Queensland Theatre | Meet Belloo Creative, our Resident Company
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Meet Belloo Creative, our Resident Company

Brisbane-based theatre company Belloo Creative is made up of four unique women who have partnered to produce diverse, original, contemporary works for the stage. With backgrounds not only in the arts, but also journalism, academia and marketing, director Caroline Dunphy, playwright Dr Katherine Lyall-Watson, dramaturg Dr Kathryn Kelly and producer/general manager Danielle Shankey have the perfect recipe for a theatre company. Now at the end of a two-year residency with Queensland Theatre, meet this quartet of inspirational artistic leaders...

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How and when did the four of you come together to form Belloo Creative, and how did you know each other beforehand?

Katherine Lyall-Watson: It was the start of 2013 ... I’d written a play (Motherland) and was looking for a director who could understand the world I was trying to create. The Good Room playwright and director, Dan Evans recommended Caroline Dunphy — amazingly, although we’d both been working in theatre for 20 years, our paths had never crossed before. I was already working with Kathryn Kelly as a dramaturg and loving her guidance. Kathryn knew Danielle Shankey because they’d worked together on Interplay years before, and Dan and I were colleagues at Brisbane City Council. When the four of us came together, everything clicked into place and the electricity was palpable. We’ve never looked back.

Barbara Lowing in Motherland (2016). Photo: Jackie Ryan

Where does the name Belloo come from?

Katherine Lyall-Watson: Belloo was the nickname given to my great-grandmother, Beryl Clarence. When we started the company, Caro and I were keen to find a way to honour the women in our ancestry and we decided that Belloo would make a memorable company name.

Does everyone get a say in the projects you pursue, and in how the company is run?

Kathryn Kelly: We describe our process as ‘lock-step’ so we try to make decisions jointly — but there are also really clear roles. Katherine and Caroline are the Co-Artistic Directors, as well as playwright and director respectively, so they really shape the artistry and aesthetic of our work. Dan and I are the responders. Me, dramaturgically — often seeking to provide context or think about it from the audience perspective, while Dan is our truth bomb — she always helps us to see how the work needs to be clearer or stronger. We describe it as the ‘power of four’ — somehow the alchemy of working together makes us so much more powerful than as individual creatives.

One part of your ethos is “bringing stories out of the shadows”. Some of your previous productions have dramatised the real-life experiences of Australian women such as the story of Nell Tritton — the Brisbane socialite who married Russia’s overthrown and exiled Prime Minister Alexander Kerensky — in the award-winning Motherland. How do you come across the ideas for such historical stories, especially as they are, for the most part, little-known?

Caroline Dunphy: Historically, women have never received the acknowledgment or commendations for their achievements that men have. Belloo started with the vision of honouring women in our ancestry as well as women who had disappeared from history books. The idea for Motherland initially came from Russian researcher Elena Volkova, who ended up becoming a character in the play.

Our most recent production, Rovers, which premiered in 2018 at NORPA (Northern Rivers Performing Arts Centre) and was part of Brisbane Festival, essentially honours local actors Roxanne McDonald and Barbara Lowing and their dedication to theatre and touring life over the past few decades. It also celebrates the women in their family lines with a side-step to two fantastic female bushrangers who add some onstage fun and frivolity! It’s truly as local as you’ll get and it’s Barb and Roxy’s remarkable real life stories that are at the heart of the work.

Barbara Lowing and Roxanne McDonald in Rovers.

What sort of research do you conduct as you’re looking into a historically-based story such as Motherland, and does a desire for accuracy ever get in the way of telling a good yarn?

Katherine Lyall-Watson: Oh, the research can be years of work! Motherland was over four years in the researching and writing, and I’m still finding out new information about Nell and Kerensky now. If I waited to know it all before starting, I’d never get a word on the page. I’m definitely of the belief that making a piece of dynamic theatre is more important than historical accuracy. (If I was writing a biography that wouldn’t be the case but theatre gives you much more freedom.) I wrote Motherland as part of my doctorate at the University of Queensland, so I was able to approach universities and libraries in America and Russia for access to their archives. And I had incredible support from Elena Volkova, who tracked down some of Nell’s relatives and also translated the Russian.

Peter Cossar in Motherland (2016). Photo: Jackie Ryan

Your previous work Hanako was a brilliant immersive theatrical experience about the collision of past, present and future Japanese culture. Similarly, House in the Dunes was a collaboration with Japanese company Idiot Savant and New Zealand’s Good Company Arts. How did you identify strengthening artistic ties with Asia as one of your core aims? And how important is it to Belloo to tell such transcultural stories that naturally offer opportunities to racially diverse actors?

Caroline Dunphy: Diversity and inclusivity are a strong part of Belloo’s ethos. Hearing and honouring diverse voices and stories, casting and intercultural collaboration are all part of the process of making our original works and contributing to Australia’s rich cultural landscape. Developing this vision and process of working was particularly important to me as I studied and practiced a Japanese method of acting for 15 years, while I was a senior company member with Brisbane-based Frank Theatre. We travelled to Japan often to perform and train under founding director Tadashi Suzuki and the SCOT (the Suzuki Company of Toga) and SPAC company (Shizuoka Performing Arts Company) in both Shizuoka and Toga, a small village in the mountains of Toyama.

Hanako (2016). Photo: Barbara Lowing

The depth of knowledge learnt as an actor and my continued engagement with Asia over the decades has had a profound effect on my artistic practice and my vision for international diversification in the Australian performing arts industry. Belloo holds a long-term view in developing artistic relationships and hence working toward strengthening our ties between Asia and Australia.

Part two, coming soon...

Interested in seeing Belloo Creative's work? They have recently launched the first webisode adaption of their stage show Rovers through Critical Stages — for free! Watch beloved Queensland Theatre performers Barbara Lowing and Roxanne McDonald share the wild stories of their lives as they explore the beautiful locations of Redcliffe.

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