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Theatre Alive: Johan Padan & the Discovery of the Americas

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See article in its original context here by Theatre Alive.

Monday Musings with Steve Gome

Steve Gome is a seasoned actor and director, and was most recently seen on Melbourne stages in the role of Schlomo Herzl in George Tabori’s Mein Kampf. Now about to step out onto the stage at fortyfivedownstairs in his latest season of Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas, we nabbed some time with him to talk about Dario Fo, one man shows, and“Doc” Neeson

Tell us a bit about the show. What’s your role within it all?

The play is a fantastical tale. On the one hand it is loosely based on a historical characters and places, on the other it can move into territory like Gulliver’s Travels.
There are all sorts of characters in the play; kings and queens, judges, sailors, priests, a shaman and a couple of chiefs, as well as pigs, parrots, turkeys, monkeys and iguanas?!
As a monologue, my role is to bring all of the characters to life and to bring the audience with me on the adventure.

What do you hope audiences will take away from the show?

My introduction to Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas was seeing Mario Pirovano perform it at the Melbourne Festival in 2003. It made a deep and lasting impression on me. The play was with me for the ten years leading up to me first performing it myself. and it is still very much alive in me now.

My hope is that the audiences will take away their own memories of having been transported to a particular place, having laughed at a truth unexpectedly revealed, and having a sense of having enjoyed an encounter with the beguiling simplicity of story-telling.

Dario Fo is known as a very political writer, can you give a bit of the history behind this particular work?

This play was conceived as a response to the official celebrations of Columbus that marked the 500th anniversary of his famous voyage of 1492. Columbus is portrayed as a bit of a buffoon who doesn’t really know where he is going, and who is mocked when he returns from the Indies because he doesn’t bring back any gold.

At the same time, it can be seen as a continuation of themes which have appeared in Dario Fo’s earlier works; the corrupting effect of power (religious and political), the voice and memory of the common people sustained by a spoken tradition, and the depiction of female sensuality as natural and delightful.

By the time he devised Johan Padan and the Discovery of the AmericasDario Fo had already written and performed a number of celebrated lengthy monologues of which Mistero Buffo is the best-known. He performed this play for only a few months (in his mid-sixties!).

One-person shows can be quite stressful, with no one else on stage to rely on – how do you prepare for this kind of performance? Any tales of performances where something went awry?

Big picture – I’ve spent a lot of time thinking what the play is about, what draws me to it and what audiences might find in it. I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the world of the play, learning the lines and the physical vocabulary of the play, and seeing how it all comes together.

Before going on – cardiovascular exercise, a hearty meal, looking over some lines or physical transitions, tea and stillness, then stretching.

I can’t remember any getting lost in any performance. Tongue-tied? Winded? Light-headed? Yes. A vague sense that my pants (or accent) were slipping? Occasionally. Thirsty? Absolutely! But not lost.

Touch wood.

Who inspires you, and why?

Two people whose lives and example continue to influence the course of my life are Bernard Neeson and Primo Levi.

Doc” Neeson and The Angels as examples of creative energy (volatile, theatrical, enigmatic), the search for new forms of expression and the obstinate stamina demanded by a life on the road.

Primo Levi as an example of the possibility of transcendence – the ability to distil years of horror into wisdom.

You can catch Steve in Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas, playing at fortyfivedownstairs from the 4th of February, 2015.

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