An Interview with Joanne Hartstone
There are not enough superlatives to describe the talents of Australian, Joanne Hartstone, & this year she’s bringing two plays to the Fringe. The Mumble managed a wee blether about her doubling up…
Hello Joanne, so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Joanne: I am from Adelaide in South Australia, but I am currently in London (about to travel to Edinburgh)
When did you first find yourself getting into the dramatic arts?
Joanne: I was always performing as a child, dressing up and doing impromptu performances. When I was 4, my parents enrolled me in a dance class, and I loved it! I particularly loved the end of year concerts, and performing became a regular part of my life. I spent the next 12 years training as a dancer, as well as taking acting lessons and singing lessons. In the meantime, my father would take me to musicals and concerts and operas and plays. I was hooked!
Can you tell us about your theatrical training?
Joanne: Straight after high school I was accepted into Flinders University Drama Centre, where I trained as a professional actor under the expert tutelage of Professors Jules Holledge, Michael Morley, Murray Bramwell, Malcolm Fox and Joh Hartog. It was a 4 year honours degree, in which we had practical training mixed with theoretical and academic study. Our class was very small – 5 women and 7 men. Entry to the degree is audition-based, so I was very lucky to be accepted as there were very few positions for hundreds of applicants. We were trained for all performance mediums – stage, screen, improv, immersive, dance, voice – however I found myself mostly drawn to the stage. I loved the process of creating a play and the thrill of performing in-front of a live audience was hard to beat!
You’re washed up on a desert island with an all-in-one solar powered DVD/TV combo & three films, what would they be?
Joanne: Meet Me In St Louis, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Singin’ In The Rain
What does Joanne Hartstone like to do when she’s not being, well, dramatic?
Joanne: I love playing with my dog, Molly, and spending time with my family. And I’m rather partial to a delicious meal.
You are quite the international performer, regularly taking your shows across three continents. What is about such a restless adventure that makes you tick?
Joanne: I’m driven to present my work to as many different audiences as possible. In each location, the cultural diversities elicit a range of responses to my shows, and I really enjoy the varying artistic conversation between performer and playgoers. For example, when we played New York in January 2018 with The Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign, our timing coincided with the Golden Globe awards ceremony, where women (and men) wore black in solidarity for the #TimesUp campaign. My character has always deliberately worn a black dress. The coincidence was not lost on patrons and reviewers who noted: And, in a piece of prescient staging, she endows Evie with a stoic pride in her fashion choice, a black dress. As if channeling the sisterhood of this year’s Golden Globe’s red carpet, she declares, “I thought black would be appropriate.” As I continue to travel and present my work, I am humbled and inspired by people and places, history and innovations. My absolute favourite thing is when people discover things in my work that I thought no one would notice, or they draw parallels that even I didn’t know were there!
Can you tell us about Hartstone-Kitney Productions?
Joanne: Hartstone-Kitney Productions is a relatively new endeavour between myself and Tom Kitney – an incredible production designer and technical wiz. Our company has formed organically over the months that we have been making theatre together, as well as running a venue, presenting international work and planning seasons. We are a great onstage/offstage team. We have decades of experience in this industry between us, and it is exciting to make plans and continue to grow and develop together as practitioners. Tom has taught me a lot about his side of making theatre, and I am a better producer and maker because of him.
Can you describe your working relationship with Tom Kitney in a single word?
You are bringing two solo shows to this years Fringe, what are they called?
Joanne: My two solo shows are The Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign and That Daring Australian Girl.
Joanne: So, can you tell us more about, let’s start with The Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign, what’s it about?
Joanne: The Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign follows the journey of Evie Edwards, an aspiring actress who is determined to have an opportunity to be in the movies. We meet Evie as she is at the end of her tether – she has climbed the ‘H’ of the Hollywood Sign and is contemplating her next move. She reveals the path that has lead her to consider recreating the fateful leap that Peg Entwistle took in 1932, whilst also lamenting the fate of her idols – the women of Hollywood who sacrifice so much to be stars. It is a revealing commentary on America’s Dream Factory, from a point of view rarely observed, mixed with music from the era.
It’s won quite a few awards so far, what are they?
Joanne: It won the inaugural Made In Adelaide award at the 2017 Adelaide Fringe, as well as the Holden Street Theatres award. Then when I took the show to Hollywood and we won the Producers’ Encore Award. We were also awarded the TVolution Platinum Medal and Combined Artist & Fringe Management ‘Pick Of The Fringe’, as well as Better Lemon’s Critics Choice Awards and the TVolution Best Solo Show (Female) Award. The play has also been nominated for a host of other awards including: Best Female Performance (Professional) for the ATG Curtain Call Awards 2017, the Best International Production Award at Hollywood Fringe 2017, the Distinctive Voices Award, the Soaring Solo Artist Award and the Larry Cornwall Award for best use of music in a non-musical show.
What do you think is the play’s secret to its success with the judges?
Joanne: Perhaps the show resonates with judges (and audiences and critics) because is because it is a production that ticks a lot of boxes. The play is set in a fascinating time in history and tells many true stories of famous (and not so famous) people, showing the level of research and detail that has been packed into the monologue. However it is also incredibly relevant, and recent events in the entertainment industry (and the consequential #metoo movement) have made the play even more important as part of these global discussions and reflections. It is also a showcase for the performer, requiring an advanced level of singing competency, vocal dexterity, accent ability, characterisation and character switching, emotional range and immediacy, and to some degree dance and choreographic skill. It is also highly layered, with a spherical structure, which always appeals to an audiences’ thirst for catharsis. Plus it probably helps that (in this case) the writer and producer is also the performer, acting in an accent that is not her native tongue. But aside from all these elements, The Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign is a really enjoyable, interesting show that stays in your mind for days afterwards.
Great stuff. So moving on to That Daring Australian Girl, what’s the play about?
Joanne: That Daring Australian Girl is the true story of Muriel Matters, a South Australian actress who travelled to London in 1905 and became one of the leading public figures of the UK’s Suffragette Movement. Muriel was a teacher, a journalist, a lecturer and elocutionist and was known as the “foremost female orator in Britain”. Muriel became the world’s first aerial protestor when she flew in a dirigible balloon with ‘Votes For Women’ on the side over London. She was also the first female voice in Parliament, chaining herself to the ‘Grille’ in the Women’s Viewing Gallery in the House of Commons. Muriel was the first woman to challenge for the electoral seat of Hastings, and she lived through two World Wars and two feminist revolutions. Muriel’s legacy is that of a social reformist, a woman who believed that change was not only possible, but vital.
Have you connected with the story of Muriel Matters on a personal level?
Joanne: The parallels between Muriel’s life and my own were immediately apparent when I began researching her life and achievements. I was born mere kilometres away from Muriel’s place of birth – separated only by the North Adelaide parklands and 107 years. She began her career as an actress and elocutionist – I began my career as an actress and a singer. Muriel was a teacher – I am a teacher. Muriel left her home in Australia for the bigger theatrical industry in London – I travel to the UK at least once a year to participate in theatrical festivals. However, I have connected with Muriel on more than our biographical coincidences. Muriel’s ethos, which champions social reform and equality, is also close to my heart. She dedicated her life to the betterment of the community around her, and used her skills to educate, inspire and effect change. Muriel has inspired me to use my skill in a similar way and shown me the value of my work as a communicator and creator.
Among the many accomplishments of Muriel Matters, she was an excellent elocutionist. How are you handling your vocal portrayal of the character?
Joanne: There is only one existing recording of Muriel speaking and her voice is simply from another time. She sounds unreal to a modern ear, which is a challenge for a performer wanting to recreate her as accurately as possible. Muriel sounds like an old-fashioned, upper class, educated Australian who has lived in England for many years, and if I were to copy her voice exactly I feel it would alienate an audience with disbelief. She does have strong Australian diphthongs blended with RP, so I use my own South Australian accent with additional PR rounding out the tone. Luckily I have had years of training on vocal technique (spoken word and singing) and use as many tricks as I can to evoke Muriel’s highly trained “magical” voice, without sounding too structured or technical.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell each show to somebody in the street, what would you say?
Joanne: That Daring Australian Girl:
The unknown true Suffragette story of the first woman to ‘speak’ in the House of Commons, the world’s first aerial protester and the ‘foremost woman orator in Britain’ – who was actually an Australian Actress!
The Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign:
A historical, feminist drama about the Golden Age of Hollywood and the systemic abuse of power in America’s Dream Factory, with songs by Hollywood’s greatest stars: Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Jean Harlow, the Andrews Sisters and more!
Can you describe the experience of performing at the Fringe in a single sentence?
Joanne: The Edinburgh Fringe is exhilarating, challenging, humbling and magical – but as a performer it is marathon, not a sprint!
Assembly George Square Studios
Aug 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26 (11:45)
Assembly George Square Studios
Aug 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25, 27 (11:45)