Martha Goddard comes from a narrative drama background. While studying with the Queensland College of Art (Griffith University) Martha won a scholarship to the States to spend her final year in Los Angeles. She lived and worked in LA for two years before returning to Australia to direct a series of short films. To date Martha has directed commercials, documentaries and 6 short films, screening at over thirty film festivals including Sydney’s Dendy Awards last year. Martha has most recently completed her Masters year with Australia’s premiere film school, AFTRS, at which she was awarded a scholarship for ‘Exceptional Talent’. Martha directed STICK for The Voices Project.
My involvement with The Voices Project began when I was recommended to Dan Prichard, the producer of the program, by Laura Scrivano, who’d directed BOOT and LITTLE LOVE last year. Dan contacted me and provided me with The Voices Project book of all of the previous monologues and I had a read through them and we met and I talked about which ones jumped off the page for me. I felt an affiliation with STICK right from the bat and Dan said: Great! Why don’t you make that one?
I met with Carolyn (Burns, the writer), and really just wanted to see if we were on the same page and there was an automatic connection – I felt that our aesthetics were quite similar and my initial ideas were very much in line with her vision. Carolyn was quite hands-off – she really wanted to see where I took it with Emma (Campbell, who performs ‘Louise‘). She was very curious but also very supportive and it was great to have that freedom.
The brief was to preserve the monologue, so while I was making a film version of the monologue, it was quite interesting territory because it’s not your standard narrative structure – it’s very much this tangible piece, this experience that the actor’s going through. So for me it was very exciting to approach it as experiential.
I looked at the piece and thought: for a theatre piece the way the performance is sculpted is different from a film piece. They have to project to the back of the theatre while for a film piece the camera is right there in your face, magnified, so I saw it as making very specific choices in the piece to the back story where everything relates, where the relationship with the parents was really important. Emma and I went through and created a very extensive back story together so that the nuance of the piece would come across so for me it was about really letting someone in, really letting Louise be vunerable, letting her just come out with this stuff as it’s the first opportunity Louise has had to talk about her condition. I also had to create a visceral experience, as it needs to be a feeling piece, to put the viewers in her shoes.
Louise is trying to cope with her diagnosis in different ways and one of the ways is through humour, to just shock herself with things, and there are moments in the piece where, as a viewer, you’re often not sure if you are allowed to laugh but then, it’s been so tense up to that point, it’s good to laugh. So I think it’s really important to realise that while it may be dark subject matter, there’s a real lightness, a real authenticity of being a teenage girl.
My initial interpretation was that it would probably be set in a hall, and be darker and blander and yet, when I came to investigate a location option, with a hall out the back and a church in front, I saw the hall and it was great, a perfectly bland hall, and then I wandered into the front section of the church, and it was so lush and textured and beautiful and yet old and rustic, it had this juxtaposition that I felt was inherent in the material and suddenly that felt like the better choice.
It can be a challenge to engage an audience for 5 to 7 minutes with the same monologue, in the same location, so one of the strategies was to have Emma perform the piece in the bathroom as well as in the group. And that came about from my research of looking online and seeing there was a lot of anxiety about the bathroom, where the bathroom is, how people will get to it, what if there’s a queue? It occurred to me that a lot of time is spent waiting in the bathroom.
So Emma and I tried out a piece where she was performing into the mirror and it had such an intensity, I think to perform that and to face yourself, it’s quite a different experience for the actor. So we had a very different feeling in the bathroom to in the actual support group.
I also drew on the different elements at the location. We were blessed with this amazing art piece in the church, in the location, and all these little fish that were dangling from the ceiling, and to me they looked like little teardrops and it felt like it really fitted in with the aesthetic of the piece, and that they are surrounded by all this beauty, while talking about these darker elements of being human and mortal.
When I first met with Emma and she looked perfect for the part and I’d heard by all accounts that she’d been exceptional on stage, but in the back of my mind I was thinking that it’s a very different craft to be really great on stage than it is to be great on camera. We met and talked and when we first rehearsed Emma showed me what she’d done on stage. She’d still remembered all the lines, which was fantastic but I really wanted it to be fresh for her. I think there’d be nothing worse than trying to recreate the earlier performance and plonk it in this new space, so we did a lot of research and started making it very real.
The approach was to get it in her body, to feel disgusted by the things she was seeing online, to be faced with the reality of what she’d just been diagnosed with, to research all the worst cases scenarios she could and to carry that sense of shock into the room. So, for us, it was really about embodying the truth of the performance.
It also was very helpful to have people around her, for the first part of the performance so the approach was for her to really impact them, shock them, talk to them, watch their reactions and play of that, but then the piece does enter into quite abstract territory and it was really then about her interpretation of the disease and her finding an ‘in’, finding a way to cope, which she does.
It was an incredibly quiet, respectful shoot. All of the extras were quite affected by the content, they hadn’t heard the monologue before filming on the day so they all sat there genuinely enraptured by the story, to help Emma stay on track and to stay on focus.The soundtrack
Because there’s so much going on in this piece, and it’s very much a mood piece, sound was incredibly important. We picked up on the ending, being about glass, when she uses this beautiful metaphor about turning into glass, being fragile and strong at the same time, so we used the sound effect of glass right upfront, and kept this glass tone, which is slightly unsettling but also quite mesmeric, so that’s woven all through the piece.
We also chose an instrument to represent the piece, which is the harp. That’s there to resonate the sense of fragility, being very specific and beautiful. That contrasts at time with the content of what she is saying, being brash and provocative, but really it speaks to the other layer which is at work. She’s really vulnerable in this situation and she’s struggling to make sense of it, to find an ‘in’, so really the score and the design work together to create that route, to have that presence always, to what’s going on, despite what’s she’s talking about.
Despite the journey that people go through with the film, by the ending there’s this real sense of bittersweet, there’s a beauty there in this teenage girl finding her way to cope, but there’s also a sense of loneliness and a sense of sadness, as well as this strength that she’s found, to poetically interpret this new phase she’s about to embark on and I find it to be quite a hopeful piece.
Read The Original Monologue
“They told me I’d be getting sick, but actually I’m just getting awesome.”
In a local support group, Louise shares a darkly comic perspective on what’s it like to be a teenage girl with Crohn’s Disease.
Sometimes it’s easier to reveal yourself to strangers. .
Writer Caroyn Burns, director Martha Goddard and performer Emma Campbell talk about the writing and making of STICK below.