The Neon Festival of Independent Theatre is back for its second year with a new five-show program kicking off in late May. The festival celebrates the work of established and emerging independent artists from all around Australia, and also hosts a range of industry-oriented special events, including forums, play readings and master classes.
It all begins with the queering kitschmeisters at Little Ones Theatre, led by director Stephen Nicolazzo, and their take on Choderlos de Laclos' Dangerous Liaisons (29 May-8 Jun). Nicolazzo promises mischief and opulence as Christopher Hampton's English-language translation is thrown in a low-camp blender with Hollywood sexploitation, baroque court fashions and New York gay icon Charles Ludlum.
According to Martina Murray, the Neon managing producer, Little Ones are part of wave of companies bringing queer theatre to the attention of mainstream audiences around the country.
"The work of these particular companies and their niche styles can be characterised as being big, bright and kitsch," she says, "but I think it’s important that we recognise that there is intelligent, political and important theatre at its core."
The festival then shifts gears with super-sincerist theatre maker Angus Cerini. The show is called Resplendence (12-22 Jun) and promises nothing less grandiose than a revelation of the true nature of the human soul.
"There is certainly an uncompromising authenticity about his work," says Murray, "in particular the work he has created with his company Doubletap over the last 14 years, exploring the complexities of humanity through the role of masculinity in our culture."
The third show to premiere in June is Photographs of A (26 Jun-6 Jul), a collaboration between actor and director Brian Lipson and playwright Daniel Keene. Together with Helen Morse, they're exploring the world of Louise Augustine Gleize, a famous nineteenth-century lunatic who was coached and publicly exhibited by Jean-Martin Charcot, the father of modern neurology.
Whereas last year's inaugural program celebrated a special contemporary moment in Melbourne's performing arts history, with five companies which all emerged around about the same time and which, while aesthetically distinct, all shared in the same avant garde enthusiasm, this year's festival is more diverse.
"In 2014 we see artists whose innovative work has been influential to the independent landscape of Melbourne over the last decade with the inclusion of Sans Hotel, Little Ones and Angus Cerini," says Murray, "along with relatively young Melbourne companies that have a national independent presence in the case of Arthur, as well as artists who have been working across the mainstage and independent landscape for many years, nationally and internationally with Lipson and Keene."
Beyond June, look out for new work from Sydney director Paige Rattray's company, Arthur, with The Myth Project: Twin (10-20 Jul), combining cabaret and theatre and featuring a large choric ensemble drawn from regional Australia.
Then, rounding out the festival, Nicola Gunn and her Sans Hotel launch Green Screen (24 Jul-3 Aug), an experimental, participative work in which attractively random images such as Cher tribute concerts, a human pyramid and ecological utopias point us toward the difference between a human being and a human doing.
For more on the many free events included as a part of the festival, head to the MTC website and look for Neon Extra.
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