GETTING TO KNOW: BEN DRYSDALE

Ben Drysdale completed a BArts in Theatre in 2004 including a 2-year Acting, Voice and Movement program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. Since returning to Australia he has acted in a number of amateur and professional theatre and film productions including a professional role in The Street Theatre’s production of The Give and Take 2007, an extra role the Ned Kelly Nuerofen advertisement 2008, a featured extra role in the feature film The Competition written and directed by Simon Weaving (released in 2013), and the Toyota 4WD Country Boarder Security advertisement shot in Cooma in 2009, and professional role in the amateur/professional Out of Our Minds project for the Mental Health Foundation in 2010.

After spending 2011-12 focusing on his music in Roots/Reggae/Pop band Beth n Ben, Ben returned to acting with a professional rehearsed reading of Pyjama Girl by Emma Gibson at The Street Theatre and an extra role in the feature film Galore in December 2012.

In 2013 he played lead roles in two short films Lights and Trust, as well as receiving runner up best actor for one of the two short plays he performed in Short n Sweet, while working on the Rebus forum theatre project creating theatre to raise awareness about the challenges people living with a disability face in the workplace.

In 2014 Ben played the role of R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest for the Acting Company in the Courtyard Studio at The Canberra Theatre Centre, and played Shvonder in the world premier of Heart of a Dog, a professional Musical at the Street Theatre. In 2015 Ben’s lead role in the Short n Sweet play Thank you Mr Pongpat, won Judges Choice Best Play and went on to show in Sydney, and he was an extra in the Australian TV Series The Code and Secret City, and a Gerald Slaven advertisement.  In 2016 Ben played a lead in Rebus’ professional development Fractured, and co-produced and acted in their ArtsACT funded Variety Show All In. He is greatly looking forward to returning to The Street Theatre to work on Under Sedation.

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THE STREET SPOKE TO BEN AS REHEARSALS FOR UNDER SEDATION WERE ABOUT TO START.

WHAT CAPTURED YOUR INTEREST IN UNDER SEDATION?

The concept of creating a theatre piece using local music and poetry was what caught my attention. I’m a singer/songwriter myself and have been blessed to listen to, and play alongside, a lot of the amazing talent in Canberra through being involved in that scene for over a decade. Though I don’t generally seek out, or read, poetry very much I’ve been to a bunch of poetry nights and slams and am aware that we have some great contemporary poets in Canberra, so I knew there was going to be a wealth of quality material. Over the last couple of years I’ve really enjoyed seeing and being involved in some less traditional theatre works that aren’t as reliant on a linear narrative; so this seemed like a great next step in that direction.

THIS IS A NEW THEATRE WORK HONOURING THE NATIONAL CONTRIBUTION OF OUR LOCAL POETS – IS THERE A ‘CANBERRA VOICE’ FOR YOU?

The ‘Canberra Voice’ for me is in the local music scene. I ran music nights around town for about 8 years and had so many amazing artists come and play at my events. Some of them are still around making great music while others have moved out of town, or overseas, but through social media there is still a strong connection to those people and their music that all started living here, making and sharing music with each other here. Out of all those musicians, the ones that sing with the loudest ‘Canberra Voice’ are definitely The Cashews.

WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH VERSE SPOKEN AND SUNG – IN THE THEATRE AND OUT OF IT?

I’ve sung it in and out of theatre all my life having been in musicals and music classes/settings all through my schooling and later life. While I never have much to do with spoken verse outside of the theatre I did once – after attending a poetry slam at The Phoenix – write a poem which I later took back to the next slam and won. However, I couldn’t help myself and eventually turned it into a song. Verse in the theatre has been limited to working on Shakespeare and Molière in acting classes except for some cross-artform performance pieces that I’ve done over the years involving a bit of poetry.

HOW, AS AN ACTOR, DO YOU NEGOTIATE THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE SUNG OR SPOKEN WORD AND THE PLAY OF THEATRE?

As a musician I’m very physical (perhaps even theatrical) with my delivery of lyrics when I perform in that context. When I’m not, I’m just not as good. Having had a lot of physical theatre training, physicality is usually my way into a character. The way you speak is just as much of a product of what’s going on in your body as a gesture or an action. So I usually take what I’ve learned about a character from the text – or the directors’ orders – into my body first, which then informs the way the words come out.

YOUR ARE A MUSICIAN AND SONGWRITER. WHAT DO YOU THINK THAT EACH OF THESE SKILLS BRINGS TO YOUR ROLE IN UNDER SEDATION?

It’s a very different thing to play other people’s music, than playing your own. So they could be as useful as cocktail umbrella in a hailstorm. Everyone writes in their own voice and, more importantly, in their own vocal range. You can transpose a song to fit your own range but sometimes the song loses something as a result. Hopefully we can negotiate all that and I can use my understanding of song writing to find a way into the pieces these musicians (some of whom I know personally) have written, and do them justice.

YOU’VE BEEN WORKING WITH MOVEMENT DIRECTOR EMMA STRAPPS IN PREPARATION – WHAT ARE YOU DISCOVERING?

That I really should do physical work and warm ups all the time, not just when I’m doing shows, as it’s hard to come back after a stint of doing more work in a chair than on a stage for a while.

TALK US THROUGH YOUR PROCESS IN BRINGING UNDER SEDATION TO LIFE?

With this kind of work it’s really about finding out what the show is going to be as you go through rehearsal. Everyone coming into the space, sharing ideas, and making offerings until you find something that works. Adele has a vision and some great ideas but also seems very open to our input and offers, which is great.

THERE ARE TWO ACTORS IN THE WORK. WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO DISCOVERING IN WORKING WITH ACTOR RUTH PIELOOR?

I’ve known Ruth for years through us both doing Short n Sweet plays, but we usually have to be backstage while the other one is performing. What I have seen, I’ve loved, so I was definitely looking forward to working with her. In preliminary rehearsals I feel like we very quickly found a comfortable place of exchanging ideas and bouncing off each other, so I’m looking forward to developing that as we work with Adele to turn this collection of text into a theatrical performance. Ruth has a lot of experience and talent in improvisation, which is something I’ve always struggled with, so hopefully some of that will rub off on me.

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

Good communication is key. Both parties being willing to give things a try, make offers, and then find new approaches if things aren’t working. As an actor it’s also important to be able to let go of some of your own preconceptions and trust that your director can see the big picture when they give you a direction that is outside your current approach or understanding of the role. They’re usually right even if you don’t get it to start with.

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

I used to do a lot of music and roaming street performances at The Street back when the Fringe Festival used to be there. My first professional acting gig there was The Give and Take in 2007 Directed by Caroline Stacey. After focusing on my music for a few years I then worked on the new musical Heart of a Dog in 2014, which was an intense, strange, and awesome experience. I also recorded a live album with my old band in Street Two, which was heaps of fun, we dressed the stage with big fake palm trees and all this beach themed stuff, you can check out a film clip from it here. Looking forward to getting back in this week and doing my first acting performance in Street Two as my previous shows were in the big theatre and I’ve only directed shows or played music in there.

WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?

I recently wrote a song about the Marriage Equality debate. I will be voting YES in case anyone was wondering.

WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?

I’m getting into fantasy and sci-fi a bit more than I ever thought I would or can comfortably admit. Game of Thrones (both the series and the books) are to blame for the fantasy side of things. After reading all those books a friend got me on to Patrick Rothfuss’s King Killer Chronicle, but now I have to wait for the third book to come out, so I just read all the Hunger Games books. As well as watching the latest series of Game of Thrones we’ve been catching up on The 100 on Netflix.

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