Adam Broinowski is a theatre maker, academic and writer. Adam has worked as a director, performer and writer with Australian and international artists and companies since 1994, including as a member of Tokyo-based Gekidan Kaitaisha while a researcher at the University of Tokyo in the 2000s. He is a teacher and researcher in Interdisciplinary Humanities with a focus on Japanese and Asian Studies, Historical Studies, and critical International Politics. He earned a PhD in modern Japanese history and cultural studies (performance, film) from the University of Melbourne. His book Cultural Responses to Occupation in Japan: The Performing Body during and after the Cold War (Bloomsbury Academic) was published in 2016, and he recently completed an Australian Research Council DECRA fellowship entitled ‘Contaminated Life: ‘Hibakusha’ in Japan in the Nuclear Age’ at the School of Culture, History and Language at the ANU. He is co-founder of Social Repair Service with dancer/choreographer Emma Strapps.
The Street talked to Adam as he gets ready for rehearsals of Metamorphosis opening at The Street Theatre on the 17th of August.
HOW DO YOU WORK AS A DIRECTOR? WHAT PRINCIPLES DO YOU WORK BY?
As a theatre director I design my approach to suit the particularities and demands of each project. There are some consistent principles I work from. As theatre making is a collaborative pursuit which brings together the skills and knowledges of many people, creating a space for the layering of multiple perspectives is essential. The theatre is a live space which embraces all of the senses in devising ways to evoke the qualities as well as language-meaning of a story. I work with each designer and performer to build a palette of materials and refine a shared multi-sensory language. Theatre also provides a unique opportunity to express the marginalised voices and senses; an attempt to re-balance the homunculus-effect in our societies by creatively amplifying the little-heard perspectives which are so often ignored in public. In short, a people’s theatre which attempts to evoke the life of consciousness in the fullest way possible so as to even-out, if momentarily, the dominant dynamic which concentrates power in our human-made systems as they change over time.
FRANZ KAFKA’S THE METAMORPHISIS IS ONE OF THE TOP TEN NOVELLAS READ IN THE WORLD? WHY DO YOU THINK ITS STORY AND THEMES REMAIN RELEVANT TODAY?
Ignoring my urge to blank on this one, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, published around 1915 amid the collapsing Austro-Hungarian empire and the catastrophe of World War I, seems to have captured a state of being that readers from all over the world continue to identify with. Anchored in the realistic conditions of an aspirational middle-class family somewhere in Bohemia who suddenly lose their capacity to maintain their illusions of status and security, an enigma at the heart of this story stimulates the imagination and permits the reader to blur their boundaries of what shared reality is. While unrelentingly bleak – not surprising considering Kafka’s increasingly withdrawn condition, his battle with tuberculosis, and difficult familial relations – it is also cruelly funny. More politely ridiculous than nihilistic, Kafka beautifully articulates the arbitrary judgements imposed upon people for incomprehensible reasons through a profound wit which manages to find pleasure even as life slowly rolls inexorably toward the cliff… you can always write about it, until you can’t. Sound familiar? We see what can happen to someone and all they thought they had held dear, when for no explicable reason they get up on the ‘wrong side of bed’ in the morning.
HOW DOES THE BERKOFF ADAPTATION DIFFER FROM THE NOVELLA?
Steven Berkoff’s adaption, originally published in the late 1960s, and which he toured around the world as a signature theatre piece over several decades, was a vehicle to promote his style of acting and directing. It remains remarkably close to the original. After all, Berkoff does state in the introduction to his script, ‘I am Kafka’. And yet the ending is somewhat more forgiving in Berkoff’s version. He manages to bring out a wider range of sensory qualities from Kafka’s world. Drawing from a rich legacy of physical theatre artists such as Jean-Louis Barrault, Etienne Decroux, Marcel Marceau and Jacques Lecoq, Berkoff is a genius at adapting modern classic texts using the theatrical tools of physical or total theatre: gesture, movement, design. While maintaining the beauty of the literary text, Berkoff concentrates on evoking shared psychological states, including the subconscious and materiality of emotions, through movement and stage technique in a simple and appealing way. Berkoff also wrote and performed his own plays, produced with his team of designers, actors and producers. As one of a band of mercurial theatre makers who could astutely position themselves within the political and social zeitgeist, particularly during the upheavals of 1980s Britain, Berkoff carved a place for himself within the British theatre scene and now his works are now well established in their own right.
TALK US THROUGH YOUR VISION FOR BRINGING STEVEN BERKOFF’S ADAPATION OF METAMORPHOSIS TO LIFE ON THE STREET THEATRE STAGE.
In this version of Berkoff’s adaptation of Metamorphosis, over many readings of the story and the script, relevant literary criticism and from experience in stylised and naturalistic theatre, together with the wonderful talents of the creative and production team I have generated a range of devices and concepts to inform an overall approach. I situated my understanding of the distinct contexts of WWI Bohemia at the tail-end of the industrial revolution in Europe and of West Europe during economic and social recovery after the devastation of WWII in relation to conditions in Canberra in 2019. From the consistent patterns of militarism and contestation over vital resources, market control and boundaries, we see a thread interweaving these three periods – harsh work/life balance, conformity and stigmatisation, individual withdrawal and widespread desire for liberation amid growing inter-state tensions. Yet there is also new meaning to be found in Kafka’s story in the present. It is now undeniable that we are facing mass extinctions in the natural world at a scale we have never experienced in human history. As yet another legacy of the industrial age, a situation largely created from our abundant releases of carbon emissions from our fossil-fuel reliant economies, ‘becoming an insect’ has an altogether new dimension.
HOW WILL YOU USE PHYSICAL THEATRE TO TELL THE STORY?
Combining the cast’s skills in physical theatre and mime, experience in butoh along with text-based theatre will support our imaginative interpretations of character. In embodying qualities, states and pressures imbedded in the text, we can further open up the psychological and emotional world tensions and time slippages which Berkoff so loves in his script images. We will also use devices from visual theatre, to help perform the transformations in the story as they take place over time.
METAMORPHOSIS IS ACTED OUT BY AN ENSEMBLE OF FOUR. WHAT WILL BE YOUR METHODOLOGY TO GETTING THE BEST OUTCOMES FROM THE STORY AND CAST?
Working as an ensemble means working as a chorus, in unison, as parts of a whole, as individuals who inform and support each other in sharing the telling of a story. With some nifty ideas and a bit of imagination we are using the theatrical tools of physical stylisation, mask and pre-recorded voice, object/set manipulation, paint and some vegetable matter to double-up some of the roles and to convey the story in an evocative way.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR WORK WITH THE CREATIVE TEAM OF DESIGNERS?
Working closely with the design team has meant providing catalytic stimuli from which to launch their creative realisations – clarifying the script for interpretation, trajectories, details, seeking ways to realise a world of Metamorphosis that layers the influences of three distinct time periods. Adopting a liberal approach to the script, to remain true to the text and the core dynamics of the scenes while not taking the specific stage directions too literally, we aim to contaminate it with present world conditions. This has been quite pleasurable, allowing us to have the freedom to enjoy where our imagination will take us while remaining within the structure of the script and the world of the story.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN A WORK IS READY FOR AN AUDIENCE?
The work is never ready. It must be ready. It is ready when it is over. A work must have distilled the scenes as much as possible to their essence so they have layers of sediment and a clear flavour. To get there we work we create space for discovery – there are no right answers. Filtering a lot of ideas and materials, we get to the core and its practicable repetition throughout the season. The beauty is in finding things you didn’t expect that emerge from a range of combinations in unpredictable sequential complex: planning, chance, imagination, reflection. As the work is never ready until there is an audience to complete at least half of the whole, the theatre is a place of sensory and intellectual stimulation and engagement where new ideas are sewn and which hopefully germinate for a few weeks after at least.
HOW HAS YOUR WORK IN JAPAN INFORMED YOUR PRACTICE AS A THEATRE MAKER?
I worked as a member of a contemporary Japanese theatre company for roughly five years in the 2000s. I learned an enormous amount. As a movement-based company with a strong reliance on concepts on the one hand, and movement techniques derived and adapted from ankoku butoh (dance of darkness), I was able to experience a different way of working in an ensemble and creative team. Working from a basic movement style, as opposed to character and story-telling, while still performing a show with a dramatic structure and arc, was a new way of working for me. Working immersed in a different language and culture was perhaps the most significant difference. This made me more aware of being a minority. It also had a maturing effect on me, helping me to understand different ways of organising and working, to be less assuming, less self-centred, to give more value to seemingly unimportant things, more empathetic of others’ perspectives based on their lived experiences and contexts, and appreciative of the uniqueness and ephemerality of the overall experience. It is truly remarkable what artists, humans overall, can achieve if they cooperate and focus on a shared goal. It is even more remarkable if they have the support of visionary cultural policy and the networks that engenders. It may have been a path I was on anyway, but I learned an enormous amount. I certainly learned to creatively make more out of less. This piece is a blend of some of these influences – minimalist movement, expressionist movement, dramatic theatre.
WHAT KIND OF THEATRE DO YOU WANT TO MAKE?
I want to continue to make theatre that is of relevance to the contemporary situation, which can offer new ways of interpreting our shared present and pasts, based on new and under-recognised connections and resonances between diverse communities and knowledges in this infinitely complex ensemble we call the Earth.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE STREET.
The Street and I have been steadily developing a relationship based on inspiration, reciprocity, generosity, trust, healthy realism, and advocacy of the importance of theatre and live performance for the wider community and a healthy social fabric. Artistic Director Caroline Stacey has generously made creative offers which I couldn’t refuse from The Street and the theatre and arts community including this wonderful opportunity.
WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?
A book called ‘The Songs of Trees’. An interesting book from the early 1990s called the Mudrooroo-Müller project that explores the adaptation of a Heiner Müller play by Aboriginal playwright Mudrooroo. Also, a book on Dario Fo. There are several other ‘to read’ books and articles on my desk…