"My role is a bit like being a theatre detective. I observe rehearsals and take careful notice of the storytelling tricks and techniques the team use to create Wilbur’s world."
Meet Michelle Hall, Directing Secondment for The Great Un-Wondering of Wilbur Whittaker
Describe your role as Directing Secondment on The Great Un-Wondering of Wilbur Whittaker.
In my role as Directing Secondment, I am a Wonder Researcher! I am studying a Master of Theatre at the Victorian College of the Arts in Directing and for my research I am investigating and wondering about The Way of The Highly Sensitive Director. This means I’m interested in how people can make theatre together while being careful with each other’s feelings and ideas. This research is important to me because I want to be a director that nurtures artists, whether they are adults or children, to feel safe to wonder, dream and create.
My role is a bit like being a theatre detective. I observe rehearsals and take careful notice of the storytelling tricks and techniques the team use to create Wilbur’s world. I spy on Luke, the director, to see how he guides the actors to transform into different characters. I listen closely to the conversations Luke and the designers have as they create video, lighting and sound effects.
At the end of the whole process, all of my watching, thinking and ideas will be written into a big essay and I will get a certificate for being a Master of the Universe, I mean Master of Theatre. I’m aiming to be like Merlin, a wizard of theatre with sacred knowledge.
What does WONDER mean to you and why is it important?
To wonder is to be an epic creator. Wonder is a power we all have in us, you don’t need to learn it, it is an instinct, like breathing and it calms you instantly. When you wonder you can time travel and jump between realities. Wondering is older than time, older than humans, maybe even older than the universe … I don’t know, I need to wonder about that???
A very ancient and famous wonderer was the mystical figure Bodhisattva who created a kind of wondering practise called ‘Gift Waves’. These ‘Gift Waves’ were mysterious dream pictures sent out into the atmosphere; they were portals for wondering that took dreamers deep into the far reaches of the universe where they could find wisdoms for good living. If I didn’t have wonder, I could never have imagined that one day I would have gone camping in the Sahara Dessert or that I’d find my way out of an ancient maze in Morocco – but I did, I wondered my way into those true stories.
How do you keep wonder alive in your life?
I start my day, every day, with a wondering session. I stare out the window, from my cosy bed and just let the wonderings drift in or swirl out of me. Sometimes it’s an idea for a story, sometimes it’s a chat with an ancestor or mythical creature. I often get visited by birds or insects and then I notice the amazing patterns on their feathers or scales, which leads me to wondering what their calls are saying about the season - is it time for rain? I wonder what they have seen from the air on their migrations. If you wonder every day, you will find millions of ways to solve problems. Before I go to sleep, I ask the universe for ideas to help me solve any problem I’ll have in the morning. I always receive the help I need, and I always says ‘thank you’ for the wonders I receive.
What do you think families will love about The Great Un-Wondering of Wilbur Whittaker?
There are a lot of funny-silly characters in this show that do ecstatically whacky things – I think people will be inspired to be a little sillier, to dress more colourfully and even to invent their ultimate milkshake when they get home!
For some children this will be their first time at the theatre. What do you remember about your first time at the theatre?
I first went to the theatre with my Nana, my Gran and my mum. We saw Giselle, the ballet, at His Majesty’s Theatre. I remember thinking the ornate arches and columns of the stage looked like sculpted, whipped cream. All through the ballet I kept looking up and wondering what it would be like to climb up to the roof and jump down on the stage … if you opened your arms and flapped them like wings, would you fly or fall? I was more interested in bouncing on the red velvet seats and the sound of the golden harp in the orchestra pit than I was in the ballet dancers. I loved watching the fake smoke filling the stage floor and I ate a whole box of Maltesers to myself – it was a new kind of bliss!
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be so many things and to keep changing what I was whenever I felt like it and that’s how I live my life really. Some of the things I wanted to be included: a garden centre worker, a teacher, a fashion designer, an orchestra conductor, an author, a dancer, a TV show host for a show about gardening. Like most children, I was already an artist, so I didn’t need to grow up to be that.
What do you love most about directing?
What I love most about directing is the feeling that you are bringing something from imagination into real life. I also love the ‘playing’ that happens when you are creating a story with other artists, there is an excitement-fever that tickles your brain and when that catches on, it’s like wildfire … artists and audiences teleport through this world you have created and then you are free to wonder through time and place and perhaps see yourself, other people and life in a different way.
Directing is a job that makes me think deeply about the stories we tell, the way we tell them and who is telling them. As a director you carry the responsibility to make sure our human minds see the world from many different perspectives. Directing moves me to ask many questions about lands, lives and histories – it’s a deep feeling, a need to care for the world through creativity and sharing.
What’s the best advice you have for someone who wants to be a Director?
The best advice is I can give is PLAY, WONDER and INVENT EVERYDAY. Don’t worry about the right answers in life. Wonder about everything in the world and beyond - a director needs to be endlessly curious, an observer with a very active imagination. Write stories, stare out the window, keep a journal, build mini sets out of recycled materials, dress up, make Stop-Motion videos, go on journeys and become different people, make performances for and with your friends, join a Gecko Ensemble, go to the library and look at all kinds of books, visit museums, walk on country, sit under the moonlight and talk to the stars, wonder who lives there, write down your dreams and GO TO THE THEATRE AS OFTEN AS YOU CAN.
The Great Un-Wondering of Wilbur Whittaker is heavily influenced by 80s music; do you have a favourite 80s song?
“She Blinded Me With Science” by Thomas Dolby.
This song was part of the Pop Synth-New Wave movement in the 1980’s and as a kid I loved the arching, electronic sounds of it. The other reason I like this song is that I identify with the Mad Professor archetype, the wizard, the alchemist, the mystic. Like Wilbur’s wonders, people don’t always understand my ideas straight away and like any good scientist, I know the power of CON-FUSION. First you have to wonder, to NOT-KNOW before you can KNOW anything. Not everything is meant to ‘make sense’. Conventional thinkers often dismiss people who wonder, people like Wilbur. I encourage owning your wonder, owning your oddness. I love the feeling in this song that celebrates being ‘stupefied’, electrified by things we haven’t felt or seen before, electrified by our wonders.
Michelle Hall is also a Barking Gecko Theatre Senior Teaching Artist for Gecko Ensembles