Five questions for Chris Kohn, Coordinator of the Master of Directing for Performance

Chris Kohn. Photo by Giulia McGauran.
Chris Kohn. Photo by Giulia McGauran.

Victorian College of the Arts tutor and PhD candidate Chris Kohn is currently researching the connections between collaborative theatre creation, ethics and intellectual disability. He told us about how his interest in these areas shaped his career as an award-winning stage director and dramaturg.

As told to Kelly Southworth

What inspired you to work with children in theatre, and particularly children with disabilities?

I was inspired by the work of Rose Myers when she was Artistic Director at Arena Theatre Company, which produces theatre for young people, in the 2000s. The Artistic Associate role at Arena was my first permanent job in theatre and Rose was a great mentor. I like working with people who have different perspectives from me, including people with different abilities, cultural backgrounds and ages. The more perspectives and experiences in the room, the more interesting the work.

What do you consider your most valuable skill?

Even though I rarely play music these days, I think learning drums, other instruments and the rudiments of musical composition has really influenced the way I direct and teach. I tend to think and feel in terms of rhythm. This is a useful skill in theatre and performance.

What’s the best thing about working at the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music?

So much to say here! Firstly, the people – the teaching staff, professional staff and of course the students. The culture at the Faculty is characterised by curiosity, rigour and respect. It’s also an exciting time at the Southbank campus with new buildings going up and new courses being developed and implemented. We’re currently addressing some big questions around things like inclusion, access, diversity, art form development, and the changing place of theatre and performance in society. The other great thing about the Faculty is being right in the heart of one of the world’s great cities.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Independence: it’s a myth. No one is truly independent. Dependence is a core aspect of human existence. We all need each other, and we are only as good as the people around us. Everything we might achieve is built on the achievements of people who came before. It’s something I try to teach my students because the idea of the lone genius/auteur persists in the theatre, and it’s a fantasy – an ideologically-charged fantasy.

Who are your favourite writers?

Lately, I have been reading a lot of Michael BerubĂ©. He is a brilliant thinker in the field of disability, ethics and art. In the recently published The Secret Life of Stories, he demonstrates how notions of ability and disability are embedded throughout literature – and how understanding disability can provide new ways of understanding narrative. Like me, he has a son with Down syndrome, which has deeply informed his way of seeing the world. I’m always on the lookout for his next publication.

Chris Kohn is a Tutor in Directing and the Coordinator of the Master of Directing for Performance at the Victorian College of the Arts. He is also a PhD candidate at the VCA, researching the nexus between collaborative theatre creation, ethics, authorship and intellectual disability. Many of the works Chris has directed have received prestigious awards. In 2000 he co-founded Stuck Pigs Squealing Theatre and has been its Artistic Director since.