Michael Piggot, Freya Grant & Kate Sherman – Once Under A Sky

Once Under A Sky
Seaside Adventures At The Old Fitz

“Imaginative, magical and adventurous,” is how writer-director Michael Pigott describes Once Under A Sky, a whimsical and innovative new work about two New Zealand fisherwomen called May and August who, after the sea dries up, embark on a journey to the arid desert. The concept originated with performers (and co-writers) Freya Sant and Kate Sherman, and the next three years saw them juggling a residency at Legs On The Wall, workshopping the piece with Pigott, and various showings around Sydney and Brisbane.

At first I’m surprised that Freya, Kate and Michael want to do the interview together, but straight away their tight-knit family dynamic is apparent. They banter and tease amongst themselves, prompt one another and finish each other’s sentences. If one is struggling to get across what they think, the others helpfully chime in. “I think people are usually forced to produce plays in a short space of time because of funding,” Freya says. “So you end up working with new people and putting shows together really quickly. We were interested in ensemble theatre and that process of working over a long period of time and really getting to know each other.”

Freya and Kate come from very different performance backgrounds: Kate was of the more traditional NIDA pedigree, while Freya’s roots are planted in circus (she has been clowning since the age of eight). The two of them met at physical theatre company Legs On The Wall, and bonded over a common interest in movement, acrobatics and European clowning.

If Freya and Kate are the skeleton of the show, then Pigott seems to be the glue holding it together. When Freya and Kate turned up to an audition at Belvoir Street in 2006 (Pigott’s show The Golden Ass), they were instantly struck by the organic way he worked. Even though they weren’t cast, they invited Pigott to view the initial stages of Once Under A Sky. “I thought they were so much fun and I’d love to spend time with the characters,” says Pigott, “so we got working.”

The characters May and August are polar opposites (a common dynamic in clowning) – or as Michael describes it, they are like the two parts of our brain. “August is the analytical part and May the imaginative. In the beginning of the play these women live by the sea and are made of the sea; they’re a part of their environment, but they are outsiders in terms of the community. When they go to the desert they become outsiders to the land and their environment. When that happens it can put you in an immense state of crisis and vulnerability.”

When I talk to the three, just a couple of weeks out from Once Under A Sky’s premiere at The Old Fitz, they say they are still in a constant state of flux, reworking and rewriting scenes. “We’ve got a good sense of honesty about calling things that don’t work. If the idea doesn’t sit with one of us then it’s probably not a good idea. We wait to find something that all of us get excited by.”

The end result is a multi-layered, motif-laden show that combines physical theatre, storytelling and absurdist elements, and invites audiences to use their imagination.

“We liked the idea of everything being simple so audiences can create with us,” says Kate. “They are almost like a third character, and that’s why everyone comes out with a different reading of it.” Pigott chimes in: “All you have to do is bring tools to get their imaginations firing and don’t spoonfeed them – then audiences can imagine their own world and get excited about working out what [the show] meant.”

Published in The Brag in print and online on May 16, 2011

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