Next on The Blue Room’s horizon is a scripted work out of the US called Grounded by George Brandt. It’s a one-woman play about a fighter pilot who becomes pregnant and is reassigned to drone piloting from a windowless trailer outside of Las Vegas. Tackling this undoubtedly difficult role that deals with undoubtedly difficult subjects is Alison van Reeken, who is embarking into new territory in the role. She gives us some candid insights into what it takes to prepare for a solo performance, and why it’s important that audiences come and see the show.
When did you first come across Brandt’s solo play and whose idea was it to produce it here in WA? How did the project come together?
Facebook of course! In 2014 I saw a post from a friend in Melbourne recommending the production that Red Stitch were doing, the first production in Australia. I’d never heard of Grounded so a sneaky google search quickly had me wanting to read it. It doesn’t take long to get scripts now, so I read it and realised it’s one of the best scripts I’d ever read for a woman; I thought I better grab this before someone else does, so I applied for the rights. I spoke to Benj [D’Addario, production manager and van Reeken’s partner] (it’s a big commitment from the family for me to do a solo show) and then Emily [McLean, director] and we decided to try and get a season at The Blue Room as Red Ryder. The trickiest part was finding the right time that suited all three of us.
What aspects of the character do you relate to the most? What are some of her more challenging aspects?
I relate to her as a parent of young children and the challenge of giving up work to raise them, I totally relate to that! But in many ways she’s so different. At first I really questioned whether I should take it on because I just thought ‘god this women is so different to me, I’d never get cast in this’, but then obviously that became part of the experiment and maybe they are the characters we need to explore the most.
She’s very at ease sexually, confident and ballsy, calls bullshit when she sees it. She’s a fighter. I’m in awe of what she has achieved at the beginning of the play, flying F16’s over Iraq, succeeding in a really male world. I won’t even go on Bounty’s Revenge at Adventure World, and I’ve never been very confident around men. Brant really exposes her during the play and that’s challenging. I’ve developed a pretty big girl-crush on her though. I think she’s awesome, I pray I can pull it off.
What’s it like to come into a Blue Room production after a long string of performances over on the big stage with Black Swan?
The Heath Ledger is a great theatre, but you can’t get away from the fact it’s big and invites you to push, it does to me at least. I’ve been fortunate to get the roles I’ve had in there, at the same time it’s very soothing to come back to a space like the Blue Room. Intimacy. Just being. A little less ‘work’ required. Grounded goes right into the heart and mind of the Pilot so I want to re-explore detail, vulnerability, truth, and ease, in a small space.
Have you ever performed a solo play before, one where you actually got the script well ahead of your performance? (I’m referring to PTC’s White Rabbit Red Rabbit, of course) What are your thoughts and emotions going into it?
I’ve never performed a solo play before and that was part of the attraction. It’s a challenge I needed mid-career. It was definitely something I wanted to do for myself as much as anything; just to see if I could (I haven’t done it yet so that’s still up in the air). As clichéd as it sounds it’s the scariest thing I’ve done in a long time, and as I write this I get a queasy stomach at the thought of it. I suppose it’s about expectation, attachments to outcomes, which are all funnelled onto you as the only performer. It’s about how exposing the play is, about having to go to really intimate places inside myself in front of an audience, without anyone else on stage to share the focus. But I wanted to do something scary, to shake off cobwebs and habits and challenge shortcuts I’ve created to get the job done so I have to suck it up and get on with it.
The production team includes an impressive set of designers, including video design by Mia Holton, lighting by Karen Cook, and sound by Brett Smith. Are you able to describe what the show will look and sound like yet?
I can’t describe what it will look like very well, I’m too ‘in it’ I think! Emily will know better. I know we will be having a very simple set, and we want the lighting and sound to be ‘characters’ in the piece. It’s a high tech world so it won’t be naturalistic, no organic material, and the world will change from clear and delineated, to blurry and distorted.
This year we learned there will be a film adaptation starring Anne Hathaway, who also performed in the stage version. What are your thoughts on that — do you think the material lends itself to film?
Yep, Hathaway has secured the rights and she’s producing it, and Brant is re-writing the script so I think it will be a very true adaptation and although I can’t wait to see it on film, I’m so glad we’re doing the production now! Nothing takes the gas out of a play more than a new film of it. There are a few vivid characters in the play, and also several locations all created through the Pilot’s descriptions, and the actors’ and audiences’ imagination, their ‘work’. That’s all done for you when you watch a film, so I would miss that. But it definitely lends itself to a film, drones are topical and they’re terrifying so it’s important we’re taking about them. We also need to visit what we’re asking our military to do in a modern war and how we are or are not supporting them through that.
What do you hope audiences will come away with after seeing Grounded?
I hope they respect this character. I hope they see that she’s brave. I hope they question our world, what we’re creating, allowing, supporting. I hope they’re moved. I hope they talk about it in the bar and think about it on the way home. I hope they have a fight with the person they saw it with. It has many grey areas and I love hearing people debate about what was what, and how different everyone’s interpretations are. I hope they’re inspired to come to the theatre again.
Grounded runs at The Blue Room Theatre from 13 September to 1 October. For more information and tickets, please visit The Blue Room website here.