GETTING TO KNOW: MARTIN SEARLES

Martin Searles graduated with honours in a Bachelor of Arts majoring in drama at the Australian National University in 2007 and undertaken various professional development courses in theatre techniques, voice and singing. . His professional stage credits include: Malvolio in Twelfth Night (Best Co); Mr Kraler in The Diary of Anne Frank; Len Bonny in Pirates on Parade (New Theatre), the Friar and other various roles in Romeo and Juliet (Impulse Theatre).

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THE STREET TALKED TO MARTIN SEARLES BEFORE HIS PERFORMANCES IN WAR OF THE WORLDS AND TOURMALINE.

YOU GRADUATED IN DRAMA AT ANU IN 2007 TELL US ABOUT YOUR PERFORMANCE CAREER JOURNEY OVER THE PAST TEN YEARS.

After graduating at ANU, I acted for several years in Canberra on stage and in short films, before moving to Sydney in 2012.  In Sydney I kept on acting regularly whenever roles came my way, but also sought out opportunities to boost my practical acting training.  The ANU course, while it existed, was a fantastic academic program, but was lighter on practical acting training than what is offered at a formal acting school.  I wanted to start bridging the gap between my knowledge of acting theories and my training in the practical application of them.  I worked with some fantastic, nationally and internationally recognised acting teachers in Sydney including Kevin Jackson (former head of NIDA), Lyn Pierse (very well known for her work with improvisation), Ben Mathews (who is gaining international recognition as a writer, director and actor for film) and Roel Voorbij (a delightfully eccentric and brilliant Dutch physical theatre practitioner, who isn’t particularly well known, but should be!).  I returned to Canberra late last year, and am relishing opportunities to re-connect with old collaborators, seek out new exciting opportunities, and continue the never-ending path of learning and refining the acting craft.  I have also started working more regularly as a set designer recently, which has proven to be tremendously rewarding.

WHAT ARE YOUR RESPONSES TO THE ORIGINAL WORKS AND NOW THESE  ADAPTATIONS? WHAT IS COMPELLING IN THE MATERIAL?

The War of The Worlds plays on a concept that fascinates and frightens us – is there life elsewhere in the universe? If there is, what if it is infinitely superior to us and what if it treats us with the expendable complacency and violence we show towards other species on earth (and even, historically, other races of human beings)?  It is enlightening to explore a clash of civilisations from the perspective of the less developed one, in a completely mis-matched battle for everything we feel we have a right to ‘own’.  I think the 1938 adaptation was completely brilliant.  It modernised the novel with flair and daring, through news broadcasts played for absolute realism, and tapping into the fear and panic that is the compelling draw of the novel, and was a reality of that time in history.  It was such a product of the latest technology of the era – radio.  I think we have a challenge in presenting a script written for what is now a dated ‘vintage’ technology.   Presenting it as a live theatre piece, rather than a broadcast, is also a fascinating aspect of this project.  I think these challenges give us tremendous scope to create and explore, and hopefully to create some magic!

I had no knowledge of Tourmaline before being cast in this piece.  Having explored the novel now, I am very glad to have been introduced to it.  The writing is poetic, evocative and so culturally relevant for all Australians.  There is a bleakness to the world of the town that Randolph Stow has created that is tempered, for me, with a feeling of love and connection to the same harsh environment that threatens to kill its inhabitants.  I am fascinated by the tendency of the characters to love what is, on first glance, very bad and toxic for them.  The sense of blind hope for a better future is touching – beautiful yet so sad.  Emma Gibson has transferred all of this into a dramatic presentation that uses economic, precise dialogue and a wonderful evocative soundscape.  The words and sounds form pictures in the mind which I am very excited to start bringing to life in the rehearsal room.

BOTH ADAPTATIONS ARE FOR VOICE BEING CONCEIVED AS RADIO DRAMAS. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TECHNICALLY FOR YOU IN RELATION TO VOICE, ACCENT, AND LANGUAGE?

The voice work will be absolutely vital.  As an actor, I feel the need to play and explore extensively to extract meaning from each sentence, each word, hopefully without making the dialogue feel laboured – that’s the challenge!  It feels like we will be painting pictures with words, and I want to make sure I have a vibrant palette at my disposal!

Both scripts are so geographically specific – The War of the Worlds has been set in the time of its 1930s adaptation on the northern eastern coast of the USA.  Tourmaline is so vitally a piece set in the arid Australian desert.  Both pieces, I think, need to have a strong sense of location, and the accents will be a very major part of achieving that.

Before rehearsals have begun, I am not sure what to expect with the sound effects, but I anticipate these will be the icing on the cake for both pieces.  It will be fun to create our own sound effects in real time, and should be enjoyable for audiences to watch us do this!

YOU PLAY MULTIPLE ROLES IN THE TWO DIFFERENT PRODUCTIONS. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES IN DOING THIS?

I want to keep using registers of my voice that are comfortable, strong and expressive – but am also aware of the need to differentiate my vocal delivery enough to give the audience absolute clarity to distinguish the different roles.  That is quite a challenge!  I will need to be careful not to move into vocal techniques that unduly strain my voice and could fatigue it across two weeks of full-time work.  It will be interesting to explore how much we are able to distinguish the physicalisation of the different roles.  As we will have an audience watching as well as listening to us, I think this will still be a very relevant factor.  Also, when you observe voice artists recording for animation, for example, their whole bodies go into the creation of a character’s voice. It is ultimately not helpful to separate vocal work from physical work, in my opinion, as the two need to support and inform each other for either to be at their best.  It will be fascinating to explore how much our physical characterisations also needs to change to achieve the distinction between roles.

YOU WILL BE WORKING WITH TWO DIFFERENT DIRECTORS FOR THE DOUBLE BILL. WHAT DO YOU THINK IS IMPORTANT TO A SUCCESSFUL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN AN ACTOR AND DIRECTOR?

Communication and trust, as with most relationships.  We all want to feel that the rehearsal room is a safe space where we will be free to ‘play like our lives depend on it’. But we also need to be free to challenge and push each other.  When the relationship is good, I think both actor and director have a feeling that the other is allowing their work to reach greater heights.

THERE ARE SIX ACTORS IN THE WORK. WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR WHEN WORKING AS PART OF AN ENSEMBLE?

Again, trust and communication.  A sense of playfulness and excitement is important too.  I always seek an environment where actors are open to each other, make offers and accept and respond to them for what they are, and give each other room to explore and make discoveries.

TOURMALINE DEALS WITH ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES – IS IT A WORK FOR OUR TIMES?

Yes, I do think that is an important aspect of the piece when presented in 2018.  At the time the novel was written, global warming was, as far as I am aware, not yet very widely discussed or explored by scientists.  However, in our times, the themes of post-apocalyptic environmental collapse have a greater resonance.  There are many other important themes in the piece as well that should not be overlooked, but the environmental issues do form a vital additional element for modern audiences.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR FROM AN AUDIENCE?

I do not go in with any expectations of how they should respond.  I only want each person to be open-minded, to enter with an intention to listen and watch and then to make whatever responses, during and after the piece, that naturally come to them.  I think it is the job of the creatives, cast and crew to tell the story we want to tell as best as we can; but the audience have no obligations to respond as we think they should.  I suppose I only want the audience to be honest.

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

I have never told anyone about this, but I had a superstition for a long time that meant I had to highlight all my scripts in blue highlighter.  I have now modified that to highlight with a colour that for me somehow connects to the script or the character.  I have gone with blue and green for War of the Worlds (stereotypically colder, ‘alien’ colours), and an orange colour for Tourmaline – thinking of the hot, baked red tones of the Australian dessert.

I never feel ready to step on stage unless I have done some sort of physical and vocal warm up.  More to do with focus and waking up my ‘tools’ as an actor, rather than a superstition.  But this is definitely a vital part of my routine.

WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?

These scripts and their source materials have proved immensely inspiring and creatively fulfilling.

Other than that, I am working later in the year as an actor and set designer for Shrek The Musical.  The design and acting work for that are wonderfully fun and inspiring.  It is fantastic to launch into a cheeky fairytale world where all the old stereotypes are acknowledged and then messed around with in a sense of cheekiness and fun.  Very different to these two pieces, but variety is the spice of life!

WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?

I started reading the Harry Potter series last year (I had never read them before).  I didn’t think it would happen to me, but I am hooked!  I have had to consciously put the seventh book away over the last several weeks, to allow room to work on all the acting and design projects happening in my life at the moment; but I am itching to go back and finish when life allows.

I have no time for television at the moment, but I have recently watched some fascinating documentaries about the Orsen Wells radio performance of The War of the Worlds.  I always try to see theatre regularly to stay inspired – I will be sure to catch Patti Lupone and The Curious Incident when they come to town this week!

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