Alumni collaborate on Asia TOPA's The Seen and Unseen

The Howling Girls (Sydney Chamber Opera/Carriageworks, Tokyo Festival). Photo by Zan Wimberley.
The Howling Girls (Sydney Chamber Opera/Carriageworks, Tokyo Festival). Photo by Zan Wimberley.

Eugyeene Teh and Adena Jacobs met at the VCA in 2007. 13 Years later, they’re collaborating with fellow Australian theatremaker Jenny Hector, Indonesian artist Kamila Andini and Choreographer Ida Ayu Wayan Satyani on The Seen and Unseen, for Asia TOPA 2020. They speak about their experience of being back on campus after all these years.

By Mireille Stahle

Can you tell me about how you met?

Adena: Eugyeene and I met at the VCA in 2007. I was doing a Master of Theatre (Directing) and Eugyeene was doing a Master of Design for Performance. We both completed our Masters in 2008, which is when we first collaborated on a production of Sarah Kane’s Cleansed. We were both in the early stages of our artist practices and discovering our relationship to theatre – it was mainly instinct and chemistry which brought us together.

Titus Andronicus for Bell Shakespeare, photo by Brett Boardman

We co-created a vision – a collision of perversion with beauty, cruelty and fragility – an exploration of queer bodies and identities, and a desire to take an audience to the extreme. For the work to succeed, it had to be deeply unlikeable, but by collaborating on such a risky project, it laid the groundwork for our ongoing creative relationship.

Eugyeene: Cleansed really pushed my boundaries as a designer, but it allowed us to develop a collaborative language and an artistic vision. Unbeknownst to us, we would still tap into that working relationship throughout the following decade.

Cleansed (2008), Victorian College of the Arts. Photo by Eugyeene Teh.

What projects have you worked on together since?

Eugyeene: We’ve worked on numerous shows together since, from Elektra at the Dog Theatre, which was the size of a small bedroom to the last show we collaborated on, Titus Andronicus for Bell Shakespeare. We reminisced that Jane Montgomery Griffiths and Josh Price have been in both and it felt like we had come full circle, but on subject matters that were very similar. With each project we work on, Adena poses seemingly impossible provocations, that get more impossible as we progress, but we always revel in the challenges. Each work builds on the last so the past couple have been most thrilling, including The Howling Girls.

Adena: Since Cleansed at the VCA, we’ve worked together on Elektra (Fraught Outfit/The Dog Theatre), Exil (Sydney Chamber Opera/Carriageworks), Book of Exodus – Part II (Fraught Outfit/Theatre Works), The Howling Girls (Sydney Chamber Opera/Carriageworks, Tokyo Festival), and Titus Andronicus (Bell Shakespeare).

With The Seen and the Unseen (Komunitas Salihara Arts Centre in Jakarta, The Esplanade in Singapore, and Asia TOPA, Melbourne), the dynamic is somewhat different, as my role has changed from director to dramaturg. It was a fascinating opportunity for us both to work with the amazing Indonesian film and theatre maker Kamila Andini.

Book of Exodus – Part II (Fraught Outfit/Theatre Works). Photo by Pia Johnson.

Do you often find yourself collaborating with alumni?

Adena: Yes – so many of my close collaborators, both designers and performers, are alumni of the VCA. For me it was a really important way to connect with a community of theater makers.

Eugyeene: It’s believed that the VCA isn’t so much a place where you learn skills, but a place you meet your future collaborators. In our case it’s turned out to be quite true.

How does it feel to be back on campus after all these years?

Eugyeene: I just had a surreal déjà vu moment. Maybe there is something in the air.

Adena: It’s great to be back in Southbank, even though it makes me feel suddenly old! I did have the opportunity to direct the third year students in 2018, so I have re-connected with the school fairly recently. It’s exciting to be working in the Martyn Myer Arena which is a beautiful new space.

The Seen and Unseen exists where contemporary Indonesian dance and physical story-telling converge – adapted by Indonesian artist Kamila Andini from her acclaimed film of the same name. See The Seen and Unseen as part of Asia TOPA from Thursday 20 February – Saturday 29 February at the Martyn Myer Arena, Victorian College of the Arts. Tickets available now.

The University of Melbourne is a proud Supporting Partner of Asia TOPA 2020.