One of Melbourne's newest production companies is opening up its heart in order to get as close as possible (literally) with our city's insatiable theatre consumers. Jimmy Flinders Productions, founded earlier this year by director Marco Romero Rodriguez and playwright Sean McIntyre, is about to launch Lounge Theatre. This innovative theatre experiment will bring original, minimalistic theatre right up close to their small audiences, with shows taking place in tiny bars, office spaces and even in the familiar comfort of your own lounge room. As the inaugural performances take place next week at the intimate Butterfly Club, this niche theatre concept will attempt to involve its audience in a very unique way.
Hailing from Chile, Rodriguez returned to Melbourne towards the end of last year after living here briefly in his teens, eager to bring his South American theatre experiences to his one-time home. With experience in both theatre and film direction and production, as well as spending time on the stage and in front of the camera, Rodriguez came to Melbourne itching to get straight into it and very quickly came across Sean McIntyre. For his part, Aussie native McIntyre has spent his fair share of time in the local theatre scene. Dabbling with on screen and stage acting, McIntyre's true passion lies in scriptwriting and production. His most recent play A Kind of Destiny has seen success and acclaim on the local independent theatre circuit. After meeting Rodriguez seven months ago and immediately hitting it off, the pair quickly established the Jimmy Flinders production company. Artistically inspired by the life of its namesake Jimmy Flinders, an old Melburnian playwright and poet, the production company's first project Lounge Theatre is bringing the micro-theatre concept that Rodriguez had experimented with in Spain and Chile to Australian audiences.
Lounge Theatre is a relatively simple concept: a cast made up of two or three people, an audience about ten times that size, in a room only just big enough to fit everyone in. The idea is to bring the audience closer to the performance that they would usually be.
“The setting is a lot more intimate than what people are used to,” says Rodriguez. “The audience will only be two or three metres away from the action, so it's really close. [The actors] find it interesting to have that physical closeness to the audience, and hopefully vice versa.” Although the idea sounds unusual, Rodriguez is apprehensive to call it experimental theatre. “It’s experimental in terms of location, but I wouldn’t say the script or the acting style or the direction is experimental.” The intimacy of Lounge Theatre isn't just reliant on physical proximity though, the venues where the performances are held have a homely feel, if not because the venue is literally in your home. Although the first few performances will be held in cosy theatres and bars, Lounge Theatre eventually hopes to expand into ever more intimate locations, from B&Bs to office board rooms and eventually, McIntyre confirms: “Our goal is to perform in people's homes”.
The idea of inviting some friends over for the evening to watch theatre from the comfort of your own couch is something that immediately appealed to McIntyre, however he was initially unaware that Rodriguez was expecting him to write two original scripts to work on. “Marco thought it was worthwhile exploring the concept in Australia but obviously the cultural differences had to be addressed if it was going to be for Australian audiences and I suppose that's where I came in,” explains McIntyre. “[Marco asked me], 'How good a writer are you?' and I thought we were going to be translating his existing scripts, to be honest. Pretty soon I realised I was going to be writing them from scratch.” Due to the need to keep the performance confined in a small space, extravagant showcases and overtly physical storytelling was out of the question. The performances needed to be minimalistic and close to really embody Lounge Theatre’s intentions. In order to keep the performances fresh, McIntyre decided to write two very separate full length scripts using the same premise: Michael and Paul and Renee and Laura.
Fundamentally quite voyeuristic, both stories are essentially one-on-one conversations between two old classmates who end up reacquainting at their respective school reunions. “The premise for both scripts is exactly the same; you've got two people who have just been to a high school reunion and the story starts where they've found themselves continuing to chat after the reunion finishes,” McIntyre explains. “Each of the characters is in a transitional period of life: relationship challenges, career challenges, family challenges. [The characters are] in a bit of denial and they're not really dealing with these transitions and challenges very well.” The intimacy and relatable nature of the two conversations help to bring the performance even closer to its audience. Because the two shows are separate pieces, they will be performed at The Butterfly Club on alternating nights.
Bringing theatre right up inside the comfort zone of audiences is just one concept Jimmy Flinders Productions will attempt to tackle. While the company endeavours to take Lounge Theatre as far into that zone as possible, eventually with a variety of different performances, McIntyre and Rodriguez already have plans to head into other facets of theatre and film in the future. Lounge Theatre is just the beginning, and a curious beginning it promises to be.
BY KATE MCCARTEN
Lounge Theatre premieres at The Butterfly Club from Thursday July 5 – Sunday July 8.