Dell’Arte with Scott Parker from Matriark

Dell’Arte with Scott Parker from Matriark

Scott Parker and I rented desks next to each other at the Creative + Business space during 2016. Sponsored through Creative City Sydney we were both invited to work there by one of Australia’s foremost creative business specialists, Monica Davidson. (6 minute read)

Scott is the Creative Director of
Matriark Theatre, which he runs with partner Kathryn Roberts Parker, the theatre’s CEO.

A Sydney-based arts organisation, Matriark is dedicated to creating and facilitating new visually stunning work that takes people on a journey of the imagination. A theatre for young audiences, offering incursions and workshops, Matriark builds worlds made of stories:

Matriark exists to empower individuals and communities to tell their stories by crafting magical experiences and running workshops that give people creative tools to build their own worlds. It’s all about creating intimate experiences for audiences of all ages, blending puppets, live music and storytelling. – Scott Parker, 2018.

Dark dell’’Arte – a gothic reimagining of Commedia dell’’Arte. Cast: Alicia Gonzalez; Alice Keohavong; Natalia Ladyko. Photo © Robert Catto, June 2017.

The Matriark team includes Designer, Aleisa Jelbart and Associate Producer, Madeleine McWilliam. Together, they invite everyone to explore life through a lens of enchantment, delight and imagination.

I sat down to talk with Scott about Matriark Theatre, and the two years since we’d sat next to each other.

I realise – putting this interview together – I’m not fully across where it all began for you. I recall you were gone from your desk for a while to play a caterpillar that had some nutritional issues…

(Laughs) Yes, that’s right. I was playing several roles in The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s tour of Australia and New Zealand. It takes me away a few months each year.

But going back in time, I had some formal acting training at Wesley Institute and attended L’Ecole Philippe Gaulier in 2013 and 2014 in Paris.

Can you tell me a bit about why and when Matriark came together, and how it runs?

After graduation I made some work with people from acting school. We’d done a few shows, thought it was going well, and decided to start a theatre company together.

You could say we started the theatre over a beer. It was really just a shared desire to make work that’s visual in nature and included masks and puppets. It’s been a very organic process.

The original members left, then Kat and Aleisa joined me to create Matriark. From ‘let’s make a show’ we’re now an incorporated, non-profit association with a Board of Directors.

Our Board includes members with expertise in creating socially engaged work with young people, as well as UX design. We’ve created theatre for some incredibly diverse audiences, everything from schools audiences, live art and even a political piece in response to Australia’s 2016 election.

Much dell’’Arte About Nothing – the mad, bad, sad world of the Bard –Commedia style… – a hilarious mash-up of Shakespeare’’s works, presented in the Commedia dell’’Arte tradition. Photo © Robert Catto, September, 2016

In the last couple of years, though, we’ve settled on being a theatre company with a focus on visually stunning work for children and young people.

We each moved desks from Creative + Business at similar times. GkJE went in-house for several corporate clients, while you and Kathryn went into a library – literally the old Waterloo Library! Tell me about that.

Yeah, we were successful in applying for one of City of Sydney’s Live/Work Residency Programs, based at the Waterloo Library.

We’ve been living behind the library in the renovated caretakers apartment since late 2016 – a three bedroom flat! The space has been large enough for us to have an office, a music studio and rehearsal space.

It’s meant we’ve also been able to forge strong partnerships with City of Sydney Libraries who’ve offered us workshops and shows throughout 2017 and 2018.

We’ve even been able to create a ‘lo-fi’, theatrical book adaptation, which we’re presenting at Customs House and libraries around Sydney this month.

The residency experience has been remarkable. It’s allowed us to build an audience for whom traditional theatre experiences may not be readily accessible. That’s really important for me. Creating those experiences is core to my vision for the company.

Who is Matriark’s audience?

Perfect segway! At the moment it’s young families with a strong core of people interested in our subsidised programs – those offered through libraries and partner organisations.

We also run an education program. As a result, we have teachers and a faithful cadre of other young artists following and interested in the work we do.

Tribe Of Kids – an adaptation of the children’s book by Lane Smith. Performers: Scott Parker, Madeleine Photo © Robert Catto, December 2017.

What type of productions interest you most?

I’d have to say productions with puppets, physical performance, mask, visual spectacle. But not at the expense of taking away from the heart or telling of a great story.

I love theatre that treads the fine line between giving the audience the space to engage on their own terms, while encouraging personal investment. I also love theatre in small spaces. One of my favourite theatre experiences was a show in the back of a caravan with an audience of just eight people.

I’m a big fan of ‘lo-fi’ spectacle, so I like to use overhead projectors, recycled materials and traditional puppetry in my work.

My current obsession is with folk performance. I travelled to Bulgaria to experience the Surva Festival of Masquerade Games where Mummers – folk performers – dressed in incredible, traditional costumes, they perform and parade through the streets.

In a world where connection doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be in the same space as someone else, I think live performance is an important and necessary art form.

Masks feature prominently in Matriark’s work.

Who puts your programs together, and when do you typically work on them? Is it an annual ‘think tank’, or do your ideas generate over time?

The program comes about organically for the most part. As a small theatre organisation, if a presenter or partner approaches us with an idea, we can be responsive and work very quickly.

On the other hand, there are projects we spend years creating, then look for opportunities to present them. These projects come out of a group-devised process, one to which I normally bring an initial idea.

Are there any particular stories you’d like to produce, audiences you’re trying to reach?

There are a couple of children’s books I have my eyes on, and would love to produce at some point in the future.

For our original work, the storytelling emerges from the images we play with – very often we start with an image and ask: “what’s the story this image is telling?” In that way there is no ‘one story’ I want to tell.

Stories slowly reveal themselves to us, we just jump on board and bring them to life.

What projects are you working on this year?

We’ve been out and about in Sydney with: Monstrosities, Tribe of Kids, and are currently working on a new collaboration in Cootamundra called The Secret World – a program that will run over two years.

Tell me more

Monstrosities is a new public art piece for festivals and art fairs, which we took to this year’s Art Month and The Other Art Fair in March. Performers in big, shaggy suits move from subtle ritualistic dance in under-appreciated spaces to large, amazingly ostentatious performance moments.

It’s a response to Sydney’s changing neighbourhoods, which reflects the tension of transforming spaces and communities, drawing attention to the old while seeking reconciliation with the new.

We see it as a chance for us to explore the way in which communities perceive themselves and their neighbours throughout the process of urban renewal.

Tribe of Kids is a Matriark theatre adaptation from the book by Lane Smith:

When a young boy embarks on a journey alone . . .

he trails a colony of penguins, undulates in a smack of jellyfish,

clasps hands with a constellation of stars, naps for a night in a bed of clams,

and follows a trail of shells, home to his tribe of friends.

Tribe Of Kids – Composer: Kathryn Parker; Designer: Aleisa Jelbart; Musician: George Wills. Photo © Robert Catto, December 2017.

Awarded the 2017 Kate Greenaway Medal, it’s a whimsical, expressive, perfectly-paced story that plays with language as much as it embodies imagination. We bring it to life using a magical combination of live music, shadow puppetry and physical theatre. It’s on this month as part of our library touring program.

Our big project for the year will be Urza and the Song in the Dark – an underground adventure story for families told with glorious shadow visuals and live music. We’ll be presenting this in September in a little boutique showing before a larger season in 2019.

The Secret World will see us collaborate with a number of schools, a regional arts centre, and tech company Coder Academy. Stay tuned, it’s still kinda secret!

Cootamundra, New South Wales.

Where do you see yourself and Matriark in five years time?

We’ve made leaps and bounds organisationally since we started, so my hopes are that we can land some operational funding for a couple of extra staff members.

I’d also love to have a permanent studio for us to work from and a regular touring circuit for our shows. We’ll see how things go – we dream and talk big but hopefully maintain perspective in all of that.