Twenty three years ago, Michael, newly divorced, was asked by a friend, what are you going to do? A little drunk he replied I think I’m going to write and tour my plays all over Australia. He was 31 and as yet, had never written a play and only seen one, an obscure Irish play that had profoundly moved him.
About the same time in London Rohana was performing in numerous plays and freezing. In search of warmth she hopped on a plane for Australia, to Melbourne. Things started well as she scored every audition she went for. Upon hearing about the Fringe festival she decided to push herself to do a one person show, and booked a space. Now all she needed was a play.
At a Fringe marketing meeting a guy kept looking over at her. Within a week this guy would have written her that play, and now with two kids, they have not only been together ever since, but if Covid hadn’t shut down the world, then in 2020, their Theatre Company ‘The Wolves’ would have had three of their original plays touring and would be preparing to get Michael’s latest play Adrifting ready for its professional premiere.
In May 2017 Michael’s Musical, Magpie, for which he wrote all the songs, opened In Ballarat’s Federation University. After being the musical for the 2nd year Musical theatre students to study and then perform. The next night, in Melbourne, The Magnolia Tree, an extended version of his shorter play that had premiered 20 years previously, called ‘The Electric Bed’ opened at La Mama Theatre. Both pieces were well received, but The Magnolia Tree, produced by and starring Rohana, went crazy. The critics began raving. The houses were packed full. Theatre Royalty like Chris Mead from the MTC and the Director, Simon Phillips, came. By the third performance the show had waiting lists. Even after the season finished, La Mama was getting calls from people wanting to see the show.
And then nothing.
It was now that the couple realised there was a fault in the delivery system. Instead of a load of theatres going, “Hey, that play works, let’s get it on here straight away in order to milk the momentum”, the theatres were all booked up a year ahead.
When Michael posted a comment about this on facebook, saying it was bad for business, scores of other theatre creators commented, claiming they’d had the same experience. There was a chance, that a year later La Mama might put the show on again, but it would have to be re-marketed maybe even re-cast, and what would they do until then?
It was now that they decided to properly establish The Wolves. With Rohana’s experience of producing theatre in London, and Michael’s plays, their goal was to get The Magnolia Tree up again, working on it as they did, until it was a polished product. Without grants and despite facing a steep learning curve, the idea of re-staging quickly began to work. The Wolves produced a season at Gasworks, and from there it was bought in by the Q theatre in Queanbeyan, next was a three week commissioned tour for The Seniors festival.
They had by then decided upon the company’s mantra and target audience.
“The Wolves Theatre Company are determined to show that mature creatives can be original, challenging, gutsy and pertinent. We write and produce bold, contemporary pieces aimed predominantly at the 45 plus demographic.”
And whilst their plays had young people in them the plays were mainly based around their demographic.
The Wolves then premiered their second play, the controversial, suicide prevention play Marooned. Originally called Suicide Row, it was only meant to have one short season; a dedication to an Actor who had taken his own life. But from its opening night it wowed audiences. On its second night Andrew Thomson who ran The Wedge theatre in Sale purchased it, quoting that Michael was the new David Williamson.
Because the audiences were so receptive The Wolves decided to keep Marooned going as long as they could and took a risk and booked the Atheneum’s third floor theatre. Then the MTC called and offered them their Lawler Theatre for free. On the news of this, Michael was interviewed on ABC Radio and that was it. The Army heard about Marooned and they were invited to stage it in the Victoria Barracks and then up to Canberra for the Chief of Army and other VIPs.
In April, 2021, all going well, the Army intend to start touring the play to their bases. Something they have never done. Simultaneously country towns got wind of Marooned and started buying the play in. In their last show in the Red Rock Theatre each performance received a standing ovation.
While this was happening, they sent a new play to the Director Aarne Neeme to glean his thoughts. It was an unusual, tense heart felt thriller between a father and his daughter. It was called When Icebergs Burn and Aarne’s response was that he wanted to fly down and direct it, which is what he did.
By now,The Wolves driven, were making enough money using this strategy of keeping the plays alive, to pay Michael a wage. For nine months, pre the lockdown he was a financially independent Australian playwright, living off his contemporary plays.
Finally, they staged their new play for four women called Adrifting in a small theatre in Kew. This play already had Amanda Muggleton passionately attached but they just wanted to test it first with a Melbourne cast.
The full length play was very well received with many people calling it a hit. And then Covid shut down the world.
Now The Wolves’ growing reputation, passion and hard work, is attracting named actors and producers and even grants.
All going well, Rohana, Michael and their growing pack of actors are well placed to make Michael’s initial dream a reality as they tour his plays all over Australia and perhaps further.