the lexicon

a writing portfolio by Alexandra Savvides

Alison van Reeken – Helpmann Awards Feature (2007)

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Alison van ReekenTake a close look at the nominations for the most prestigious Australian arts awards this year, the Helpmann Awards. Amongst the list of well-known theatre names and productions is that of West Australian artist Alison van Reeken. She has been nominated for Best Female Actor in a Play as a result of her work in Black Swan Theatre Company‘s 2006 production of The Carnivores.

The nomination of a West Australian-based artist is perhaps made all the more remarkable considering the traditional dominance of Sydney and Melbourne productions in the Awards.

A passionate actor devoted to her craft, van Reeken was humbled and surprised at the nomination for the Helpmann. “It came as a total surprise, I’m so far away from Sydney and Melbourne… it is really hard for Perth [productions] to get noticed”, she says.

According to van Reeken, Ian Wilding’s 2005 Griffin Award-winning play The Carnivores is an “intriguing and quite dark look at contemporary Australia [which] you don’t see as often. We usually have a kind of sentimental look at Australia”. At the heart of The Carnivores are two brothers, Thom and Gramme, coming to terms with the intricacies of human relationships amidst the ever present capitalist drive in society today. The two female roles, Nill and Neka, both played by van Reeken, serve as distinct counterpoints to the male characters in the play.The Carnivores

When asked about the difficulties in playing two characters in the one production, van Reeken admits it was a lot of work, but incredibly enjoyable. An American businesswoman and a petty criminal’s girlfriend might seem worlds apart yet as the play progresses their motivations draw ever closer. Nill and Neka are “really opposites, but they are both very business-like. They lived lives that made them have to fight”, she says.

It was the act of dressing up, and the heightened representations of Nill and Neka which drew her to the roles – “they were almost mask-like. Costume was a really fun part; their outside really informed the inside of the characters.”

Dressing up was not the only reason to take on these roles though – being involved in bringing new Australian work to the stage is also incredibly important for van Reeken. “We are so unique, but I don’t know if we trust that we are unique…we often look elsewhere for our stories and our art when we have so much here, though there are a lot of people that are doing great work here, making those stories”, she says.

Well aware of the dry spells that can plague an actor, van Reeken is particularly grounded in her approach to her profession. “It is a life of highs and lows, when you don’t get work and when your work is not what you want it to be.”

thecarnivores-prodshotslowres285.jpgEven during times of sparse work though, she is determined to create opportunities for herself. Running her own production company, Red Ryder Productions, not only allows van Reeken to branch out when acting opportunities are thin on the ground, but fulfils a desire to create something of her own. “There is such great satisfaction in being able to make your own work…and that’s something that young actors need to do all the time here, with the industry the way it is”, she says.

When asked if winning the Helpmann Award would change much for her, van Reeken notes that it would not really alter her plans. Devoted to the theatre scene in Western Australia, moving to Sydney or Melbourne in search of other opportunities is not something that she has thought about extensively.

In such a competitive industry, van Reeken’s approach to acting is incredibly refreshing.

Published on The Program, 6 August 2007

(Images courtesy Black Swan Theatre Company)

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Written by lexstatic

March 17, 2008 at 6:27 am

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