Melbourne native Stephen Nicolazzo is no stranger to the works of the Victorian era. His previous adaptations of Dracula and The Happy Prince were staged to much acclaim. Now, Stephen is returning to the era with his latest project, the Australian premiere of the Jen Silverman play The Moors. We caught up with him ahead of the opening this weekend, to find out what interests him about the Victorians, and to get the low-down on his process on bringing the text from page to stage.
First things first, who came up with that tagline “Bring an adventurous date. It may get kinky.” Please tell us it was you?!
Sadly, it wasn’t me. I wish I could take credit for it but it was the fine folks at Red Stitch that came up with that gem. It does sound like something that would come out of my mouth though. A bit crass, a bit titillating.
We’ve noticed you have dabbled in a few works from the Victorian period, from Bram stoker to Oscar Wilde and now the Bronte sisters. What is it about this era that appeals to you?
I think that the Victoria era appeals to me as so much of its literature and art explores eroticism, desire, and sexuality. It is an incredibly visual period, filled with atmospheric descriptions, sensuality, and symbolism. It was also dangerous to explore these themes at the time and I think that is where I connect to its content. Stoker, Wilde, and the Bronte’s articulate our unbridled carnal desires with such precision and humour that it is impossible to not see its theatrical potential. As my point of interest is how sexuality manifests in oppressive societal contexts, the Victorian era provides a robust and rich history to interrogate and explore on stage.
What appealed to you about The Moors in particular?
Its incredibly clever use of pastiche appealed to me the most. The piece is laced with references to horror and melodramatic genres, from the Bronte’s to Edgar Allen Poe and Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. It is pulpy, genre-bending but also heartfelt. Ultimately, as a queer artist, the piece appealed to me because it depicts female sexual relationships with integrity and grace.
You said once that you thought ‘theatre making was about interpretation?’ Can you tell us a bit about your process in taking the play from page to stage?
It’s been an interesting process as the playwright is based in America, so the way I have approached interpreting the work was firstly, to converse with Jen Silverman in pre-production to see where her intentions for the play sat, and then imagine how this would look through my lens. The result is a marriage between two twisted minds, one, who has the skill and nuance to create the world on the page, its characters and scenario, and then, mine, where the visual world of the play is born.
For me it was about lifting all of the gothic allusions and references to the Bronte’s and to give them a pictorial life on stage- the big questions for me being, what do the moors look like? What do the cinematic interpretations of the Bronte’s works look like- in particular those from the 1940’s- and how they could influence the theatrical rendering of Silverman’s script.
I saw expressionism in the writing, and so, immediately went to early black and white films to build the world of the play. This then influenced the acting style, the physicality of the performance and how each image on stage is presented. I love building cinematic frames on stage, and as the script moves like an incredibly pacey screenplay, this seemed the best way to bring the script to life.
Tell us about the cast you have assembled for the production.
The cast is a combination of members of the Red Stitch ensemble- the delectable and extremely theatrical Dion Mills and Olga Makeeva, and the 2017 Graduate Actor, Grace Lowry. The rest of the cast are Little Ones Theatre regulars – my soulmates, Zoe Boesen, Alex Aldrich, and Anna McCarthy, who I have been working with for the last five years. All are fearless, bold, and sensuous actors, and I am extremely proud of their work on this show.
Do you have any directing heroes? How do they influence your approach to directing?
Absolutely. Pedro Almodovar, Sally Potter, Robert Wilson, John Waters, Douglas Sirk, early David Lynch and Russian theatre director Yevgeny Vahktangov, who coined the phrase ‘fantastic realism’, which has become central to my approach to theatre-making. All of these directors are interested in the intersection between fantasy, reality and queerness, and this plays a huge part in how I realize a production.
The Theatre Company you founded, Little Ones Theatre, is self-described as a queer theatre collective who create camp, kitsch, and erotically charged theatrical events. What advice do you have to any other theatre makers wishing to get more involved in creating similar content?
My advice would be to have courage. It is still really difficult to explore queer terrain on stage, and in particular work that celebrates sexuality, as people are still afraid of it, so I would encourage those wanting to unpack these themes on stage to be fearless and never let anyone tell you that a camp, gestural or sexually charged aesthetic is wrong. Its not wrong, it is rousing and ultimately incredibly inclusive of its audience.
And, finally, what is next for you, Stephen?
I am about to start work on a collaboration with Australian author, Christos Tsiolkas, that has been three years in the making. It is called Merciless Gods, based on his short story collection, and is an epic piece of theatre that explores the spectrum of sexuality, religion, and migration in Australia. Merciless Gods is a passion project, one I care deeply about as a third-generation Italian homo, and it will be playing in Melbourne this July and in Sydney at Griffin Theatre Company at the end of October.
Catch Stephen’s production of The Moors from the 6 June to the 9th July at Melbourne’s Red Stitch Theatre. Tickets available at http://redstitch.net/bookings/.
Photo by Rob Blackburn.