As a young theatre practitioner finding my way in the industry, I was taught to seize every opportunity to learn and grow. So when I was approached by Timothy Wynn of THAT Production Company to assist with the upcoming production of ‘COSI’ (by Louis Nowra), I knew I couldn’t pass this experience up.
In the role of a Director’s Observer, I watch the production with a behind-the-scenes lens to understand more about the artistic process, and in particular Wynn’s approach as a director. This type of position is offered to artists for a first-hand experience when exploring the techniques, disciplines and insights of established artists, especially when they create new productions. For ‘COSI’, the opportunity extended an appreciation for a classic Australian text being revived in a COVID-impacted world.
Set in 1971, ‘COSI’ centres around a young emerging director named Lewis who takes a job in a mental institution in Melbourne. This job presents Lewis with the task of working with extraordinary people ostracised from society. As anti-Vietnam protests march on the streets outside, inside the asylum Lewis navigates romance, friendship and art, with a motley-crew community.
Co-presented by THAT Production Company and Mira Ball Productions, Wynn has rallied together a cast of professional actors, who will bring the iconic characters of ‘COSI’ to life. They embrace these quirky and lovable characters, who all have varying degrees of mental illness. One role in particular, which is infamous on the audition circuit, is that of Doug, the pyromaniac who divulges in sexual innuendo and burning cats. Played by the Matilda award-winning Jackson McGovern, whom I first met during his performance of ‘Tick, Tick… Boom!’ and later in Queensland Theatre’s ‘Scene Project’, Doug is reimagined to be even more intense and unhinged than ever before.
During a week-long rehearsal intensive, I sat down with McGovern to learn more about his process as an actor and experience in the industry. On a break from scene work, and completely out of the mad character he portrays on stage, McGovern explained his respect for young artists wanting to make a go of it in the performing arts industry.
“Working with young artists through a number of different youth and education programs has taught me so much about theatre,” said McGovern.
“Young people are as honest as they are creative, as they are insightful; they keep you on your toes and always force you to be better.”
During our interview, McGovern also shared his wealth of knowledge about what he has learnt about the industry; passing on some very memorable and valuable life lessons. “Something I wish I knew when I started was how approachable people in this industry, at whatever level, are.”
As a director’s observer and assistant, my experiences at ‘COSI’ have confirmed McGovern’s sentiment. Creatives in this industry are generous and willing to help you where you can if you only ask. In ‘COSI’, the actors have all shared their wisdom and experiences with me, which has been a great learning experience. Donning multiple hats, these artists have not only worked as actors, but they also harness other abilities as singers, playwrights, choreographers, circus performers, photographers, musicians and more. While directorial observations are not commonly heard of, they do offer a great opportunity to be a fly on the wall in a rehearsal room; to learn from the people currently working in the industry.
Wisdom and insight come from those who’ve led before us. ‘COSI’ showcases an important piece of theatre, in an especially hard time. Paralleling our current pandemic world, audiences today have been just as isolated as the characters in the ‘COSI’ narrative.
As isolation has taught us, now is the most valuable time to learn from other practitioners out there. While learning from ‘COSI’ has fueled my passion to pursue a career in the industry, hopefully, one day, I too can inspire the next generation of artists.