A switch from screen to stage
While Alkinos Tsilimidos already has a distinguished career in film, he is currently branching out in a whole new way as the director of Red, with Colin Friels, for the Melbourne Theatre Company.
"No, none" says Tsilimidos. "I've never directed theatre at all before. I like watching theatre but I've never directed it, so this is a completely new experience. But I'm really liking it, and I'm actually thrilled that I don't have to film it because I can't f**k it up, you know?"
Red is about the famous Russian American abstract painter Mark Rothko. Set in Rothko's New York studio the late 1950s, when he worked on a lucrative commission for the Four Season Restaurant, the play explores themes of aesthetics and commercialism in the modern art world. Written by John Logan, the English production has been captivating audiences in the UK and the US since it was first performed in 2009.
The MTC had been interested in mounting a production since seeing it on Broadway and they offered it to Friels. He and Tsilimidos already have a solid history with Friels having played the lead role in two of Tsilimidos' films, Tom White (2005) and Blind Company (2009). It comes as no surprise then that, despite Tsilimidos' lack of stage experience, Friels should have confidence in his ability to direct it.
"Colin sent me the play and said 'what do you think of this?' He really liked it so I just read it on that kind of basis. Then he told me he was going to do Rothko, and he raised the possibility, 'why don't you direct me in this thing?'"
Tsilimidos admits he knew very little about Rothko before he read the play, but he liked it immediately, appreciating the pared-back drama of working with just two characters, and seeing their development throughout its course.
"When I first read it, I loved it. Its philosophy is the kind of thing that I guess I base my career on, in terms of what integrity means to me. And Rothko is kind of an extreme character, there's such truth in what he says and I think that's what I responded to first of all."
While Friel's casting in the lead was a formality, the character of Rothko's, assistant Ken required careful consideration. The MTC wanted to do auditions, which Tsilimidos thought was a good idea, and they saw a quite a bit of young Melbourne talent. One they didn't see was Andre de Vanny, who had moved recently from Melbourne to the US.
"I was immediately thinking, 'well, who could play the other role?' It was very specific, it needed a certain physicality, it needed a whole bunch of stuff. Andre de Vanny, who was actually living in LA at the time, sent a tape in of his audition to the MTC. I know Andre, I had taught him at a place called 16th Street, so I was aware of his work and amongst the whole group, I think he is the perfect choice."
Now they are in rehearsals, Tsilimidos is enjoying the process. While some aspects of directing theatre require different emphasis, his experience in film has obviously provided him with plenty of relevant resources to draw on.
"In theatre, the text is god so we honour it in that way, and make the text work. Film has almost a complete disregard for the text in many ways, you work from characterisation, from ground up. But ultimately, rehearsal is about finding the truth of the drama, the truth of the characters, so when I rehearse film, I work in a similar way."
As an actors' director, he's never been afraid to go on the journey with his performers, and it's this that best allows him to make the transition from screen to stage so comfortably. Ultimately, it is his process that qualifies him most for the task at hand.
"Theatre is an actor's medium, I can only throw my ideas in and help Colin and Andre find the truth of the text."
Once Red hits the stage next week, Tsilimidos will have time to slow down a little and consider his next move, but right now his head is too full to think clearly about it.
"I'm not entirely sure to be honest, I've got a few things planned, there's a few things I've been working on. But I think maybe a holiday in Greece, I'll go back there for a little while and work out what I'll do next."
Red is at the MTC from 26 March to 5 May, for more information contact mtc.com.au or (03) 8688 0800.
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