Audiosketch S1 EP3

An art date with Adena Jacobs

Listen to the episode here

Credits and notes

To discover more about Adena Jacob’s body of work, and view documentation from these projects, visit her company website, Fraught Outfit, here.

The Howling Girls excerpts heard in this episode were recorded by ABC Classic FM. Learn more about this Sydney Chamber Opera project, including a full list of credits, here.

The sound-based art crush Adena mentioned was Jenny Hval. You can find her albums on Soundcloud here.

Audiosketch title music is by Fia Fiell. This piece, All in the Same Room, is from Fia Fiell’s 2018 album of the same name, which you can find on bandcamp here.

Additional sound design by Roslyn Oades, uses the following samples from Freesound: Plane take-off from Skavsta airport by arnaud coutancier and Attendant announces decent by bigfriendlyjiant licensed under CCBYNC 3.0, in conjunction with recordings from Roslyn’s own archive.

Full transcript

{Signature title music by Fia Fiell}

INTRO: Welcome to Audiosketch, a Chamber Made podcast dedicated to innovative artists working across performance, art and music. I’m Roslyn Oades, and I’m joining you from the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation in Melbourne. In this episode of Audiosketch, I’m thrilled to be on an ‘in real life’ art date with critically acclaimed theatre director Adena Jacobs. Adena’s distinct body of theatre work encompasses feminist renderings of ancient text, hallucinatory images and operatic sound scores. If you like your theatre, wild, haunting and intelligently crafted, Adena’s work is a must see.

{Signature title music by Fia Fiell}

ROS: Right, that’s, you know…

ADENA: (Laughs)That’s, that’s great.

ROS: Is that in the ballpark? It’s hard to describe your work, actually. It kind of hovers between being really visceral and so sophisticated. It’s sort of hard to define.

ADENA: I’ve really struggled to define it over the years for marketing purposes and grant purposes because it’s, it’s intentionally in between all of those things. Sometimes descriptions feel too heavy-handed at times, somehow.

ROS: Which must be satisfying as an artist because it’s clearly not meant to be a piece of written work, it’s… it exists as this visual, aural, visceral thing?

ADENA: I think so. I mean, it’s kind of… I’m so conscious of the transaction between audience and, and performance. Or audience and scenography and sensory environment, that in a way that is where the content is largely made. And so, you know, after the fact you have photos and a video or whatever, and that does capture the tone of the show, or the visual language of the show, but it actually is a whole other product. It’s not, the thing itself. Which I guess is live performance, which we’ve all been missing, very much.

ROS: Yes. I think there’s something like a conjuring when I come and see one of your works. And it is about being in this space with people. And I don’t know, you draw back to something quite ancient. Yeah, it’s a bit of magic that happens.

ADENA: There is a witchiness that that I always feel like is somehow embedded in the, in the collaboration’s I have. In those theatre works where we’re working from ancient texts, we’re working really long from improvisations and in a kind of a hallucinatory mode or definitely an asocial kind of mode. And, I feel like through those improvisations, this conjuring that you’re talking about, arises in some way. It’s kind of about the thing that’s created between those performers and between the composer, between the designer, that’s sort of made on the spot and then somehow transferred to the audience. I really enjoy that aspect of the actual making process where things erupt and arise. And then you just think, how can I capture that and create that experience for the audience that we’re all experiencing in that rehearsal room.

ROS: The first question I like to ask all my guests on Audiosketch is, Adena, if you were a sound right now, what sound would you be?

ADENA: I’m terrible at these kind of questions I feel like that’s very difficult… I think if I was a sound right now, I would be a plane taking off. Or a plane about to take off. That’s, that’s my mood today. Or, maybe, that’s such a familiar sound from a previous life before this year, which was about anticipation and surrendering. And I’m a terrible flyer as well. So, a kind of jolt of terror. And, all of those things that are part of, I guess, motion. The sound of motion. Taking off.

ROS: That sounds positive?

ADENA: Yeah, that’s partly positive. Terror and motion, is the adrenaline of life, I guess. Which I do think is returning…

{Plane liftoff audio clip}

ADENA: The sound that I return to in my work is more to do with breath than the human body. I think often there is a layer of breath in those soundscapes. Or, a work might start from a bodily sound, which has been magnified in some way. So, I think, the landscape of the sonic world has to do with the body. The archive of the body.

ROS: Which, I guess must be one of the first sounds you heard in utero.

ADENA: Yeah, I guess so. Although, I think that sort of sound world in utero – which is totally a fantasy, I guess, from an adult perspective – that imagined space is often part of the sound worlds in my work somehow. And so, we’re creating imagery that’s very… Things are hyper-visible in some ways, but then sound worlds are really organic and internal. There’s definitely a juxtaposition between the visual and the sonic.

ROS: Yeah, and I noticed just listening to the score from Howling Girls, it starts off so intimate, you know, to hear someone’s breath that close. If it were film it would be like a close-up. But, you’re in this vast space but you’re hearing a close-up sound.

ADENA: Yeah. I mean, the sound of Jane’s voice, I mean, that kind of reverse breathing that she does, which goes for thirty-five minutes in the dark. She’s incredible, and she was under layers of sheets and fur and miked and she had this track in her ear. And, I’d go up during the tech, and we’re good friends, and we would just laugh and go, what are we, what are we doing here? It was quite extreme. But as an audience, you could hear every bit of her breath, every bit of her movement, swallowing… Which is such an exposing thing for a singer. For you to hear everything that they’re doing for thirty-five minutes. Uninterrupted by the visual. So, all that was happening in that work is a very small light, and then a kind of scanning light that sort of scanned over her body, but not much else.

{Howling Girls excerpt: Jane Sheldon’s breathing at head of show}

ROS: So, I’d wanted to talk to you in more detail about this extraordinary award-winning work, The Howling Girls, which you directed and conceived with Damien Ricketson for Sydney Chamber Opera. Yeah, I was blown away by this work, which I’ve only seen on video. And I really hope it comes to Melbourne because I would so love to experience it.

ADENA: I hope- It was supposed to this year and it was one of the casualties of COVID.

ROS: One reviewer referred to The Howling Girls as having a dream logic. And in experiencing it, I felt like I’d been hovering on the edge of something very dark and unknowable. And then moved through that and was delivered out the other side into the early morning light. Where did that work come from?

ADENA: That is a really good question. Where did it come from? It came from a few places, one of which was a longform conversation I had with Damien Ricketson. So, we had been a match-made by Jack Symonds at Sydney Chamber Opera. I never had a process like that before, I usually initiate my own work or I have longform collaborations with people. He just, sort of, put us together and said, go away and see if you come up with something. And so, we just started coffee dating. And, our work is very different but there was also some shared interests, particularly around creating something which was sensory and kind of formless in a way that felt like it was really about a pure state. And we initially actually spoke about doing a 24-hour work where a soprano was singing herself hoarse. Like a kind of ritual swan song, I guess.

ROS: Wow.

ADENA: But we knew that no soprano in their right mind would actually do that. But there was something about the extremity of that idea, the focus on the voice, a kind of really distilled piece of work that we could make together, and a focus on the female voice, that led us forward. And we were sort of swimming around in it for ages. But I had read this anecdote – it was just in a bookshop, opened this book and read this anecdote by Susan Faludi – and it was about these five young girls after September 11th who all presented at different hospitals in Manhattan with these symptoms. And they thought that they had swallowed some debris. And these young women didn’t know each other. It was kind of a phenomenon. And it was just this image that had sat in my mind for ages.

ROS: And this is a true thing… True phenomenon?

ADENA: This is a true story. And I didn’t know much more about it, but it was just this image that had kind of, hovered in my mind. And somewhere down the very long, many years of conversation with Damien, that image returned in relation to this work. And so, we fused those things together and then went from there. And I think also it was… I don’t know, I guess a lot of my work is drawn from very heavy patriarchal sources, and it’s about me trying to reframe and reimagine them. And, conceptually, those works are very rigorous, but they’re also… It’s very heavy kind of task to do. And I’m continuously wondering if that’s the right task to continue doing. And I think with Howling Girls, it was an opportunity to make something outside of that frame. And, something which just went into this world of pure sensations, which was trying to capture a feeling of terror. Trying to make a work which was about the body, but which was bodyless. You really don’t see the bodies of the performers very much. Not until the end. We were intentionally depriving the audience of sight so that their listening would be magnified.

ROS: It’s interesting that the work clearly inspired by quite dark material, but I found it quite an empowering work in that, you know, the voice hovers between wailing and suffocation, as well as song, and angelic sounds. And by the end, you are kind of left in light, and the female chorus finds… They find a voice.


ROS: And that’s really powerful.

ADENA: It’s really interesting. Depending on who the audience member is, also the context – we premiered it in Sydney and then we did it a year later in Tokyo and they read really differently – because of the global politics, I think, that are constantly changing. And, some people read it as utopian and some read it as a kind of entrance into death, or sort of an annihilation of some kind. And I sit between all of those things. I think when we were making it, I read that final section – where there are angelic voices and where there is a kind of, sort of utopian gesture I think, in terms of these young women speaking in this proto language and claiming the space and also moving out of this space of trauma into some other mode or some other language, some of the grammar. When we first made it, I saw it as a kind of fantasy or a speculative future where they were imagining their way out of it. And then a year later, when I watched it, I thought, oh, no, it’s not a fantasy. This is right. And then it felt like a clearer political gesture second time around. But I don’t know what I… I don’t know how I actually read it myself.

{Howling Girls excerpt: girls choir performing proto-type language}

ROS: That’s interesting that you instinctually know where the work’s going, but you don’t fully intellectualise it.

ADENA: I don’t think I understand my work completely.

ROS: Do you feel like you’re in service to the idea and it partly knows what it is. And you, you serve it like a midwife to find itself – but there’s a sense of mystery embedded in it?

ADENA: That’s a really good way of putting it. I think that’s right. There will always be for me a seed at the beginning of the project, usually a visual image of some kind, whether that relates to the source material or whether that’s something that comes out of the blue in a sort of more abstract. But it’s a recurring image that I need to uncover in the making of that piece. And in a way, once you open that door, the door shuts behind you and then you’re in that. You know, you’re in that making space, which is a mystery. And it’s sort of equally out of control and in my control. Of course, as I maker I’m responsible for the direction of the process and the questions that are asked to continuously interrogate and be rigorous and to shape. But, at the same time, there is a kind of uncontrolled force once you enter into material which is dark and which is mysterious and which is about unknowable subjects. And I think I’m always interested in a space beyond what we can understand, and an unstageable, impossible realm of some kind. I think with Howling Girls, what was really different was that it was more like working with a playwright – which I really rarely do, or maybe never have done to its completion – because we were conceiving together but then Damien is the writer. You know, he wrote the score. I think If I had written the score, which of course I’m not a composer and I’m very glad Damien masterfully made that score, I don’t know if I would have found the way for those voices to inhabit such a, kind of, freeing and beautiful space. As a female artist, I would have wrestled with much more in relation to kind of freeing the female voice. Whereas I think for Damien that was essential as a thread, which makes sense, and something we spoke about. There was something new for me that opened up in that work. Because of that direction, which was a struggle, but also a really interesting opening. So, it twisted me out of my usual shape. I remember watching it and thinking I’m so surprised by where we’ve arrived.

ROS: It sounds exciting as an artist. Do you feel like a new thread has open up from that work for you?

ADENA: I think it has, although I don’t yet know how that will lead to new works. And I have new works in the pipeline. Some of which are based on an ancient text yet again, and some of which are not. So, I don’t really know and I feel like I’m in a confused space maybe or an in-between space. But I do think that the Howling Girls cracked open something. And it was much more untethered. And I felt that in the tech for that, cause I had two nights of tech, and the first one where we were making that first section that’s thirty-five minutes in the dark – and then we sort of bring Jane out of the dark into this choking sound that she makes on the front of the stage – working in tandem with Jenny Hector as a lighting designer to mold that, with the music, and as that was sort of evolving, it was honestly the most exhilarating moment in a tech I’ve ever had. Because we all were riding this thing and we’re just… Yeah, it was kind of thrilling. And then, of course, the next take ago, it all falls apart. And you think, Oh no, what are we, what are we making? But it was truly being made in the moment.

ROS: And it takes great confidence to be that director that can just respond instinctually at that point in a project.

ADENA: I think it takes confidence because… Until you’re in the space with the full sound. Until we have lighting and, you know you’ve, you’ve got a soprano lying on a bench in a room. In a way, the confidence was about pushing it to an extreme place and trusting that. That also requires the confidence of, in this case, Jane and the designers as well. And I think what’s brilliant about Jane, beyond of course her voice and her artistry, is that she creates this sense of permission where you don’t have to worry that she’s going to go, that’s too weird, or have any ego around things. She’s really trying to find the most exciting, most dangerous, most interesting position for the total work to be in. And she can see it from the inside and the outside. And so, you know that you can go anywhere without having to sort of dance around that, which opens everything up.

ROS: That’s a real gift.

ADENA: It’s such a big gift.

{Musical interlude by Fia Fiell}

ROS: You’ve worked with some incredible sound designers and composers. What’s your approach to collaborating with sound artists? Does it require a different language?

ADENA: Hmm… I don’t think it does require a different sort of approach for me. Particularly with the more music driven theatre works, I’m really working with a whole team in a collaborative way. And the way that we’re speaking about the work is really outside of our own art forms. And, it’s really about understanding the work and cracking it open and creating usually a kind of visual language for us, but also always talking about the sonic world, in conjunction with it. I’ve worked with Max Lyandvert a lot over the past few years and a lot of this early conceptual conversations are often about the mode of transmission for language or for speech or for sound. And so that’s always embedded into the early phases. But then in the room, with most of the sound designers I work with, they usually improvise live on the floor as we’re improvising. And so that’s a really key part of the process. Part of the, kind of, memory bank for the performers, and for myself, when we’re creating the work are these sounds that keep coming back to the space and these musical motifs, and it becomes part of the fabric of the work. And triggers for certain things to happen on the floor. I’m sort of lost when the sound design is like, oh wait, I need to come in two hours late. And then I’m playing on my iTunes. And I just think, oh, it’s so empty. And you can feel the performers think, oh, hopefully, you know, we’ll get back to… Because it’s such a rich, evocative aspect of the making process.

ROS: In your ideal scenario, would you have the sound designer or composer with you for the entire rehearsal devising process? Is it that essential?

ADENA: Oh, yeah, definitely. Because a lot of the work is made out of improvisation. And sometimes it’s really hard to capture the good parts of what we’ve what we’ve made. Um, if I’m sort of thinking about past few works that I’ve done with Max, in those contexts he will find something musically that hooks into whatever the real core of what’s happening is. And then that will be the thing that continues to develop. So even though what’s happening on stage might be quite different between that first good improvisation say, and where it ends up, the core of it remains. And the memory for all of us is sort of linked back to those musical motifs. And it becomes more embodied somehow.

ROS: How does that start? Like, can that come from anyone or do you always lead and sound follows?

ADENA: The beginning of the process it’s usually me setting a very open task. But then over time, as we’re kind of building a language and a grammar, then sometimes yeah, the sort of sound can just start and performers will just know what to do. Or there’ll be a new rack of strange costumes or something that might, you know, set it off in motion. But yeah, usually in the beginning it’s more framed and then it evolves. And then at a certain point in a process, improvisation ceases to work anymore. And then, it’s time to make some decisions.

ROS: Looking at your website for Fraught Outfit, you describe yourself as a director, but you seem to be more akin to a world builder. Why do you use the term director and not writer / maker / conjurer?

ADENA: I know. I’ve actually, I was inspired by Daniel Schlusser, who’s my very good friend, I remember him saying once, I call myself a theatre director because I think directing should be able to encompass all of these things and it shouldn’t just be aligned with a more kind of conventional way of making theatre. And I was like, yeah, that sounds good. Because I do feel my role as a director, I do associate with that more strongly I think than those other terms. But I know that it doesn’t catch all of the different modes that I’m interested in working with. And it implies something more traditional than what I would like, I guess. But I think when he said that, that resonated and I think we should try to open up what that is, because that role is evolving over time. In any process I do still feel like, even though it’s deeply collaborative, that I’m usually initiating the world building and then directing the process. In a way, it’s a sort of dance between the singularity of the director and then the total collaboration. That singularity for me is really important. And the work is, on the one hand, made by all of us, but for me there’s a really strong personal drive as well. I sort of sit between both of those modes.

ROS: Yeah, it definitely seems to have your signature on it somehow. Like it’s got your DNA in it, the works. There’s a real kind of thread through…

ADENA: I wouldn’t know how to make it work otherwise. This is probably the most honest answer. It’s not really even wanting a signature, or kind of even knowing what that is. I mean, in fact, actually, when things kind of start to recur in the works, I think, oh God, no. I’m like repeat to back to this sort of thing.

ROS: It just means you’re not finished with it.

ADENA: Yeah, yeah, exactly… But as a guiding principle… And, and also, over the years, I think you start to understand where your work comes from more and more. That feels really important to keep mining that.

{Audio montage: Plane decent announcement/COVID news clips/call waiting}

ROS: So, the last year has been a very wild ride, to say the least, as an artist what has it taken away from you and what has it given you?

ADENA: I don’t know, I just feel like we’re coming out of a cave or something. It’s hard to even have perspective on what this year has been. I mean, what it’s taken away is being in rooms with other people and being in our bodies and taking actual risks in the moment. And I think all of those things are at the centre of how I understand making art to be, and making performance to be. And there’ll always be a period before where I’m doing research or it’s more introspective, but then that’s actually quite a safe place for me. And, the point at which we are thrown into the mess of the making is the terrifying place, and it’s where it really happens. And so, I think that was taken this year. And conversations, and the way that we sort of meet people through an arts community, and just seeing other people’s work and being inspired by that. So yes, many things we’re taking away. But what was given? I think for me, what was given was just having all that time with my family. And I have a twenty-one-year, month, I was about to say as a 21-year-old. She is not! Maybe she seems like a 21-year-old in her spirit. She’s a 21-month-old, daughter. And I think that having that really uninterrupted time was amazing. I mean, it’s maddening to be trying to get work done and having a toddler knocking on the door and screaming. But it was also, day to day, getting to watch all of those changes happen, and that was really amazing. And I had one core project that I’ve been working on, on Zoom, with some collaborators. Which is a production of the Trojan Women that will happen overseas. And, there was something really weird and new about saying to everyone, Oh, let’s meet on this day. Everyone was free. All the time! And so, we really went deep into this dreaming and research phase. All from our own closet offices, in different houses. There was something about being able to go deep in that way and do a lot of reading and be in solo spaces, but then coming together over this period of time. We did so much dreaming. So much research. Maybe like how I used to do when I was at VCA and had all this time or something to really swim around in all of this reference material and dreaming. And for me, research is like a kind of dreaming process. Which is really opening and not rushed.

ROS: And do you think any of the residue of that physical reality of being locked down and having a restricted footprint will make it into Trojan Women?

ADENA: I think so. I mean, we sort of realised, Eugeene Teh the set designer, and we realised that the set is like this kind of vacuum waiting room sensation anyway. And we’re like, oh, shit, we’re trapped in this waiting room of this sort of show that we’ve made. But it definitely captured this sort of sensation of waiting and the unpredictability of being caught between one state and another in some way, and that’s in the visual language of the work. And also, I think we were stuck in place physically, but the world was incredibly turbulent. The gap that the virus created has allowed so many different layers of trauma to erupt and become hyper-visible. And being physically still, but witnessing all of this stuff happen while trying to make this work, which is about a group of people kind of at the end of a civilisation who are waiting for their fate to be handed to them, was really wild. And I thought maybe you have bit off more than I can chew here… I’d made the decision to make this work before this year but I think the virus has brought so much to the surface… That also makes decisions about what kind of art to make really confusing, because there’s so much at stake. And there’s so much noise and there’s so many different voices. In the past, maybe for me there’s always this interest in stepping over an invisible taboo, or trying to play with this transgressive material to take myself, and to take an audience, into kind of an unknown terrain. But now I sort of feel like, well, there’s nothing left to be transgressed. I just feel like everything has kind of exploded out. It’s a really strange time to be making…

ROS: But it’s actually exciting that you’re already part way through making a work when this has happened. it’s got quite a bit of momentum behind it. It’s going to happen, so you have to keep making it. So, it’s quite interesting that you’ll be absorbing all this stuff in the unknown space…

ADENA: And sort of feeling it in. Yeah.

ROS: And like, you could end up anywhere with that work.

ADENA: I know. I think what’s really odd about that work is we’ve created the set design, because we thought we were going to start rehearsing in about six-weeks-time. And so the frame is..

ROS: Is set.

ADENA: Yeah, the frame is really set. I mean, we could change it, but it’s been birthed really, and it feels very clear. And so, there is something really interesting about having that clear frame and then being able to respond to the world as it changes over the next while and that it can be filled with those things. I agree, I think that momentum is good. Although, it did feel like a sort of, on the one hand, a lifeline to have that project. But also, it did feel like going against the grain of this time where I felt like everything was about just slowing and stopping. And then we were just sort of quietly making this really ambitious work. Just trying to kind of move forward in a time when everything had stopped. So energetically it felt weird to be creating something without adrenaline, actually. Just this total slowness. It’s been unlike any other process for that reason.

ROS: Are there any sounds that come to mind when you think of that time?

ADENA: Well, my daughter started speaking language in this time of the lockdown. She had had a few words before then but she’s really now speaking. What was interesting is that she’s obsessed with the sound of aero planes because they’re so rare to hear. And so, these things became so heightened. The one aero plane or hearing birds. Everything did feel like it got louder in that stillness. And I think because she was noticing and naming and hearing and… Simple things became elevated somehow…

ROS: Well, this feels like the right moment to play the audio-sketch Adena has kindly sent us. Which is a field recording of her daughter in the backyard…

{Adena’s Audiosketch of her 21month year old daughter in the backyard}

ROS: It’s such a privilege to witness the pre-speech and learning speech. And seeing a child really enjoy sounds.

ADENA: Yeah. It’s incredible. And I think actually my work had always been interested in this sort of preverbal sound world, or this place before speech, but it was pretty abstract. I didn’t really know what that was and…

ROS: Apparently, it’s different in every language as well, like in his actual pre-speech sounding. Like, they’re learning through making all those, dah-dah-dah, bah-bah-bah sounds.

ADENA: Wow, because of what they’re hearing around them? That’s really interesting. That makes sense. And rhythm and things like that.

ROS: I want to ask you one last question, thinking about sound-based artists that you find inspiring, who do you have an art crush on at the moment?

ADENA: I think my long-term sound-based art crush is my old friend Jenny Hval. She’s a Norwegian musician and lived in Melbourne, went to Melbourne Uni. She actually composed my very first show at La Mama, which is pretty Internet. No archive. But she lives in Norway now and she’s gone on to make totally incredible albums, which are sort of beyond categorisation, I think. And they’re drawing from Vampire mythologies and Pop and B-grade. And also, she’s an incredible musician and singer and… She also has written two novels now. She’s done performance as well. And she has created these ethereal worlds, but they’re also, there’s some deep irony in there. And they’re dealing with the body and gender in a way that a lot of music kind of doesn’t do head on, I think, or I haven’t found that much that did. But I’m also, I guess, unexpert in the kind of music and sound world in a way. It doesn’t feel like the place that I know very well.

ROS: Which must be what’s exciting to you. Like, because, you know, I think of, y’know I think it was Janet Cardiff, when I heard her talk the other day, she was talking about the reason her collaboration with her partner is so great is because they’re so different. And there’s something exciting about that. When you can work with a form or an artist that has such a different skill set to you. That’s quite an exciting place to meet in the middle.

ADENA: Definitely. I mean, I think I’m kind of always thinking about what kind of new collaborations could take place with people whose forms are really outside of my own. And what would that collision be. And, I know, I totally agree. And I think, I mean, I say that, but actually maybe I don’t feel very at home in theatre either. There’s something about it that I don’t actually understand inherently. And I think that place does feel kind of interesting to me. That sense of being an alien inside something that you do. To come at it from that place of thinking I don’t totally get this, so I’m going to enter into it new in some way. Obviously with theatre and performance over the years I do feel more grounded and skilled, of course, as work develops and when projects at the outset feel really ambitious, I do have a history of now understanding, OK, we can start at this place, and you can get to the end of it. But it’s still new every time. It still feels like just stepping into some uncharted place.

ROS: I agree, I think like being able to say to myself, I don’t know, has been the most liberating discovery. If you’re making something new, you don’t know what you’re doing. Even the most experienced artists, if you are genuinely making a new work, you just don’t know what it is at the start. Like, you can have a few guesses, but you won’t know it until it’s been birthed.

ADENA: No, you can’t know it. Also, because you can only take one step at a time. So, you’re always just in the place that you’re at in terms of that process, in that project. I think it’s important to ask questions from the outside, or try to sort of see that, what that bigger frame might be. But I feel surprised every time when I’m sitting in the audience. And I always think that’s so weird being the director, that everyone else is working and on stage and you’re sort of just sitting there amongst the audience, like kind of in disguise or something. Like just, sort of seeing it from this other perspective. And, yeah, I always kind of get a sort of jolt of going, oh, we’ve ended up here

ROS: Is it like you’re seeing it for the first time?

ADENA: Definitely. When we’re in a kind of like a theatre context for the first preview, I’m seeing it for the first time, and that is a terrible feeling. I just dread that first encounter because you always hope that it all works. And then, of course, I realise, oh no, there’s like all these things that really sort of don’t. And I think because I am trying to create these circumstances between audience and the work, I really don’t know what it feels like, or what the rhythm should really be like, until that audience is there. And so, that’s often quite a painful trying out of different things and airing my dirty laundry in public. And the not-ready-ness of it being out for all to see. But so much of that, when I have the luxury of having some previews, which is it’s been a really good thing, we have made huge, huge changes in those times. Flipped full orders around. Chopped off an act. Because it’s glaring with an audience. Like we feel like, okay that’s worked, and then other things where it’s like, I feel sick. I can’t watch that. And that is great. You know then and there, you know, I can make those changes – if I can in time – and, that’s a really important part of the process. Then when I get to opening night, usually I just choose to go, it’s, it’s done. And I, I enjoy that feeling of release. Even if we’re working to the last five seconds before, then still, it would just be like, it’s done.

ROS: I like that feeling too, where it’s like, okay, I work really hard. We’ve all worked really hard, this is… We’ve done everything we can with what turned up… And going, OK, that’s it. Even though it is a rough diamond in parts.

ADENA: Exactly.

ROS: Even though there’s bits that aren’t perfect. That’s part of what it is, isn’t it?

ADENA: That’s part of it. And I think also the more work that I’ve made over the years, I feel more comfortable with that as well. And it doesn’t feel so identity-based anymore. I think when I was younger and starting out, I felt like every single thing that happened on that stage was a reflection of me in some way. And there’s ego and insecurity that’s part of that. And that’s not true, of course. I mean, that’s not how people are absorbing a piece of work. That’s not how I absorb other people’s work. But I think it was very hard to separate those things early on. And now I can see it as part of something larger. It’s ongoing. Just keep working…

ROS: Which is hard to see when you’re at the start. Cause it’s like, this is the work.

ADENA: This is the one. The only one I’ll ever make. It’s taking me so long and everything goes into it, and I feel like my whole life was kind of captured in that.

ROS: Yeah, I agree. And I think looking back at artists that I admire with big bodies of work, actually, I think the most exciting artists are the ones that have had big failures. They’re the big risk takers. Like, a really fascinating idea that falls, is so much more interesting than the well-crafted work that you’re very familiar with, and you know what it is, and there’s not a challenge there. I’d always choose to go and see the, you know, the ambitious concept.

ADENA: With a big crash.

ROS: Yeah, with the big crash. It’s, I still find that a really worthwhile work to go out and see.

ADENA: Definitely. And I think it’s what they do after the big crash. You know, that’s really interesting.

ROS: Cause, that’s where you really learn as an artist, isn’t it? There’s something unfinished that you keep grappling with.

ADENA: I know. And sometimes those things are huge things, like huge process things that have gone awry and then you can really change courses. And sometimes things are just about experience. All of that stuff, I think, is really part of the choices of what you do next then and how you make those decisions.

ROS: Thank you so much. It’s been so nice to sit down and have an art date with you.

ADENA: So nice. Thanks for having me over…

{Signature outro music by Fia Fiell}

CREDITS: You’ve been listening to Audiosketch, hosted and produced by Roslyn Oades, with title music by Fia Fiell. This episode’s art date with Adena Jacobs was recorded in Melbourne, on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation.

Musical excerpts from The Howling Girls, directed by Adena and composed by Damien Ricketson, are provided courtesy of Sydney Chamber Opera.

Audiosketch has been made possible by the Australia Council and was commissioned as part of Chamber Made’s Hi-Viz Practice Exchange. Hi-Viz is supported by the Helen Macpherson-Smith Trust and The Substation. Chamber Made receives multi-year funding from Creative Victoria.

Thanks for listening.

{Signature outro music by Fia Fiell till end}