After two sell out seasons at Sydney’s The Old Fitz Theatre as well as Melbourne’s Metanoia Theatre, and most recently at Theatre Works in Melbourne, the Australian Theatre Company and Skylight Theatre Company partnered to bring this popular production to Los Angeles. “Swansong” has landed well with audiences here, and with critics who seem to have a particular fondness for the strength of the performance given by the young actor named André de Vanny.
“It isn’t often that one discovers brilliance on the stage, and it is stunning when it hits you. Such was the experience unfolding in the performance of an Australian actor unknown to most Americans: André de Vanny, in a magnificent stunningly successful performance” – Edge Media Network
Pulled from the streets of 1960’s Ireland, this gritty mono drama tells the story of Austin “Occi” Byrne, abused and isolated, violent and vulnerable, flawed and searching for redemption. This is theatre that doesn’t settle for easy answers.
So, we asked André for answers that brought him to this project:
Ester: Why were you drawn to this story, and to the role?André: It’s the story of an outsider, deeply flawed, striving to overcome his demons. I was drawn as much to its violence as I was to its tenderness. “Occi’s” journey gives a rare insight into someone struggling with mental illness. All too often, in the stories we tell, we reduce people simply to being good or bad, but life is messy and complicated.
This story gives us the whole picture. It is a harrowing journey that runs the gamut of human emotion and experience, from dizzying highs to crushing lows. Despite everything he faces, Occi is an eternal optimist and his is a story of survival and hope. It inspires compassion from those willing to come along for the ride.
Ester: How is it different when preparing for a solo performance like this, rather than when you are working with an ensemble cast?
André: With an ensemble cast it feels like you could throw a curve ball and take risks and there would always be someone there opposite to catch you. I have had many different experiences on stage. In the Australian tour of “Warhorse,” the whole rehearsal process focused on finding cast complicité. We spent months building this ensemble atmosphere and it was a beautiful thing, this joint exercise. In John Logan’s two-character play “Red” I was fortunate enough to play opposite Colin Friels where there was a kind of art imitating life thing going on. In the play I was the artist Mark Rothko’s fictional assistant Ken. In life, I was an apprentice actor, learning the ropes from an old theatre beast. We were able to both challenge and support each other on stage.
The first time I performed Swansong in Sydney, it dawned on me, five minutes before curtain that I really was on my own here. I panicked. I couldn’t remember a single word from the first page of the play. I rummaged around looking for my script backstage but it was too late, critics and peers took their seats as the lights slowly dimmed. I stepped out into the lights and realized right away that I wasn’t alone at all. This piece is a shared experience between my character and the audience. The major difference I have found between a solo piece like this and a regular ensemble play is the concentration required.
Ester: How did this production come to be produced at the Skylight Theatre?
André: I have been hearing amazing things about the L.A based Australian Theatre Company. Luckily, we had friends in common. I connected with the guys at ATC. The Skylight Theatre Company had a great existing relationship with ATC and after responding to the play, Swansong, they chose to come on board as a producing partner. Things just fell into place. The Skylight Theatre itself is such a beautiful space and everyone from the company has been so supportive of this show.
Ester: What is your favorite part about living in, and performing in Los Angeles?
André: Los Angeles is a unique and diverse city. I read somewhere that there are more artists per capita living in L.A right now than there has been in any other city in human history. Everyone here has a dream they’re chasing. That’s inspiring. I love performing in Los Feliz, it’s such a great little artistic pocket of the city. Somehow it feels more conducive to theatre than other parts of the city. There’s a particularly creative vibe that makes it very exciting.
Ester: Who influenced you the most in your acting career?
André: Perhaps I learned most from the Australian actor Colin Friels in the play “Red.” It really was life changing for me. I was influenced by what he taught me, by the play, and by the whole experience. Since then, theatre has become my life for the most part.
I have also been lucky enough to study with some of the great acting teachers, Ivana Chubbuck, Larry Moss, and the late Elizabeth Kemp.
Ester: What is your next project?
André: I have a film, “The Combination 2,” coming out next year as well as continuing in “Swansong” while touring Australia, London, and New York throughout 2019.
Greg Carroll, who directed “Swansong,” has been suggesting that I do “Hamlet.” It is something that both scares and excites me. It would require almost a full year of prep but I am pretty excited to begin that journey. It’s one of the greatest texts of all time for a reason. Its themes are timeless. Obviously, for an actor, it’s a road well trodden but every actor has something new to bring to it. In some ways it is a ‘right of passage.’
Swansong runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30pm; Sundays at 2:00pm; and Mondays at 8:00pm through October 7, 2018. Skylight Theatre is located at 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave, LA, 90027. Tickets are $15 – $32. Reservations: (866) 811-4111, atctix.org. or here