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BWW Interview: Bianca Butler Reynolds, Brisbane-Based Actor, Playwright, Academic and Theatremaker

Interview with Brisbane-based local artist, Bianca Butler Reynolds

BWW Interview: Bianca Butler Reynolds, Brisbane-Based Actor, Playwright, Academic and Theatremaker Next up on my local artists interview segment is the wonderful Bianca Butler Reynolds. She is Brisbane-based actor, playwright, theatre-maker and academic. She is a founding partner and co-Artistic Director of Minola Theatre, with production credits including Love you hate you drive you wild, Highway of Lost Hearts, Grace and Begotten.

She has also appeared in productions with Brisbane Arts Theatre (The Glass Menagerie), HeartBeast Theatre (Julius Caesar), Foundry Theatre (The Shadow of a Gunman, Home Free!), Nash Theatre (Never the Sinner, Dial M for Murder, Rebecca, Calendar Girls, As You Like It), Growl Theatre (Play It Again Sam, Hamlet, Suddenly Last Summer) and Sunnybank Theatre Group (Suddenly at Home, The Mousetrap, Relatively Speaking). Bianca is an award-winning playwright with two publications in the Australian Plays catalogue (Eventide, Love you hate you drive you wild). She holds a PhD in playwriting and Jungian psychology from QUT, where she has taught in recent years in the undergraduate creative writing program. Bianca has also trained with NIDA, La Boite Theatre Company, Playlab, the Arvon Foundation (UK) and Dead Puppet Society. She has been employed as a playwright-in-residence at Brisbane Arts Theatre, a performing artist for the Starlight Children's Foundation, and a youth and children's drama teacher for Perform Australia. Here's what Bianca had to say...

VIRAG: How did you get involved in the arts and performing?

BIANCA: I was always interested in writing and storytelling, from a very young age. However, I never went to the theatre as a kid, and so the performing side of things was largely off my radar until I was 14. My Year 9 Speech and Drama class went on an excursion to see Charley's Aunt at Harvest Rain Theatre Company, and it was like the heavens had opened; I suddenly understood my passion in life. From there, I consumed theatre voraciously, and started going to auditions and doing youth holiday drama workshops. My first couple of roles as an adult were at Sunnybank Theatre Group, and since the start of 2015 I have been doing productions non-stop -- 21 without any substantial break. Co-founding my own production company, Minola Theatre, with Kat Dekker last year was the logical next step. We both love making theatre, and we decided we wouldn't wait around for someone else to give us permission to do it.

BWW Interview: Bianca Butler Reynolds, Brisbane-Based Actor, Playwright, Academic and Theatremaker

VIRAG: I recently saw (and reviewed) you in Growl Theatre's Suddenly Last Summer, in which you were phenomenal. What was it like rehearsing with co-vid restrictions in place? Did it feel different looking out into the audience and only seeing 40 bums on chairs?

You are very kind to call me phenomenal! I will tuck that word away with my list of favourite adjectives reviewers have used to describe my work. Making Suddenly Last Summer was such a treat. I adore Tennessee Williams, and getting to play the role of Catharine Holly (who is based largely on his sister, Rose) was a significant honour. 2020 has been a hell of year for everybody, and I for one was really waning without a creative project to sink my teeth into. Getting back into a theatre space, playing and exploring with other creatives -- it was so restorative. Having Covid restrictions in place was a small price to pay. As a cast, we just negotiated the level of physical proximity we were all comfortable with, and people took sick days if and when they needed to. When it came to performance nights, we were still able to fit 40 seats into the Growl hall. They were spaced out in such a way that the room felt quite full, especially as we were fortunate enough to basically sell out the season. I think there was so much joy for everyone -- creatives and audience -- in being able to attend a show again, that the sense of excitement and goodwill just flowed through the space and filled whatever vacuum might have been caused by the limited seats. It was one of my happiest times on stage, Covid or no Covid. I'm so thrilled I got to do it.

BWW Interview: Bianca Butler Reynolds, Brisbane-Based Actor, Playwright, Academic and Theatremaker

VIRAG: Your theatre company, Minola Theatre, has managed to release a five part radio drama called 'Begotton', which can be accessed on all podcast platforms. I must ask, was the form for the work originally a radio play or did you have to adapt it to apply to co-vid restrictions?

BIANCA: I originally wrote Begotten to be Minola's festival and touring work. It's a one-woman show, created as a series of monologues, where I play five generations of women from the same family over a 100-year period. Taking a show on the road is a very expensive process, so Kat and I were eager to create a compact product that could travel with just the two of us, without compromising on quality. We were scheduled to debut it in Brisbane, at BackDock Arts, in April/May 2020, but then of course Covid happened. Kat came up with the brilliant idea of an audio-only adaptation; being monologue-based, it's a show that can make that transition quite seamlessly. In order to make it a more immersive and rich audio experience, we hired Siobhan Finniss as our post-production sound designer and editor. Siobhan created a beautiful soundscape, which sits under the whole play and makes it absolutely transporting. She was so clever with her design; there are subtle aural motifs that recur across the five stories to draw the generations of the family together and emphasise their similarities across time and space. It was quite challenging to make the show in the height of lockdown, because the three of us in the production team were never able to actually sit down together in the same room.

I was in my apartment, with jerry-rigged soundproofing, recording take after take of all the characters on Audacity. I was my own recording engineer, on top of which I had to try to differentiate five characters using only vocal changes. My raw sound files would go up on Google Drive, where Kat (the director) would listen to them and nominate her preferred take of each portion of each monologue -- literally hours of work, which she did in her apartment a few suburbs away. Then the raw files plus Kat's notes would go to Siobhan in her house across town, and Siobhan would stitch them altogether and mix it with her incredible soundscape. She would send draft versions of each finished monologue to Kat and myself; we'd listen to them, make notes, send these notes back to Siobhan, and Siobhan would edit and refine. It was a convoluted process, which I hope we'll never have to repeat, but we persevered and we're really proud of what we were able to create. The audio drama is available on demand on podcasting platforms and on our website: minolatheatre.com.au. People who may not have listened to it yet are most welcome to check it out!

BWW Interview: Bianca Butler Reynolds, Brisbane-Based Actor, Playwright, Academic and Theatremaker

VIRAG: Minola Theatre was chosen as one of the three theatre companies chosen to participate in the 2020 Academy with the amazing Dead Puppet Society and I think a big, big congratulations are in order. How has that process been like so far?

BIANCA: Thank you! We were honoured to be chosen. The people at Dead Puppet Society are just the salt of the earth. We love spending time with them. We're about halfway through our Academy process right now, building up to a development showing at Brisbane Powerhouse at the start of November. Neither Kat nor I have a background in visual theatre, which is what DPS are all about, so it's definitely a learning curve. They're teaching us hands-on design and construction techniques, which is broadening our theatrical skillset substantially. I was actually kind of relieved when David Morton did a masterclass on narrative structure one week; I thought, 'Aha! Here is where I thrive!' The other two companies involved are Fizzy Rascals (all the way from Perth) and the Naughty Corner Collective, and they're a delight to work alongside. Each group is devising a new theatre work from scratch, which can be told using visual theatre techniques -- anything from shadow puppets to upcycled set pieces to cool lighting and projection to body sculpture to tabletop object manipulation, et cetera et cetera.

These visual techniques are integrated with more traditional theatre elements to create something really unique and innovative. The project we are developing as Minola is a theatrical reimagining of the ancient Celtic selkie myth. It's about a selkie, a seal-woman, whose seal-skin is stolen, leaving her trapped in her human form on land. She marries a fisherman and has a half-human, half-selkie child, and is torn between her life with them and her home in the sea. It's all about self-discovery, personal authenticity and individuation. It has a lot of thematic resonance with Jungian psychological theory, which is the theoretical lens I used in my PhD studies in playwriting. I'm really excited to see the show come together, and can't wait to give audiences a little taste at the Powerhouse showing in November.

BWW Interview: Bianca Butler Reynolds, Brisbane-Based Actor, Playwright, Academic and Theatremaker

VIRAG: Lastly, do you have any advice for any independent artists who are struggling at the moment to find work and stay creative?

BIANCA: I think being an independent artist is always tough, even before Covid enters the equation and wipes out a lot of the avenues that might otherwise be available. My main advice would be to do what Kat and I did in starting Minola: don't wait for people to come to you and hand you opportunities. Make your own opportunities. My husband Jim, who's also in the independent arts scene, recently presented me with a great metaphor. He said (and this is me paraphrasing), 'It's nice to be invited into someone else's tent, but what do you do when you have to leave? Pitch your own tent, and then you always have somewhere to stand.' That's the artistic philosophy I'm trying to live by, and I'd suggest that other independents do the same.

Make the shows you want to make. If you're a writer, write the characters you'd want to play. Seek out the venues that are available for independent hire. If you're in Brisbane, try BackDock Arts, or the Ron Hurley Theatre, or Metro Arts. Follow the social media accounts of whatever arts and fringe festivals you can find. Wynnum Fringe is kicking off in Brisbane for the first time this November. When border restrictions ease, consider going to Adelaide or Perth or Melbourne or Darwin. List a tourable show on the arTour website, to attract interest from regional venues in Queensland.

Spruik your brand as hard as you can, in as many directions as you can. It's tough work, and a lot of things you apply for won't pan out. But some will. And each one of those is a foothold you can use to climb higher. You have to be willing to do it for the long haul, and for the love of it. If you're in the arts business just to make money, then you're probably in the wrong business. That's my two cents, anyway!

Article media:

Headshot: Images by Anderson

Highway of Lost Hearts: Kat Dekker

Love you hate you drive you wild: Anita Ware (photo also features Alex Lanham and Siobhan Finniss)

Suddenly Last Summer: A. Hatton (photo also features Daren King)

The Glass Menagerie: Images by Anderson (photo also features Jeremy Wood)


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