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Producer at work: a storm of creativity

Kathryn Kelly, Producer: David Sleswick

David Sleswick David Sleswick
photo FenLan Chuang
On 27 November 2014, the ill-fated day of the super-cell storm in Brisbane, I sat down with independent producer Dave Sleswick, founder and director of Motherboard Productions, to talk all things performance and Motherboard’s latest show Or Forever Hold Your Peace (The Story of Iphigenia) at La Boite Indie. I had just seen the show (see review) and we were crossing paths in a wind-lashed cafe near La Boite before he flew out that night to attend the prestigious Asian Producers Platform Camp in Korea (see report).

Chatting with Dave Sleswick is like being on a date with the future; he is an artist who slides between places and cultures with relaxed grace and a certain glint of wickedness in his eye. Laptop slung casually under one arm, he looks ready to make a deal or to run a rehearsal room anywhere. Indeed, the question for Motherboard has always been who rather than where or when. The team has created an extended international family of artists who have produced a broad repertory of work including the shows Underground, La Voix Humaine and Deluge (RT124).

Motherboard also offers producing services, hence Sleswick’s attendance at the slightly Soviet-sounding producers’ camp. To quote the Motherboard website: “We partner with seasoned artists to create new work and to deliver that work to venues and presenters. We have created and continue to nurture an eco-system of like-minded artists who are making and disseminating innovative and socially ‘now’ performance events. We believe in work with a social conscience and with a desire to create change in the world.” Companies under their producing banner include The Danger Ensemble, Little Dove Theatre and Red Moon Rising and individual artists Jeremy Niedeck, Nathan Stoneham and Morgan Rose.

This emphasis on relationship and ethos has meant that there isn’t necessarily a signature kind of Motherboard show, but as noted in RT124 Motherboard is one of the inheritors of the physical theatre tradition blazed by pioneer local companies Frank and Zen Zen Zo. Indeed, Sleswick was General Manager of Zen for a number of years, and his mane of dreadlocked hair flung back in an arc of frenzy was a performance image as iconic of noughties Zen repertory as Christopher Beckey’s sinuous writhing had been in the 90s. After leaving Zen, Sleswick produced for Danger Ensemble, Next Wave, MAPs for Artists, MONA FOMA and Marguerite Pepper, while living between Brisbane, Melbourne, Seoul and New York.

Indeed, it was during his time in New York that he formed a relationship with avant-garde American playwright Charles Mee, Anne Bogart’s resident writer at her SITI company. ‘Chuck’ as Sleswick refers to him in the show’s program, was excited at the thought of a vibrant Australian company adapting his Iphigenia 2.0, which was written in a fever in 2007 at the apogee of then American President George W Bush’s second term, when it seemed as if the American empire was intractably bogged in the moral and practical quagmire created by successive invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Mee is an American paradox. Fiercely politicised since Vietnam, he is also the only playwright I know who has had a Wall Street financier as a patron. He is a Harvard graduate and a professional historian yet he seeds the found texts he collages to make his work with an anarchic energy and brutally elegant poetry. Sadly, Mee’s work hasn’t been widely programmed in Australia and it was a typically astute decision by Motherboard to redevelop Iphigenia 2.0 in time for production during the rather uneventful G-20 Summit in stormy November Brisbane.

What I love about Motherboard’s adaptation of this work, alongside American/Australian Morgan Rose as dramaturg, is that it emphasises the political and intellectual traditions of that particular Suzuki/Bogart footprint in Australia. I think that Australian performance-makers have been guilty at times of embracing the body-saturated Suzuki training with a kind of wilful blindness to its political agenda, or at least the strain of that work as exemplified by Mee and Bogart’s longstanding collaboration.

Sleswick wanted the work to explore the responsibilities and culpability of political leadership at a time in Australian political life where there seems a dearth of reflection and little acknowledgement of error. To quote Sleswick quoting Mee, we have lost the rhetoric of failed leadership: “I admit I made a mistake. Tell me what you think. I’m open to suggestion. I hear you.” He also wanted to explore the effect of technology on language and communication, particularly in the years since Mee first assembled the text.

The show was first developed in 2012 in collaboration with Vena Cava Productions (QUT). The 2014 version at La Boite featured a 16-strong ensemble comprising committed and passionate new graduates and emerging artists working as a chorus to support a core of senior actors and performers. They trained together intensively: Sleswick has a reputation as a dynamic director who fosters a sociable and highly collaborative hothouse environment with, again, an emphasis on building relationships. As he says, “Why not make work with people we love and admire?”

While Mee gave the Motherboard creative team free rein, the bulk of the adaptation involved a fairly subtle dramaturgical textual framing to evoke Australian voice and political context, and enlarging the cast from 11 to 16 in order to build the synchronised and quasi-militarised performance sequences that flesh out Mee’s taut text to the 160-minute full-throttle rollercoaster ride that is Or Forever Hold Your Peace (The Story of Iphigenia).

As the world outside went grey and Thor-like thunder and lightning hailed down, the unflappable Sleswick slid out of the cafe to spend time with his cast and crew before departing for Korea. While he conceded he was a little tired by the end of 2014, Sleswick’s program for the company in 2015 looks as frenetic as ever, with a new work directed by Jeremy Niedeck, Shimchong: Daughter Overboard!, auditioning and the exciting news that Motherboard will finally have a base at the home of Brisbane performance-making, Metro Arts, which has a new Artistic Director in the warm and energetic brainbox director/dramaturg Dr David Fenton.

Motherboard Productions:

RealTime issue #125 Feb-March 2015 pg. 5

© Kathryn Kelly; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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