Chris Miller and Lucy Hadfield talk "The Various Methods of Escape"
We asked our two leads Chris Miller and Lucy Hadfield to pose 5 questions to each other about there experiences working on "The Various Methods of Escape" Learn about why they got involved, there process in developing the characters and secrets of the rehearsal room.
1. Lucy: You play the father in “The Various Methods of Escape”. What about this particular role drew you to it?
Chris: Ok, here we go gang, buckle up...
My brother and I were abducted from a school church service in Port Macquarie by my Grandfather when I was 11 years old. My parents were embroiled in a bitter divorce and he felt he was taking control of the situation and convinced my Mother it was the only answer. Little did he know what he set in motion.
We were tranquillised and driven to Bendigo Victoria and kept there for a year, constantly monitored. I hyper-vigilantly waited for my opportunity to escape. My Grandfather left on a trip in his Jackaroo, I was left alone in the house for 15 minutes, while Mum went to pick up my brother from Cub Scouts, he usually got a lift home with a friend.
I immediately grabbed the cordless phone, dialled the family home number, I still remember it to this day, and everything else. Dad answered, Smashed, “My Boy, My Boy”, he said. “Dad, Dad, I haven't got much time, you need to come get us”, I replied. He briefly sobered, “Where are you?”
I didn't know, so I ran outside into the dark and found the house number, then ran down the street looking for the street name. As the cordless phone cut in and out, I was terrified of getting caught or losing this precious and rare opportunity left alone. I'd been planning for a year, the moment was now.
Dad said he would be there in three days. I told my brother the next day that we were going home, then informed my Mother the day after. She was devastated, I was torn, yet, I'd made my decision. Three days later, Dad was there, as planned. Job done. Mission: Extraction – Complete.
On return to Port Macquarie, the family home was gone, replaced with a 2 bedroom Villa by the airport. Dad was gripped by the bottle and would lay in my lap, off his face, bereft, “My boys, I've lost my boys.”, I would plead...just like Grace does in this play, “I'm right here Dad, I'm right here.”. Heavy duty cognitive dissonance for a little boy.
This character gives me the opportunity to explore my Fathers experience for that year, not knowing where his children were and the helplessness and grief that grips a person. I've long dismantled and healed the trauma, PTSD and Complex PTSD associated with that experience by first, getting absolutely off my face for pretty much all of my 20's, then waking up, knuckling down, accepting help and doing the work, rebuilding from the foundation up. Therapy, meditation, my small yet loving family, my dearest friends and my art, saved my life.
I am very lucky and immensely grateful.
Unfortunately my Father succumbed to alcoholism before we could talk it out as adults, if we were even capable of doing it, yet in this play, I am given the privilege to have the conversations with my children that I never had the opportunity to have with him. Beautiful. That and, the last four TV commercials I've been in, I played the dad on the couch, so it's about time I just accept it. I'm 42, I'm getting older. Que Sera Sera.
2. Lucy: This play showcases an evolving and complicated family relationship. What have you learnt personally from being a part of this family?
Chris: There is healing everywhere, even if you thought you had it covered long ago.
I grew up in the 1980's on the banks of the Hastings river in the house that Mum and Dad built. My childhood was magical; Mangrove forests, mudflats, bikes and boats, endless exploring with my little brother. Mum and Dad were the Sandra Dee and Danny Zuko of Port Macquarie. Then it was all gone. I deeply understand the complexities of a fractured family and the pain associated with its demise.
I've come to realize while bringing The Various Methods of Escape to life, that although a family can be under immense duress, the love for each other is always there. Through my experience mentioned earlier, I thought it was all my fault, hence why I had to to do something to fix it, and that no one loved me. That was not true, at all. It took years to realize, you can't fix something obliterated, you can only work on healing yourself with love and kindness. Self-parenting, Self-love and Buddha level boundaries.
The character I play is trying to fix the obliterated, an impossible task. My wife, played by the stunningly genuine Meagan Caratti, is the ever patient, loving wife. The rock. I now understand how a wife can stand by her man and family even though everything indicates otherwise, the strength a family can have while going through the unimaginable. Pretty powerful stuff.
I have learnt a great deal about the Father characters perspective, and my own Dad, almost forced to do so, as I didn't really know what I was getting myself into. I can thank the director, Liviu Monsted, for chucking me in the deep end on that one, I've worked with him many times now, he is an excellent director and one to watch in the future. We dig deep on every project and I trust we will always arrive at the truth of the matter.
3. Lucy: The lines between realism and hyper-realism are blurred in this show. What challenges and freedoms have come as a consequence of this?
Chris: Well, usually in theatre shows you come to see Miller bouncing off the walls and going wacky. This show is different. Amber Spooner has written a very mature manuscript that is to be respected, and everyone in this cast is operating with that in mind. The biggest challenge with a work like this is not to “manufacture” emotion, and conversely, when the emotion starts to top out the gauge, not to let it overflow and muddy the scene. There is always the risk of masturbatory emotional self-aggrandising with actors when we rip the band aid off. It is imperative to discern; what is mine? What are the characters?
Additionally, for me it doesn't matter whether a show is realism, hyper-realism or any other. I keep it simple. Serve the story, tell the truth and Take your time... oh, yeah...and have fun.
Or, as my best mate Pete would say. “Just be, Miller. Just be.”
4. Lucy: As the two original cast members left in the show after COVID disruptions. How has your perception changed about the show and what keeps you involved?
Chris: The cast is awesome, very professional and capable. Everyone involved over the years has brought something special to the floor and helped this production evolve. Thank you to Abe Bastoli for co-producing the show and providing us a rehearsal space over such a long time frame. Gold. The addition of Christopher Strickland as Gregory and Rosie Meader as my other daughter, on this final iteration, has lifted everyone's game, they are excellent. Lucy Hadfield does an exceptional job in the lead as Grace, my abducted/returned daughter. This show has developed into something very special, we all trust each other and can't wait to finally give this story it's stage time.
We are ready...and then, we can finally, Let it go.
After three years, I've definitely wrung the chamois out on this one, let it dry in the boot of the car, soaked it up, wrung it and dried it out again. That's ok. After two cancellations and all this time of having this character in my noggin, I have been forced to patiently wait. Just like that little boy in 1991 waiting for that moment to put Mission: Extraction into action. Art, like healing, takes time and mindfulness, there are no short cuts.
This experience has asked me to look deeply into things I had long put to rest. Although painful, I am exceptionally grateful. There are so many parallels to my own life in this play, as though my art has brought this into my life to dredge anything else unresolved and to blatantly put a blinking neon sign in front of my face saying, “You are not defined by your trauma, you are defined by the strength you discovered overcoming it.” .
Thanks Universe, you did it again, ya cheeky little Universe you.
5. Lucy: After having this and other shows cancelled, what did you do in lock down to keep your career and passion alive?
Chris: I set up a recording studio in my second bedroom and focused on Voice Over. It's going gang busters. I have completed nine audio books and more on the go. Including an Aussie Fantasy trilogy written by a Doctor, an Aussie Drama trilogy written by a Race Horse Trainer and now a Crime/Thriller Trilogy written by a Children Protective Services Detective. Additionally, I narrated the autobiography of catastrophically wounded soldier turned para-Olympic kayak gold medallist Curtis McGrath... oh, and Chester - The Talking Cat.
I am infinitely grateful for this new challenging and rewarding career path and deeply respect the trust instilled in me to tell these stories. Again, there is healing to be found everywhere. It is not lost on me, that these authors wrote their novels to get something in, out. My intention is to give every word and thought the respect it deserves... fully produced from paper back to distribution, in broadcast quality. Noice.
You heard it her first gang. I am launching bookclubaudio.com in the coming months. An online portal of the audio works I have produced, to bring all the authors together on one platform. Also, my own project. I am narrating and producing a collection of bedtime Children's Stories with meditative music to be used as a sleep aid for little ones, while the rest of the family have some quality time and peace of mind. Best of all, I'm collaborating with one of the best authors I know, my Mum. She writes beautifully and we are producing something very special. Thanks Mum, love you.
Also, thank you for reading. Yep, some of it is heavy duty, yet I wouldn't be the bloke I am without it. I wish you all love and kindness on your journey of working you out.
1. Chris: What have you learnt about yourself from researching and now playing a character vastly different from your own experience? What, if anything, is similar?
Lucy: I learnt that no matter what we have been through we can all share common emotions and bond over experiences. We universally feel the same things just in different and varying degrees. I became infatuated with the story of Jayce Dugard - a woman who was kidnapped for 18 years- and I rediscovered my love for hearing other people's stories. I may have never been through such a traumatic experience but I relate to her in a way I could never have imagined. In a story so much more complicated and so different from my own I found that our experiences do not alienate us from each other but gives us a reason to bond. We find commonalities in basic human emotions that we would not otherwise have considered to be there. So in a certain way I do not feel as isolated as I did three years ago (when we first began this show) as I know my unique experiences do not segregate me but help me relate to others.
2. Chris: The play deals with trauma, abuse, and the path to healing. What do you feel is important to be mindful of when portraying such a story?
Lucy: I think the ability to jump in and out of the characters' reality and my personal reality is key, not only for general well-being and mental health but to really live life to the fullest. It is important to remember that we cannot be weighed down by the characters we play in our daily lives, otherwise you can begin to lose your sense of self and stop seeing the world with your own eyes. This works vice-versa. If we bring our personal lives into the characters we play, we are not doing justice to that reality and to the people that may have shared those emotions or experiences. This is also important as these heavy topics have really affected people's lives. Our job as actors is to be as faithful to the truth as possible in order to depict these experiences respectfully. Being mindful to maintain two separate healthy worlds is what is always the most important; it also means you get the excitement of jumping in and out of these realities.
3. Chris: Having to dredge from the shadows every rehearsal, and also considering we've been holding onto these characters and their story for almost three years due to lockdowns and cancellations, how do you decompress and release the tension afterwards?
Lucy: I usually have to sprint off into some other form of work but if not I listen to music, cook, seems that I’m best at decompressing when I’m occupied with something else. I think it's really important to have something to look forward to after rehearsals, even if it's just a nice shower and sleep (as rehearsals can be quite draining). That way you have an incentive to quickly get out of that character's head and back into reality. It’s a very surreal experience. I’ve found it easier to do in this show because there’s still a fear in the back of my mind that the show will be postponed again. Having to let go of the characters so many times and pick it up again has made those jumps in and out rather smooth and so there’s not too much of a need to establish a routine to release afterwards. A debrief after rehearsals always does help though.
4. Chris: You've worked with director Liviu Monsted a few times now, what is it that makes him an interesting and compelling director to work with?
Lucy: Liviu has a very wonderful directing technique and I think as an actor you appreciate it. He’s happy to workshop scenes and play around with them until the right thing clicks but his vision for the show always remains constant. He is adamant on showing characters, not just creating the world they live in. It always feels organic and freeing working with Liviu. I don’t feel like anything I do is unnatural or overly theatrical and if it is we have the space to voice those thoughts. He also likes to toy with time and relationships between characters which is fascinating. There' some particular scene in the show we have rehearsed much less than the others and that’s so as actors we can really feel what these characters have been through. It has been really powerful to be a part of that experience.
5. Chris: What's next for you?
Lucy: I’m currently about to jump into another two shows called DEADHOUSE Tales of Sydney City Morgue, which is an immersive theatre production, the first show being ‘The Razor Gang Wars’ in September, and the second ‘Simmonds and Newcombe’ in October. I also have a film I produced and was lead in currently in editing about the bushfires of 2019/2020 that heavily affected my family. This film is my way of giving back to the community and telling their story through a youth perspective. It will hopefully travel the Australian and international short film circuit. Other than that, hopefully the worst of our Covid days are over as I would love to find a beautiful balance of theatre and film which is something I’ve been craving to dive into.