The Russian classic Duck Hunting by Aleksandr Vampilov has been updated by Shai Alexander and Toby B Styling to a contemporary Melbourne tale.
I was able to interview Sydney-based actress Louise Harding during the strenuous fourteen week rehearsal period, where there was a confident determined aim to achieve a deeper level of truth in a highly artistic form.
Louise has previously played roles from Will Shakespeare’s Katharina and Viola to Jean Racine’s Phaedra.
Did you have special moments in your childhood that drew you into the world of acting?
I’m sure the answer to this question is pretty similar for a lot of actors! I mostly just remember always calling out to parents, friends and family to ask if I could “have their attention please” so I could show them my newest puppet show or performance. That – and when I saw that a boy could fly on a pink furry dragon in the Never Ending Story. I thought, wow! I want to do that!
When and why did you decide to become an actress?
I don’t really remember a specific moment.
It all happened gradually – I loved acting and being in plays, and I had a really wonderful Year 9 teacher that inspired me to pursue it further. Then I just eventually realised that, hey, acting is a real thing and I can actually do it.
Are there any other family members in the arts?
None really went into acting – my dad was very much into music (he played the flute) and writing, but never did it full time. My mum always wonders where my love of acting came from – but personally, I think she would’ve been a performer had the option and opportunity been there for her.
Are there actors who have inspired you?
A lot! More and more have every day. I really admire and love the work of Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet – two powerhouses.
I’m also constantly inspired by the work of Amy Poelher who is, in my opinion, one of the funniest women alive, and similarly I love Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson from the awesome show Broad City. I admire anyone who creates their own incredible work.
You recently graduated from NIDA’s Screen Actors Studio and prior to that spent a year studying abroad in Los Angles at the Howard Fine Studio. How have those experiences shaped you as person and an actress?
I studied under some pretty amazing people who really influenced how I think about life – not just in terms of acting. NIDA was challenging at times but I really came out of it with a great deal more confidence in acting and in myself, and I was also surrounded by amazing people in our class who were incredibly supportive and also very, very talented. The same can be said for when I lived and studied in LA – it’s a crazy town. Anyone who has visited will tell you that. And studying with the Howard Fine Studio is really an invaluable experience. I definitely came out of LA feeling like I was indestructible. If I can survive the red line subway at 1am sitting next to an unhappy guy dressed up like a creepy clown – then I can survive anything.
How did you respond to your original reading of the play?
I fell in love with Catherine pretty much immediately. That was my initial reaction – and of course I was a little biased because I was auditioning for her. But I really loved the play as soon as I read it. It’s a huge journey and I felt like I’d gotten through a thick novel by the end of it – it honestly felt like I’d been sitting in a movie theatre watching the entire thing unfold in my head. I was immediately excited by it.
Can you give a synopsis of the play?
Duck Hunting follows Craig whose life is falling apart. His marriage to his wife (Catherine – that’s me) is dissolving, he feels as though he has no support from his friends, and he hates his mundane job. He’s just desperately looking forward to going on a duck hunting trip with his close friend Elliot, but not everything goes as planned.
How has this rehearsal process differed from other theatrical experiences?
We’re working more than I’ve ever worked on another show and it’s been incredibly rewarding. Both Shai and Toby have brought their years of experience onto the stage for us and we’re all very thankful to have had them leading the way. It’s been an exhausting and inspiring experience. I even rehearse in my dreams now!
What do you consider will appeal to the audience in this play?
As a cast we’ve talked about how Duck Hunting can very easily be compared with Hamlet. And just like Hamlet, it has in it every ingredient that makes theatre worth watching. It’s the human condition, its sex, violence, jealousy, and depression – the lot. It’s stylised and fresh and I think that will appeal to audiences as well.
What do you think is special about this production of the Russian play Duck Hunting?
I don’t think it’s anything that Sydney has really seen before.
I’ve never seen Russian theatre up close and personal myself, but I feel that I’ve had a wonderful hands-on experience thanks to Shai. I think audiences will feel that too – it’s something new and exciting. That, and I’m lucky to work alongside incredible directors and an amazing, supportive cast, and I believe that will really come across in successful performances.
How do you relax away from the world of acting?
When I’m not acting I’m going horse riding, playing video games or drawing and painting. But what really relaxes me is a glass of wine, salt and vinegar chips and watching trashy TV with my boyfriend.
Rose Niland, Special Features NSW, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015
King Street Theatre
2 – 29 November