The Hobart

Actor Marta Dusseldorp On Covid And Comebacks

by Stephanie Williams
Actor Marta Dusseldorp On Covid And Comebacks

Having graced Australian stages and screens for thirty years, Marta Dusseldorp is set to star in The Bleeding Tree by Angus Cerini at Hobart’s historic Theatre Royal.

The Bleeding Tree, was put on hold because of COVID. How have you navigated the return? Thomas Rimes, director of music at St. David’s Cathedral reached out to us and said he was planning a ‘first signs’ series of concerts. Would we be interested? Ben came up with Venus and Adonis. Being a husband and wife team where our kitchen table is our creative table, we just read it aloud to each other. I was completely taken by the text and the story. It made me think about all the people who can’t be with the people that they love. Ben did a bit more research into it and realised Shakespeare wrote it during the Plague in London. Fortuitously, The Bleeding Tree is more poignant now than it ever has been. It’s a story of three women who have been living trapped. They’ve found a way out of that but at great cost. A lot of people are going through that right now and are scared and frustrated. We believe the audience are ready and they’re starving. There’s a bust out drink at Institut Polaire every night to talk about the play too. I’ll be there with the cast, because we think this is a play that may need talking about afterwards.

What can audiences expect, in this COVID climate? The social distanced seating will be really interesting. We’ve been quite rigorous to allow people space but also allow people to sit together if they’ve come together. Don’t be afraid of single seats.

You’re working with a number of interesting people, such as Katanya Maynard who is making her acting debut. Katanya went to the Conservatorium of Music and she’s an amazing singer. And she’s writing now. I think she can do anything! This is a chance for us to work with her. We’ve got Glen Richards from Augie March doing the music. And of course, Jane Johnson who I think is one of the greatest actresses this state is lucky enough to have. It’s a real pleasure to work with her.

The Bleeding Tree was written by a man (Angus Cerini) so it has an interesting perspective. Totally. And he’s not afraid to point at man. This play has won all the awards, the Griffin, the Helpmann, the AWGIE. Angus’ next major work just opened at the Sydney Theatre Company and he’s being talked about as a great new voice. I’ve never seen The Bleeding Tree, which is really helpful because I don’t think it helps to have seen something and then do it. Especially when it’s Cate Blanchett playing the lead!

Are you scared of that comparison? I’m not scared, she’s a very good friend of mine. I learn a lot from her but I’m also like ‘nobody touch that for the next 20 years!’ She’s a master.

You’re working with Liminal Spaces, what role are they playing? They’re doing the set, which has beautiful synergy in that they designed the Hedburg. It was so easy to genuinely connect to Peta and Elvio from Liminal. We’d become friends with them, as you do here. We just knew they were the right people. Of course, everything shut down and now we’ve asked them to go really quickly with five weeks notice. We’re building a really beautiful set. Something that really matches the epicness of the Theatre Royal.

You moved to Tasmania a couple of years ago. Was it something you mulled over for years or was a quick decision? It was a huge mull. Ben said it to me the day I met him. We came down here a lot for his work and then, we’d take off and go exploring and be like, “Wow, this is beautiful. Let’s go home. It’s cold.” We’d all had enough of Sydney. The kids were stressed. I had worked for seven years back to back. And he wanted to show the girls what it’s like to live closer to nature. And I get it. So we came and had a look. It was really hard to get a place. It’s been such an amazing place to come to through the pandemic. I know we all feel that.

What would it take to have an adequately funded arts sector and how? Firstly we have to stop thinking about it as the ‘arts’. We have to think about it as ‘culture’. It’s a redefining of what is culture to community. If you don’t have a strong cultural policy, you have a weaker civilisation. For your citizens to live to the best of their abilities, there must be culture in their life. Being told I’m not an essential worker as a professional of 30 years experience is disappointing and personally quite hurtful but that’s not important. What’s important is that governments understand the dilution of their citizens that comes from that. It should be funded adequately. The beauty of it down here is, for me, it’s totally linked to tourism. I feel like I’m a cheese or a wine or a gin distiller, I’m all of those things as well.

You and Ben have two girls, aged 13 and 10. As a family, what does your juggle look like? It’s much easier now they’re older. I think we’re seeing a whole other side of the mountain we’ve climbed, like all parents do. There was a lot of compromise, a lot of conversations. When I met Ben, there still was inequality and men were the ones who were the providers and all that stuff. It never was a thing in my house. It just never came into my mind there was another way than to be equal. I feel very grateful that Ben is the father of our children because he puts them above everything else. I think a lot of men have it but maybe they weren’t taught it or they’re not sure that they’re allowed to.

You and Ben were recently described by politician Andrew Wilkie as disruptors in Tasmania. Is that a fit? Wouldn’t that be nice. One day! He’s been very supportive of us and we’ve built a really nice conversation. He’s so accessible and I think that gives you hope that there is possibility for improvement. Everything you do you have to disrupt. So even when I’m on my own and in a play, I want to disrupt the play and show something that isn’t expected. I was asked to cry a lot in the early days and I pushed back on that because I said, “For a woman to show emotion, they don’t have to cry.” A man can sit and just think about things and everyone goes, “Wow, that’s really brave.” But for a woman to look like anything’s happened to her, you are expected to cry. I’m always looking to the Bechdel test as well – it asks whether a work features two women (who have names) talking to each other in a scene not about a man.

It’s such a simple thing to throw over a script. How many women in the script have names? How many women talk to each other in a scene alone not about a man? How will recent changes to television content quotas affect you? I’ve been fighting really hard for quotas. I’m so determined to keep our stories alive. We can lose our voice, we can lose our culture and we can lose it in a generation. The streamers didn’t get any quotas, so we won’t see an increase in that. I fought hard for that and that didn’t happen, which is a real shame if you think of the amount of eyeballs that they have. People need to really consider that they’re sending their money offshore. There’s no tax and there’s no return jobs.

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October 2021

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