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An Oak Tree - John Leary Interview

Author: Darryn King
Monday, 28 July 2008
It's every actor's worst nightmare - walking out onto the stage and realising you don't know your next line. Yet seasoned actors of the likes of Brendan Cowell, Wayne Blair, Robin McLeavy, Jacki Weaver and Leah Purcell - not to mention Chas from the Chaser - will be doing just that in the current Belvoir Theatre production of An Oak Tree. Darryn King spoke to John Leary, who will be performing alongside a different actor every night in this highly unusual play.

First of all, can you tell us a little bit about the two characters-
I play a stage hypnotist who accidentally killed a young girl with his car recently. He's doing his best to move on and continue his work. But it's difficult. The invited actor plays the father of the dead girl. He's come to the hypnotist's show and volunteers to be hypnotised. That's kinda all I can reveal about the characters without giving too much away.

Is it invigorating for you as an actor- Is it daunting for the invited actors-
It is an amazing concept. I'd say it's probably equal parts invigorating and daunting for both of us. Although I hope I can make it as enjoyable as possible for the other actor. That's my job, really.

Will you meet the invited actors before the productions, and, if so, will you be able to discuss the play, or are you sworn to secrecy-
The other actor and I will meet up about an hour before the show starts to sort out some of the technical issues. And then I think I'll make them a cup of tea and encourage them not to get too nervous and to enjoy themselves. But I can't tell them anything about the play. It's very important that they don't know what's going to happen.

Are the invited actors therefore disallowed to attend earlier performances of the play-
That's right. And I'll know if they try and sneak in. I do hope that they come and see it after they've done it though. That would be really interesting.

Tim Crouch mentions that the show does not actually require the invited actor to improvise... Is that right- How do you, and the text, push the invited actor in the direction you want him or her to go-
There is no improvisation at all in the traditional sense. The actor is never required to make anything up. As my character is a hypnotist, it's as though I'm constantly giving the actor 'suggestions' which are in fact very specific directions on what to say and where to stand. But the 'how' is up to them. I think the interesting thing for the both the actor and the audience will be the unfolding of the story.

Do you foresee that your role will sometimes be to 'save' the invited actor, or help him or her out-
I don't think 'save' is the right word. If I'm doing my job right, the actor will never be in any danger. But the play is very much about them, so yes, I'll being doing all that I can to help them out.


WHAT: An Oak Tree at the Belvoir Theatre
WHEN: Now - Sunday 10 August
MORE: belvoirtheatre.com.au

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