Così, a play written by Louis Nowra, is a classic Australian comedy delving into the lives of a group of people living in a mental institution in Melbourne in the 1970s as they endeavour to put on a production of the Italian opera, Così fan tutte. Thanks to Australian Made Entertainment, Così opened on Friday Off-Broadway in New York City.
Australian Made Entertainment is an independent arts organisation, based in New York City, dedicated to bringing Australian works to the United States. We had the opportunity to speak to Matthew Foster who, along with Kathleen Foster, started the company this year.
What prompted you to start an Australian Production Company in New York?
Like many actors, we both wanted to be involved in shows that we loved and felt passionate about, so what better way to make that happen than to create our own theatre company? Once we had that idea, it was an obvious step to make it an Australian-focused endeavour. Australian writers are woefully underrepresented on the New York stage and we want to share their stories with an American audience. There are also so many wonderful Aussie actors living here, so building a platform for them to showcase their talent is another goal of ours. Plus, there’s the added bonus that we can perform in our natural accent!
What have you learned through the process?
Producing theatre is a lot more work than we imagined. And we imagined a lot! The power of delegation is probably the biggest thing we’ve learned. Once you have a talented crew that you trust, it makes everything run a lot smoother. Also, we’ve learned to start organising things sooner. We enthusiastically booked our theatre with only about two and a half months before opening night, which meant we had to really get cracking to get everything done on time.
Your inaugural production is the play Così, made famous in the movie with Barry Otto and Toni Collette. Why did you choose this play?
Così is so well-loved in Australia and we wanted to kick off our company with something familiar to Aussies. And we just couldn’t go past such a hilariously epic show. With its universal themes of love and fidelity, illusion and sanity, it’s a play that an American audience will definitely relate to. Plus, the irony is not lost on us that this show is also about the madness of creating theatre.
How was it casting Americans for this quintessentially Australian play?
Since the Aussie accent is notoriously difficult to master for non-Aussies, we were certainly a little concerned about finding enough actors who either had a natural Australian accent or were able to put on a convincing one. In the end, we were incredibly impressed at the talent of those actors who auditioned. The first audition of the day was by Joseph Thornhill (an American who was ultimately cast in the role of Justin), and when he started his monologue in a GREAT Australian accent, we breathed a sigh of tremendous relief that we got off to such a good start. Once the show was cast, we had dialect coaches come in to keep an ear out for the non-Aussies and make sure they were speaking correct ‘Strine’. And now we think that even the Australians in the audience will have a hard time figuring out who in the cast is actually Australian and who isn’t.
How do you think Americans will respond to the play?
We’re very confident that the American audience will embrace Così as much as Australians have. As we mentioned, the themes of the play are universal, so there’s something for everyone to connect with. Perhaps a small concern was the amount of Aussie slang that is written into the show. Along with words like “dunny” and “drongo”, there are a few other things that crop up that might cause a raised eyebrow for the non-Aussies in the crowd, but with an American director (the incomparable Jesse Michael Mothershed), a highly communicative cast, and a short glossary in the program, we’ve no doubt that Americans won’t miss a beat.
What lies ahead in Australian Made Entertainment’s future?
We’re true gluttons for punishment and we’ve already lined up our next show. Andrew Bovell’s haunting play Speaking In Tongues (adapted into the critically-acclaimed movie Lantana) is slated for late November/December at Shetler Studios in Manhattan. Next year, we plan on a couple more shows, plus we will kick off the film branch of the company with a web series and later a feature film.
Così runs Sep. 7 – 23, 2012 on Wednesday – Saturday at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm at Urban Stages, 259 W. 30th St. (between 7th & 8th Aves.) Tickets are available via SmartTix, and more information can be found at www.AustralianMadeEntertainment.com. If you’re nearby, don’t miss this chance to see this Australian classic.