Sam in rehearsal for STC's 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses', 2012, photographer: Grant Sparkes-Carroll.

Guest Post: Sam Strong (GDipDramArt (Direction), 2004)

Award-winning theatre director Sam Strong is the current Artistic Director of the Griffin Theatre Company. Here, he reflects on his time at the Victorian College of the Arts, and his upcoming appointment at the Melbourne Theatre Company.

 

Sam Strong has recently been appointed the Associate Artistic Director of the Melbourne Theatre Company. He is currently Artistic Director of Australia’s leading new writing theatre, Griffin Theatre Company in Sydney. Prior to Griffin, Sam worked with Neil Armfield as Literary Associate at Company B Belvoir. Prior to that, he co-founded Red Stitch writers and was the dramaturg in residence at Red Stitch.

STC's 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses', 2012, photographer: Brett Boardman.
STC’s ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’, 2012, photographer: Brett Boardman.

Most recently, Sam directed an acclaimed production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses for the Sydney Theatre Company. Earlier in 2012, he directed a production of The Boys for Sydney Festival which broke Griffin box office records, and was nominated for Best Play and Best Director awards at the Helpmanns.

Sam’s other directing credits include: Speaking in Tongues and And No More Shall We Part for Griffin; David Hare’s response to the GFC, The Power of Yes for Company B Belvoir; Madagascar for Melbourne Theatre Company;  and the multi-award winning and national touring Red Sky Morning for Red Stitch.

Josh McConville in Griffin's production of 'The Boys', photographer: Brett Boardman.
Josh McConville in Griffin’s production of ‘The Boys’, photographer: Brett Boardman.

Sam completed the director’s course at the VCA in 2004.

Sam’s reflection

The VCA gave me three things that I am deeply grateful for.

The first is an awareness of the importance of intuition in making art. I arrived at the VCA a bit too serious for my own good. I’d come literally straight from practicing as a lawyer. In fact, I vividly remember looking out the window of one of the drama studios and seeing the office I had inhabited in 101 Collins Street the week before. Not surprisingly, I had an overly cerebral approach to my work. Fortunately for me, I encountered some very inspiring teachers. Lindy Davies’ process was a revelation. I remember sitting in a darkened room in a hushed and reverential silence as some students demonstrated dropping in and abstracting in front of the whole school. It was erotic, dangerous, magical and a tiny bit silly all at once. It unlocked something in me. Suddenly I saw a path that was language and actor focused and gave rise to lateral, imaginative, and memorable moments.

Later, I was lucky enough to assistant direct Lindy at STC as my first gig out of school. Back at school, Richard Murphet and Jenny Kemp sowed the seeds of years of investigation by grilling me, not on where I wanted to be in the industry, but on what sort of artist I wanted to be. Meanwhile, Tanya Gerstle inspired me with her aggressively physical approach to performance and fluid storytelling. I even contributed some electric guitar to one of her second year productions.

Louisa Mignone, Cheree Cassidy and Eryn Jean Norvill in Griffin's production of 'The Boys', photographer: Brett Boardman.
Louisa Mignone, Cheree Cassidy and Eryn Jean Norvill in Griffin’s production of ‘The Boys’, photographer: Brett Boardman.

The second thing VCA gave me is a community of artists. On last count, I think I’ve worked professionally with over 30 VCA graduates. Meeting a VCA grad in the industry is a bit like meeting an Australian overseas. You know you have something in common. But in the case of VCA that shared philosophy runs much deeper. Regardless of whether you were at the school at the same time, you can assume a deep seriousness about craft, a can-do autonomy that gets on with it and doesn’t look to others for answers, and a profound faith in the importance and potential of theatre. This for me is the most important thing. Drama school is a heady, beautiful, deeply romantic place where every theatrical encounter aims to be sublime. The longer this shadow is cast over your professional life the better.

The third thing VCA gave me is a wife. By that I mean I met my now wife in the foyer of the drama school. I was directing my graduation production, a version of Strindberg’s Miss Julie. Katherine Slattery had graduated from the acting course in 2000. She was there to see 2001 grad and friend Luke Mullins (who was playing Miss Julie). Katherine and I struck up a conversation in the foyer after my show. We were still talking when we had to go in to the next show in the director’s season triple bill. I asked if it was ok if I sat next to her. We’ve sat next to each other in a lot of shows since.

Sam Strong, photographer: Katie Kaars
Sam Strong, photographer: Katie Kaars

 

A version of this article originally appeared on Channel, the Faculty’s previous publishing platform.