Festival marks new seriousness for MKA Theatre

May 27, 2014
John Bailey, The Age Newspaper

When MKA Theatre first appeared in 2010 it did so with plenty of bravado, promising the only company in Australia dedicated exclusively to new writing from around the world. But while the mission hasn’t changed, the landscape around it has, says the company’s new co-creative director John Kachoyan.

“The new team at MTC are doing shows that might have been Red Stitch shows five years ago,” he says. “Red Stitch is doing more new work or more collaborative work. I think the eco-system’s shifted, and MKA isn’t exactly growing up but we’re expanding. We’ve got some pretty significant work this year as well as the stuff that we always do well, which is anarchic pop-ups and things like that.”

The company is about to launch its own festival, HYPRTXT, which will feature six plays alongside a suite of satellite events. The anarchic vibe is still there, with an Art Club marrying music and dancing with performances and spoken word, but there is a sense of seriousness to the festival that might have been missing from MKA’s earlier years.

The world premiere of Finnish play On the Grace of Officials is being presented as part of National Refugee Week, and profits will go to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. Sydney play The Defence is a much-lauded examination of misogyny and theatre, while Like a Fishbone looks at the memorialising process that takes place after the tragedies of mass shootings; a tragedy the community of Santa Barbara in California has been forced to come to grips with after last week’s violent crime spree.

It’s not the first time a mass shooting has provided the raw material of an MKA play, but as fellow creative director Tobias Manderson-Galvin points out, “as long as it keeps happening someone ought to talk about it.” One of the things MKA is proud of is the way it can program work that possesses immediacy – Manderson-Galvin’s critically acclaimed piece The Economist took as its subject the Utoya massacre of 2011 and was staged mere months after the tragedy itself.

“You look at a play like Beyond the Neck, about the Port Arthur Massacre, which took a while to get on,” says Kachoyan. “Just one play about that tragedy was six or seven years in the making.”

“Whereas The Economist came out in three weeks,” says Manderson-Galvin.

The company does have a reputation for presenting work that may be confronting or controversial, but Kachoyan says that “the plays that seem riskier or seem like a bit of an ask are probably also plays that are a bit more urgent. They’re not just plays that can go on whenever. They’re plays that need to be on somewhere.”

There’s a timeliness to The Defence, for instance, which will premiere in Melbourne as part of HYPRTXT. While there’s been much talk on the “adaptation versus original” debate in recent years, The Defence is that discussion’s “second generation” according to Kachoyan. The work takes as its text the misogynistic rantings of August Strindberg’s final days, when the syphilis-addled writer looked back on his three failed marriages. As it unravels, however, the connection between such a view and the institution of theatre itself is drawn out in compelling and entirely contemporary ways.

Other works in the HYPRTXT season include a collection of short plays by Manderson-Galvin himself, a return season of Mark Wilson’s in-your-face solo Unsex Me, and the local debut of a 21-year-old playwright raised in Sydney but now based in London, where the Soho Theatre has booked one of her solo works.

Over the past three years MKA has worked with around 100 playwrights, by Kachoyan’s estimate. The next step is to “touch base with those artists again, develop them, do more work with them. Not just see them through their first play.”

“I lived in London for a while,” Kachoyan says, ”and there’s a kind of fetish for new writing over there that goes ‘great, you’re young and inexperienced, we’ll grab your play and put it on but we won’t help you build a career.’ That’s the next stage of the company. I’m really interested in playwrights’ second plays. I want to help them develop a career.”

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/theatre/festival-marks-new-seriousness-for-mka-theatre-20140528-zrq19.html#ixzz44NfgQTfk