MANY THANKS, TEAM TREEHOUSE!

The 26-Storey Treehouse cast in full flight. Matthew Lilley, James Lee, Andrew Johnston and Eliza Logan. Photo: Branco Gaia.

The 26-Storey Treehouse cast in full flight. Matthew Lilley, James Lee, Andrew Johnston and Eliza Logan. Photo: Branco Gaica.



Bear with me here…I want to use a blog post to pay tribute to my Treehouse play work colleagues, three of whom have just done their final performance after nearly a year of involvement in the project.

Touring a production for family audiences month after month places enormous demands on the actors and the stage crew.

It’s easy enough for the writer. I knock out a play script based on what has become Australia’s best-selling series of books of the past two years. Not just kids’ books – any books. (Thanks Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton for trusting us to make them into good shows.) It is a responsibility I take it very seriously, but really it is just an enjoyable way to spend my time.

The cast contribute enormously to this process. During a workshop week with the actors, producer, director, designer, prop/puppet maker, sound designer and lighting designer, we experiment with staging ideas. Inevitably actors come up with great lines, mostly funny ones, that I cheerfully type into the script and take the credit for later.

The  super production team: From left Andy Griffiths (author), Mark Thompson (designer), Nick Higgins (lighting designer), Vanessa Wright (stage manager), Kay Yasugi (prop and puppet maker), Christine Dunstan (producer), Julian Louis (artistic director), Ross Johnstone (sound designer)  and Liesel Badorrek (director).

The super production team: From left Andy Griffiths (author), Mark Thompson (designer), Nick Higgins (lighting designer), Vanessa Wright (stage manager), Kay Yasugi (prop and puppet maker), Christine Dunstan (producer), Julian Louis (artistic director), Ross Johnstone (sound designer) and Liesel Badorrek (director).

Rehearsing the open shark surgery scene with standby props. Andrew Johnston, Eliza Logan and Matthew Lilley.

Rehearsing the open shark surgery scene with standby props. Andrew Johnston, Eliza Logan and Matthew Lilley.

Following the workshop week, the production team have several months to incorporate the things we have learned and to solve the production problems we have identified.

While we apply our minds to this in a relaxed and comfortable way, the cast and touring crew are travelling around Australia, performing the first play in the series The 13-Storey Treehouse. It’s a gruelling schedule, with up to 12 performances a week and often travelling days and several ‘bump-ins’ to new theatres as well.

The Treehouse shows are just an hour long, but highly energetic, with singing, dancing and physical slapstick. The cast of four are rarely off the stage. It’s the equivalent of a good hour in the gym, under hot lights, wearing sometimes uncomfortable costumes. There are usually two and sometimes three performances a day.

Of course lots of jobs are stressful and demanding, and theatre is really just play after all. But in these relatively small scale productions there are no understudies, and the show must go on. Sick, injured or tired actors have to turn up with a smile on their faces every day and pretend to each new audience that they’re loving being out there with them.

Matt Lilley (Terry) gets samples one of Edward Scooperhands' special ice creams - flavour 79.

Matt Lilley (Terry) samples one of (James Lee) Edward Scooperhands’ special ice-creams – flavour 79. Silly stuff, but performing it is serious. Photo: Branco Gaica.

They get few mainstream media reviews. Since most performances are during the day, often in smaller regional towns, it’s hard to get directors and casting agents to come and see the work, so it does little to increase the actors’ profiles and lead to future roles.

On the other hand, the popularity of the Treehouse books means theatres are nearly always packed with enthusiastic children. Their energy feeds the performance so it’s hard not to give a full strength show.

At the end of the 13-Storey tour, the cast have just a week off before jumping into full rehearsals for The 26-Storey Treehouse. It has just completed an enormously successful run in the Sydney Opera House. Next it will tour Australia.

The Sydney Opera House - it's been OUR theatre for  the past month. I still get a big buzz every time I approach it.

The Sydney Opera House – it’s been OUR theatre for the past month. I still get a big buzz every time I approach it.

I know what a lot of skill, dedication and professionalism it takes to keep a show up to standard and this team has been outstanding in this respect. Thank you all!

The Treehouse cast, Eliza Logan, Matt Lilley, James Lee and Andrew Johnson.

The Treehouse cast, Eliza Logan, Matt Lilley, James Lee and Andrew Johnston.

While three cast members will take their well-earned break, the show will go on. I’m really looking forward to working with the new team, Luke Carson, Freya Pragt and John Shearman. The 26-Storey Treehouse will tour all states of Australia during the next seven months. For information about when it will be in a theatre near you, CLICK HERE.

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