Date: August 19 2012
“I had a Spiderman costume that was very accurate and I used to wear it under my school uniform and casually tell other kids in the playground that I was Spiderman. When they laughed at me I would just pull down the uniform a bit to reveal a bit of the Spiderman thing underneath, which really impressed them.’’
Duncan Driver got his first taste of the big time in Oliver.
“I was just a workhouse boy in the chorus but it was on the main stage of the Canberra Theatre,’’ he said. “Talk about a debut performance. It was just so exciting.’’
Driver grew up in Canberra and remains based here but he spent substantial periods of time in England during the noughties. There he built on his experience and knowledge of theatre through academia and the London arts scene.
It was in 2008 that he was invited to join Duncan Ley and Jarrad West in what would become the critically acclaimed Everyman Theatre.
“Everyman was the first time I ever had a hand in the artistic direction of an entire company in deciding which shows to put on,’’ Driver said.
“I suppose it comes out of having a play that you desperately want to do and no other company is willing to do it. So you start up your own company in order to be able to do the production that you want to do.’’
Everyman is a small company conscious of its limitations. And it’s that self-awareness that has guided the trio toward an array of award-winning and acclaimed productions. It has also allowed them to steer clear of major pitfalls that can hound freshly formed amateur theatre companies.
“You can’t just go out and do a play that you desperately want to do,” Driver said. “He insists attention must be given to whether you can do it well, whether you have the budget for it and whether you have the people available to perform in it.
“I think many amateur companies don’t take those things into consideration early on.
“One of the things that we try and do is think ‘what is a show that nobody else is performing?’ ‘What is a show that we can do on a modest budget?’ and ‘what is a show that we can do given the kinds of people that we know that we want to work with and will showcase our talents the best?
“That means that sometimes you can’t do great epic tragedies or huge musical extravaganzas. But that’s okay. I’d rather do slightly smaller scale things really well than do a production of Cabaret badly.’’
It was West and Ley who really kicked things off for Everyman and they approached Driver to direct their first production.
After rave reviews and a Critics Circle award, they felt they’d found a core working group worth keeping together.
While Ley and Driver had worked together, it was only when Driver was invited to be director for the first Everyman production that he met West.
“Jarrad is really the workhorse of the company,’’ Driver said. “He does most of the troubling jobs that aren’t so much fun, which is good of him.’’
West also has a wealth of experience and training at some of the world’s most prestigious drama schools, making him a polished pillar in the company.
For Driver, his arrival to Everyman followed a string of inspiring teachers combined with a lifetime love of theatre.
In his 20s, he was immersed in academia and overseas travel - eventually doing a doctoral thesis on Hamlet. It was in London though where he discovered what was possible for up-and-coming theatre companies.
“Sometimes you’d go to a show in the West End and think, ‘Actually we could do something like this. This isn’t so far above the level that we could achieve,’’’ he said.
“Other times you see a show that just blows you away and you think, ‘Okay now I know what we might be able to one day aspire to do.’’’
With the critics on board and not a bad show to their name, Everyman is pushing amateur theatre into the professional sphere while leaving much of the cost and ostentation at the door.
“One of the things I like most about Canberra theatre is that there often isn’t a really clear distinguishing line between amateur and professional,’’ Driver said.
“Lots of people dislike that about it. They think going to a Canberra theatre thing is like Russian Roulette because there is no amateur/professional divide.’’
Those on the hunt for talent in the Canberra scene don’t seem to care too much about that divide. Instead the prevailing mood appears to be one that favours openness, egalitarianism and meritocracy.
“All I think we really care about is whether you’re any good,’’ Driver said.
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