The seduction of new work with graduate Ben Schostakowski
NIDA News caught up with graduate Ben Schostakowski to hear about his recent directing experience as part of NIDA’s October student production season, his next project in New York and the attraction of staging new work.
Tell us about your upcoming project with US production house and design company, Dead Puppet Society?
I’m creating and directing a new show called The Hänsel and Gretel Tapes. The concept is to stage a live-documentary interview of the siblings 20 years after their famous incident in the forest and my friends at Dead Puppet Society have assisted me in bringing the showing together. The production concept itself is quite large so it will take a decent development period to evolve it into the ‘event-style’ production I hope it will be.
While in New York I have also been observing rehearsals for Lazarus – the new musical by David Bowie and Enda Walsh. Ivo van Hove is directing and Michael C. Hall stars in the leading role. The musical is a sort of sequel to the film The Man Who Fell To Earth. It’s the next project by the New York Theatre Workshop and an incredible process to witness.
You recently directed one of NIDA’s October student productions, Reagan Kelly – what was it like returning to NIDA to direct graduating students?
Directing Reagan Kelly was a treat. The graduating actors were in their first year when I was studying my Master of Fine Arts (Directing) at NIDA, so it was great to come back two years later and be able to work them. I think it’s really exciting that NIDA are programming (among other things) new theatre works for their students. It’s a specific process to develop and present a new play for the first time and it’s great that the actors and creatives get to experience that before moving into the industry.
Coming back to NIDA to direct was so much fun and I was really impressed by the talents of the Reagan Kelly team. I felt everyone put their all into realising the production detail-by-detail – that combination of experimentation and fastidious attention-to-detail is always an exciting process to be a part of.
Can you take us through your process of developing and interpreting a new piece of work such as Reagan Kelly?
Reagan Kelly was the first new play (of a writer other than myself) that I have developed and staged. The whole process started a good 12 months prior with the playwright and NIDA graduate Lewis Treston.
Lewis and I had many discussions on how the play might work and we continued to trim and re-write it right up until opening night. It was brilliant to be working with Lewis in the rehearsal room so we could experiment and change things on the run. Just as important, however, is time where the writer leaves the project and lets the team continue to grow the play in their own way – this allows freedom for the actors to find their characters’ own details and nuances.
It's always emotionally exhausting with a new work, not knowing if it’s all going to come together or not, as it has no previous performance history. By the same token, that’s always why new works are so seductive – almost anything is possible.
Please tell us about the doctorate you recently submitted to the Queensland University of Technology?
Two years before I did the directing course I had been working on my PhD at QUT in Brisbane. It was centred on directing theatre work that functions seamlessly with the scenographic (designed) world around it – works where the design informs the psychological world of the characters and vice versa. The study was practice-led, which meant part of my research was to direct and stage productions in an industry context to test the ideas. A production I directed, A Tribute of Sorts, was the centre of the study and was made over 12 months. It was then staged at both La Boite and Queensland Theatre Company, which took three-and-half years in total so it’s a great relief to have reached the end. Completing the doctorate has been extremely beneficial in developing my work as a director and developing theoretical ideas. In the final stages I was able to collaborate with some artists I met at NIDA which was very rewarding too.
Have you always been interested in the performing arts?
I have dabbled in designing and acting before, but directing is what I’m most attracted to. I love the task of helming a team of creatives to realise a production. Each department is as important as the next and you get to work with them all throughout the creation of the final product. It’s an exhilarating role to know how each ‘cog’ works in relation to the whole machine. I love directing and I hope to do it for the rest of my life.
Do you have any advice for students looking to break into the industry as a director?
I’m not sure I have any golden advice – the industry is a mysterious beast. One thing I do know is that it is important for directors to never stop working. Small projects might lead to bigger ones, and in-between gigs will keep you sane. I think it’s crucial to keep working and keep evolving your own distinct voice as a director. Always have a project or two on the boil and collaborate as much as possible. Being able to articulate your artistic sensibilities is important and, so far, I’m convinced that careful collaboration helps build a healthy career.
Photography by Maja Baska.