An Interview with UHT’s New Artistic Director, Xanthe Beesley19 March 2018
Xanthe Beesley is a performer and performance-maker who has worked in an array of creative roles. We spoke to her about her vision for Union House Theatre (UHT) and what you can expect for the upcoming year.
Tell us about your background. What unique style will you bring to Union House Theatre?
My background in theatre is pretty varied—I originally studied theatre in Queensland and … London before I moved to Melbourne to study my Masters in Theatre Practice (Animateuring) at the [Victorian College of the Arts]. I was attracted to this course as an opportunity to further explore my interest in devising and composing performance, and a chance to incorporate my background in dance and movement practices. I have a passion for … works that prioritise the body and develop new languages beyond the spoken word. I have worked as a performer, director [and] movement consultant.
I’m interested in all sorts of performance and love many different approaches, particularly devised work, site as inspiration, community engagement [and] cross disciplinary practice. I love … work that finds clever ways to explore social issues. I believe in theatre that starts conversations and connects communities.
During my time at UHT I want to build on the already incredible work that’s happening here and contribute to conversations around movement in theatre, what it means to be an actor who is embodied and where theatre can intersect with dance and other forms to keep experimenting.
What is the importance of student theatre?
In my roles in the industry I’ve seen so many amazing artists come up through student theatre and go on to achieve great things. Student theatre is an extraordinary place where people can try out ideas, where failure is just as important as success; you can meet collaborators you’ll likely have for life [and] do something entirely different to what you’ve ever done before. UHT also helps to facilitate this experience so that it’s accessible, affordable and varied. I think what I love most is that this place is somewhere people can belong even if they’ve never tried theatre before. I love the convergence of people … coming together to find community and creative expression.
Can you tell us about your plans for the theatre this year?
As well as old favourites (acting, directing, theatre and production skills) our workshop season this semester will introduce dance … and explore movement in theatre. We have plans for delivering workshops around access which encourage people to think about accessibility as a creative consideration, not simply something that you … should tack onto the end of a work.
How can students get involved with the theatre?
Our semester one program is full of a diverse collection of workshops from budgeting, dance, learning about power tools and more. If there’s something that you want to take a workshop in but you don’t see it on the list, you should get in touch as we might be able to make it happen. There are also mentorships with all the staff at UHT to help you develop your skills around technical aspects of theatre, marketing or creative leadership. We’ll run our Writer-in-Residence program where students can sign up for a six-month program to try and test writing for performance skills—this will culminate in a play reading festival in semester two. There’s also our UHT-presented performance—a chance to work with industry professionals in a production in the Guild [Theatre]. This semester it will be dance-theatre work … you don’t need to be able to dance however, you just need to be interested in movement. There are also over 20 student theatre groups that produce work throughout the year and we can help you to get in touch with them.
What about for those who might not want to perform?
If you don’t want to perform, there are plenty of other roles—shows need technicians, teams require producers, plays are waiting to be written … and stages must be managed! You can also talk to the University of Melbourne Student Union creative arts officers about their program … with open mic nights, conversations about arts practice, discussions about work and process, there’s a lot going on!