Phillip Mitchell Sees Red (Hot Talent!)

Phillip Mitchell is the director of WAAPA and Spare Parts Puppet Theatre‘s bold collaboration, I See Red, which plays next week on the 19th and 20th May 2016. The Australia Times caught up with him to see how the collaboration came about and what innovations young theatre students are bringing to the Perth stage.

The Australia Times (TAT):  How long have you been directing WAAPA shows?


Phillip Mitchell (PM): This is my first time directing a WAAPA Bachelor of Performing Arts work. Our associate Director Michael Barlow directed last year’s iteration.

I should point out it is not really like a traditional directing role when you have about 20 hours of class time to direct 16 performers all brimming with ideas and enthusiasm – it is creative overload! Many of the performers are self directing and devising… I just ask loads of questions

In the past we have had many partnerships with ECU where we have collaborated on performances. Both Michael Barlow and I have enjoyed directing works in the past with the ECU students.


TAT: What’s it like working with students rather than more established performers?

PM: I absolutely love working with the students. I also don’t think of them as students – they are performing artists who need to be converted to the puppetry world of imagination and visual dramaturgy.

Their passion and enthusiasm for puppetry is so invigorating – you can’t help but be generous with time knowledge and expertise.

The perceptive and often quite deep interpretations of a classic cautionary tale like Little Red Riding Hood reminds me of how politically, socially and environmentally aware these performers are – they are not kids – they are impressive autonomous thinking creative thinkers in our community who have passionate and often surprising perspectives on the world we live in.

I love being challenged and there is no shortage of that going on as we create 9 individual re imaginings and re interpretations of the Little Red story.

The depth of understanding of puppetry as an art form is what is amazing me. The students get it after only 10 weeks of skills training, playing, reading and experimentation. Those are very impressive performers.

The course is now its second iteration. We have employed a graduate from last years course, Barnaby Pollock, and I am already keeping an eye out for possibilities for the future.

The only thing that seems to differentiate these artists as students from established performers is they have the pressure of having to be assessed on everything they do.

From my perspective having 16 adult artists in the room all eager to learn what is my head and body is both flattering and at times very demanding – our biggest casts at SPPT are usually 3 – 4 artists – 16 is like a training football team .. Not that I have ever done that.


TAT:  Is puppetry part of the curriculum? How familiar are the students with puppetry?

PM: This unit as part if the BPA course at WAAPA and is the only training of its kind in Australia – these 16 students have the potential to change the way we make Australian theatre – we shouldn’t underestimate the impact of incorporating puppetry in to tertiary performance training.


TAT:  Is this your first collaboration with Spare Parts Puppet Theatre? How did this collaboration come about?

PM: This partnership with WAAPA has come about through a lot of dedication and support from a long list of champions for puppetry at WAAPA and ECU. Frances Barbe, the course coordinator along with Julie Warn the Director of WAAPA have been pivotal in making this course and our dream to be teaching puppetry at tertiary level a reality.

Most importantly as we jump on the high speed train to a performance outcome on the 18th and 19th May all the team at Spare Parts are all contributing actively to this extra activity over and above our normal busy schedules


TAT:  What are the challenges involved in directing a puppet show, as opposed to a straight play?

PM: It has been so long since I directed a purely actors theatre piece – the though of it turns my stomach. Why would you not incorporate puppetry in everything you do!


TAT:  Do the students have much of a voice in the creativity of the show? How much do they influence the performance etc?

PM: The students have total control of the creative choices – it is their artistic voices you will see on stage and hopefully my contribution is in the skills training and guidance to exciting puppetry outcomes.


TAT:  I understand that WAAPA students do have to work on children’s theatre at least once throughout their studies, what was the decision to make this an adult production instead?

PM: Creating work for young people is a lot harder than what many people think – it requires so many considerations that are not even artistic .. Messing with young peoples brains is serious business. While creating an adult work still has enormous responsibility there is a greater understanding from adults about the experimental nature of the work and that it is an outcome of training. Adults understand the context.

Adults know they will get something fresh, passionate and exciting – kids have no filter – they just see.


TAT:  Do you feel the story of I See Red is reflective of the student’s lives, in that they are still young but must embrace the darkness of adulthood?

PM: Every artist reflects their vision of the world – the work I see Red is 9 different visions of the world and I suspect being aged between 20 – 35 we see their lens on the world resonated through this very rich cautionary tale.


TAT:  What creative freedom do you have with the aesthetic of the show, that you wouldn’t have if it was aimed for children?

PM: There is no difference, absolutely no difference. The aesthetic sophistication and choices I make for children are the same I make for adults – I do not come from the school of bright colours and happy faces for kids – I believe children and adults can enjoy the same aesthetics and puppetry experiences in the same space


TAT:  What’s next for these students?

PM: Auditioning for SPPT program for 2017 – 18 and going out into the world different to many other performers because they now have a greater understanding of visual dramaturgy and the importance of the object on stage … the beauty of allegory and metaphors… they will be champions of well considered visually strong theatre making.


I See Red


When: 19th and 20th May 2016 (7:30pm)

Where: Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, Fremantle PERTH

Tickets: $15

Info: Suitable 15+, wheelchair accessible, 60 minute duration