Spirituality gets an airing in High Windows, Low Doorways

Alice Keohavong from "High Windows Low Doorways"
Alice Keohavong from “High Windows Low Doorways”

subtlenuance’s first play for the 2014 season is a multi-playwright project High Windows Low Doorways.

Last year there was enormous interest in subtlenuance’s The Political Hearts of Children, where writers were teamed with actors to tell a tale from the actor’s childhood.  High Windows Low Doorways adopts the same approach, but this time the theme is spirituality.

As artistic director, Paul Gilchrist from subtlenuance says, “Yes, we know, you’re not supposed to talk about that! But, we chose this theme because we feel that the discussion of spirituality in our culture has diminished to a shallow and hollow debate about beliefs.”

Intrigued by his comments I had to find out more:

Q: I read where High Windows Low Doorways is about spirituality and that you’d mentioned that it is a topic that many shy away from discussing – why do you think it’s such a touchy or taboo subject?

A: Two reasons, I guess. Firstly, people are afraid of being preached at. They’re afraid that someone is going to tell them how to live their lives. Needless to say, this is not what happens in our show. We actually want audiences!

In High Windows Low Doorways the actors share their stories; they don’t talk about beliefs, they present their experiences – their hopes, joys and fears. And this, I suppose, is the second reason spirituality is potentially such a ‘touchy’ topic. It’s about experiences close to people’s hearts. It takes courage to share these things. And I’m incredibly admiring of our actors for doing exactly that.

Q: In what ways does this play explore spirituality – what it is to different people or more that we don’t like discussing it?

A: More the first than the second. But I should point out that ‘explore’ is a very ambitious word. Do we have something new or grand to say? I don’t know. But I do think we have something beautifully honest.

Q: As this is a collaborative piece how did the writing come together? Did you discuss beforehand what aspect of spirituality each writer wanted to focus on?

A: Each writer was teamed with an actor. The only brief I gave them was to tell a story from the actor’s ‘spiritual experience’. There was no attempt to focus the writing anymore than that. The only belief we began this project with was the belief that everyone had something worth sharing. And it’s an attitude that has rewarded us wonderfully. We have stories that are surprising, funny and very moving.

Q: What has been the most interesting concept/idea that you think has emerged about spirituality in our society from exploring this topic in your research/writing?

A: When the topic is first mentioned a lot of people want to tell you about their attitude to traditional churches and religious organisations. Then, as the conversation goes on, they leave that behind. After a while, they stop talking about beliefs. They start talking about love and fate and doubt and joy and guilt and time and death. And love. Always love.

Q: Did you learn anything about your own spirituality?

A: Yes, that I’m not alone. That I’m far from the only one who feels that so much goes unsaid. And, in the rehearsal room, I’m learning that I’m not the only one who is powerfully affected by the stories being shared.

Q: Who else has come on board for this production?

A: We’re very honoured to be working with some of Sydney’s most exciting emerging and established theatre makers.

Alice Keohavong and Katie Pollock
Alice Keohavong and Katie Pollock
Melita Rowston and Helen Tonkin
Melita Rowston and Helen Tonkin

We have an amazing cast: Alice Keohavong, Naomi Livingstone, Gavin Roach, Helen Tonkin, Kit Bennett, Matt Butcher and Peter McAllum. I’m in awe of them and their generosity of spirit.

And we have a terrific team of writers; Melita Rowston, Katie Pollock, Noelle Janaczewska, Mark Langham, Ari Jonathan Lander, Ellana Costa and Alison Rooke. Their job is a tricky one – to be faithful to someone else’s voice and story – and I’m so admiring of how they’ve done this and created theatrically exciting work.

Thanks to this team, I think audiences are in for an intriguing and deeply moving night of theatre.

Naomi Livingstone at rehearsals
Naomi Livingstone at rehearsals

Why not pop along to one of these performances that I’d say are undoubtedly going to get us all thinking, and yes, perhaps even exploring, our own spirituality.

Where and when:
High Windows Low Doorways
19 – 30 March 2014
Preview 19 March
TAP Gallery, Downstairs Theatre
278 Palmer Street, Darlinghurst
Tue to Sat 8pm, Sun 6pm
Tix: $25/$20 Cheap Tue $15/Preview $15
Bookings 0481 514 945
www.subtlenuance.com

(Photos courtesy of subtlenuance theatre)

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