.

WHY UNSCRIPTED THEATRE?

I started in improvised theatre as a teenager and 20 years later I still enjoy it.

Improvisation has been invaluable to me as an actor in scripted theatre and musical productions because I have no fear of trying something in the rehearsal room and just moving on and trying something else if it doesn’t work. Also, if someone drops a line in a show I am confident and able to redirect back to cue lines.

As an actor in unscripted theatre I get the ultimate glow in front of an audience. Every show is new and what you craft in that performance is influenced by the audience. When you create a golden moment of drama or comedy in an unscripted theatre show it is an amazing discovery that you share with an audience. I also love the risk and the joy that failure or the unexpected can bring.

Most importantly, I like that in unscripted theatre to really deliver you have to fully commit and throw yourself into character creation in the moment.

YOU ARE A PERFORMER WITH IMPRO ACT AND A LIFE MEMBER. WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS ACTING WITH IMPRO ACT.

I got my start in the unscripted theatre scene in Canberra through Impro ACT back in 2005 and still perform with them. I also now have my own little theatre company BnC Theatre, which is co-producing the Canberra Unscripted festival at the Street Theatre in August.

Some highlights of my life performing in unscripted theatre include performing in Rock Opera where I sang an improvised song called ‘It’s hard to swallow’ in a line spot in Street One. Whilst singing the torch song members of the audience turned on the torches of their phones and started swaying then like candles.

I also have fond memories as Nurse Gary Swift in the 24hr charity show The Bold and the Hospitalised. The character I played was a human characterisation of my dog Raven and it led to some really interesting moments including the gold creation of the circle of trust and the inner circle of intimacy, which involved literally circling fellow actors.

TELL US ABOUT THE CONCEPT BEHIND CANBERRA UNSCRIPTED.

The concept behind Canberra Unscripted is to showcase the possibilities of unscripted theatre. We have specifically curated the festival with shows from popular, known genres, to make it accessible to audiences both familiar with and new to unscripted theatre. The festival is trying to firmly look at shows that audiences would find entertaining and interesting.

WHERE DOES DIRECTION AND UNSCRIPTED THEATRE MEET?

Good unscripted theatre requires clear direction.

An unscripted theatre director needs to have a vision, an idea of staging, lighting, music and a stage picture just like any other director. They just don’t have the control to fully preset and deliver their vision. There is even greater trust bestowed by them on their cast.

The key is providing the actors with clear instruction on the foundation of the show, the intended tone and the goal. From there the direction in the rehearsal room is about training and equipping the actors with the skills, character, genre and background knowledge so that the cast become the writer/director/actor in the show and deliver the vision. Creating a trusting ensemble is also paramount for a director of an unscripted theatre show.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR JOURNEY WITH CANBERRA UNSCRIPTED.

Cathy and I (BnC Theatre) initially had the idea and approached some of the other new unscripted theatre companies about their interest. From there Alchemist Improvisation, BnC Theatre, Chrysalis Theatre and Lightbulb Improv have together created the festival.

My journey with the festival has been interrupted as my mother has become very ill and so I have not been in Canberra the last couple of months. However, the team of extremely talented and capable producers from the other companies are crafting a wonderful festival and I cannot wait to hear stories of the marvellous shows performed when they take the stage in Street 2 from 4-6 August 2017.

THERE ARE FIVE SHOWS IN THE CANBERRA UNSCRIPTED SEASON. WITHOUT BEING A SPOILER, CAN YOU TELL US WHAT AUDIENCES CAN EXPECT.

Fun, drama, comedy, music, Shakespeare, blood and zombies. The festival program delivers five shows specifically picked because they are going to be great entertainment and an easy introduction to unscripted theatre to anyone new to the form.

Incredible singing, parodies of morning tv and talent competitions, messy, fun childhood dares, real truths revealed, bloody conflict and brain hungry zombies, what’s not to like?

THERE IS A HUGE FOLLOWING FOR IMPROVISED THEATRE IN CANBERRA AND AROUND THE WORLD. HOW HAS THIS COME ABOUT?

In Canberra the following has come from the creation of a warm and supportive community. From there actors of all levels have been able to be involved on and off stage, which has further fuelled interest.

The recent explosion of new independent impro theatre companies including Alchemist Improvisation, BnC Theatre, Chrysalis Theatre and Lightbulb Improv has also helped to increase the exposure and following in Canberra. In fact it is these four new companies that have banded together to co-produce the Canberra Unscripted festival at the Street Theatre from 4 to 6 August 2017.

Around the world the following in improvised theatre is the positive and inclusive mantra of the skills taught. The skills learnt through improvisation are useful for theatre but also translate well to all other facets of life. Say yes, don’t fear failure and create together being some of those ideals.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE NEW FORMATS EMERGING IN IMPROVISATION?

Improvised bands, intimate relationships and tackling mainstream genres are the focus of the new work that I have noticed recently.

BnC Theatre premiered a musical format in 2016 called ‘Crooners’ that we are very proud of and is pretty fresh. It was about  a trio of jazz singers and two session musicians, set in the early 1960’s. The show involved performing a 10 song set of improvised jazz numbers in the classic crooner style. Each song was punctuated by character banter which revealed the dysfunctional nature of the group.

WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY IN IMPROVISATION?

At the moment, I am inspired by exploring characters in conflict and how to create characters who do bad things but are still likeable to an audience.

WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?

I am reading ‘Neverwhere’ by Neil Gaiman. It will be the fourth time I have read it. It is a comfort read, a great adventure and I love the quirky character interactions.

I am watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Killjoys and Major Crimes. I also just re-watched the film Guardians of the Galaxy. I love the clever characters and their personal drivers as well as the humorous tone of each show.

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