Mikala Westall has been acting since high school and helped found Renegade Productions who have been doing work in Perth since 2009. Since then she’s been working with other companies and mostly at the Blue Room Theatre and Subi Arts Centre. She recently started her own company called The Lost Boys and wrote and directed a show at Fringe World this year.
Her current project From The Rubble is an original piece from Perth Theatre Company, directed by Melissa Cantwell and explores stories told by award-winning journalist, Sophie McNeill about the lives of people living in war-torn countries. Telling the story through sound, performance and video, From The Rubble is on at PICA from the 16th of March through to the 28th.
What was the journey like, creating From The Rubble?
It was really great and really unique because we got the opportunity to be part of the development process which I think is really unique for a professional company in the sense that we got such a hand in what we wanted to show to say.
We, as performers, got to explore what parts of Sophie’s [McNeill] stories that spoke to us. We kind of found these different aspects and through development and improvisation we kind of came up with the scenes that we’re in. and we got to do some really cool things like stop motion animation and green screen stuff that I’ve never done before.
The team that worked on this was large, how did you find working with a creative team of nine?
I found that everyone seemed to be on the same page when we were working together and I think I’m kind of used to working with a lot of people especially because these are people who I’ve either worked with before or really wanted to work with or have bought totally new, fresh eyes to the piece. It’s really great; at no point did it feel like there were too many people in the room.
I think because the subject matter is so vast, it’s good to have lots of people there, to almost keep each other in check, because we’re all going to want to look at a different thing and we’ll want to encompass everything because it’s just a sensitive topic and you’re just not going to be able to talk about everything and give everything the time it deserves, although we had nine different people work on the show, Mel was the person to reign everyone in and guide us into where her vision was.
From the Rubble is quite challenging and confronting, with themes, but also visually. Tell me about the process of creating something that would represent the realness of the subject matter and harshness of what had Sophie has explored, but also stay engaging and still be personable?
It’s so hard to put yourselves in the shoes of people who have grown up in war zones. We are so lucky to grow up in Australia and especially as women to be able to do whatever we want; we don’t have to worry about persecution for our beliefs or persecution for our dreams.Instead of going, “OK I’m playing a person in a war zone”, we’ve taken this from the point of people in the West. The show deals a lot with how we view the media which we’ve tried to incorporate into our performances.
There were moments throughout the rehearsal process where we were given pause to remember that these are real stories and these are real people. We’ve seen footage of Sophie’s stories and some footage has actually been filmed specifically for the show and you realise that these are people who, tonight, while we’re doing the show, will be in that situation. That’s pretty powerful to think about.
It is a fine balance between creating beautiful images, theatrical scenes and trying to keep it entertaining for the audience, but also being true to the subject matter and to be sensitive. I think audiences are in for something a little different.
The show is complex; focusing on the effect that large-scale conflict has on women across the globe, focusing on displacement, transformation and hope. Was it challenging to get across the feeling of displacement and how hard that can be while making sure the piece portrays how resilient and joyful these women can be?
I think we found within hope Sophie’s stories. I think it’s a real, human, experience and I think it’s something that everyone tries to find and whatever situation you’re in, there’s got to be some kind of hope.
What we found, through the development of this show, and a lot of the times Mel would film us answering questions in our character, was that a lot of the things we were saying were things we would experience; anxiety and concerns that are quite universal. Obviously not to the same extent, but I think throughout it all, there has to be a bit of hope.
Then you’ve got to think about the fact that you’re putting on a performance for people and what they are going to want to see and what will make them respond to the work best. No one wants to be barraged with all of this negative stuff and then the house lights come on and it’s like, “Come on, time to go home.” It’s about finding that balance.
What do you hope the show will give to the audience?
I hope it will give them a unique theatre experience. We could have told this story very differently but it’s being told this way to try to make people look at the subject matter a little differently. I think it’s beautiful to look at, but for me it really mirrors how we watch things and how we watch the news. There are all of these little grabs and athen they take it away. It’s so indicative of modern culture now.
I think I want people to go away remembering that there are people behind the stories. We didn’t want to make it about conflict in this certain zone or conflict in this certain zone, but it’s about the world over. I guess I hope people will start engaging more politically, I think we’re a pretty desensitised culture and because in Australia as young people, we don’t really have a lot to fight for comparatively, which I think can sometimes lead to people being a little immune to what’s going on in the world.
I hope that people leave with the feeling that they can engage with these things overseas and that it’s an experience that they can relate to too.
If you could tell someone one thing before they saw the performance, what would you say?
Leave all your preconceptions about theatre at the door. I think because it’s at PICA it supports that; you know it’s a contemporary space, and Perth Theatre Company is putting it on and they’re well known for being a little different. Leave what you know about theatre at the door because this show will test that.
From The Rubble is on at PICA from March 16 – March 28th.
Tickets available here.
Photo credit: Jon Green