Simon Stone & Company: CTR Special Issue
Simon Stone & Company
Special Issue of Contemporary Theatre Review
Emma Cole (University of Bristol)
Chris Hay (University of Queensland)
Ticket holders to a new production of The Good Hope at Internationaal Theater Amsterdam (ITA), to be directed by the iconoclastic Australian-Swiss director Simon Stone, received an unusual email in September 2020:
We would like to inform you that the title The Good Hope has been changed to Flight 49. When writing his new play, Simon Stone drew inspiration from the motives presented in the Dutch theatre classic The Good Hope. Stone, however, writes lines for his plays during rehearsals, and created an entirely new and contemporary version of the classic. […] The play still deals with the central themes from Heijermans’ original piece, but Stone’s characters and the character developments in the plot are new. Considering this, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam has decided to change the title of the play.
Perhaps the title change was prompted by memories of the heated commentary around Stone’s 2012 production of Death of a Salesman in Sydney and its abbreviated ending, or the war of words prompted by his 2013 Melbourne production of The Cherry Orchard, which was accused variously of arrogance, disrespect, and offence against the art of playwriting. The production of Flight 49 — which eventually opened under its new title on 26 September — was part of a banner year for Stone, which included a new production of his version of Medea showing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), a new production of his version of Yerma at the Schaubühne Berlin, and a planned début at National Theatre, London, with a new version of Phaedra (although this last was a victim of COVID-cancellation).
Stone’s career began in Australia with the success of independent company The Hayloft Project, of which he was Artistic Director from 2007-2010, before he graduated to the mainstage and then pivoted towards Europe with the 2013 appearance of his version of The Wild Duck at the Holland Festival. This same text was later directed by Stone in a film version titled The Daughter (2015), and his second film, The Dig, débuted on Netflix to positive notices in 2021. The template provided by other Australian auteur-directors such as Barrie Kosky and Benedict Andrews is clear – indeed, Stone has worked with many of Kosky’s key collaborators including Tom Wright on Baal (2011), and acted in Andrews’s seminal production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (2007) – but it is a career profile Stone has made all his own. Stone’s work has crossed national and linguistic boundaries; as well as ITA, he has made work for Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe with Three Sisters (2017) and Trilogy of Vengeance (2019), the Berliner Ensemble with A Greek Trilogy (2018), the Young Vic and the Schaubühne with Yerma (2016/2020), and more across the theatres and opera houses of Europe. This mapping of Stone’s trajectory highlights the role of networks in his professional profile: he is linked backwards to Kosky and Andrews, and forwards to the other artists who have worked with him repeatedly across companies, countries, and mediums.
In curating this Special Issue, we are seeking a way to apprehend the work of the iconoclastic director that includes and highlights the network of collaborators, in terms of both individuals and institutions, who develop, facilitate, and assist their work. We are thereby attempting to build a body of scholarly work that addresses the work of a director on the rise by demonstrating and interrogating the multiple networks in which that director is suspended. We contest the idea that the auteur-director is a lone artist with a singular ‘brand’; while their name may well be alone on the marquee, or they alone may lead the company, the rise of an iconoclastic director is facilitated by those around them, many of whom go on to build significant careers or whose venues symbolise a particular politics of practice in themselves.
This Special Issue has two key aims. Firstly, it looks to situate Stone within a wider creative ecology, particularly of mid-career artists such as Alice Babidge and Anne-Louise Sarks who are rising in prominence as leading figures within the international theatre industry. We aim to showcase how repeat collaboration and a shared approach to practice, which is in part defined by blurring the boundaries between adaptation and new writing and between the categorisation of artistic role (the multi-hyphenate or ‘slashy’ artist), has been integral to the career trajectories of this new generation of theatrical heavyweights. In so doing, the Special Issue seeks to provide the first large-scale documentation of Stone and Company’s theatrical practice. Despite Stone’s career span, the significance of his collaborators, and the global prominence of his productions, he is yet to receive substantial scholarly attention.
Contributions might approach questions including but by no means limited to:
- Stone & Company, the international festival circuit, and theatrical institutions (especially pre- and post-COVID);
- Stone & Company and the Australian ‘cultural cringe’;
- The representational practices of Stone & Company, especially regarding issues of gender and race;
- Theatrical networks of practice and mapping tools;
- Stone & Company and the multi-hyphenate artist;
- Stone & Company and authorship/auteurship; and
- Stone & Company and the classical tradition.
For Backpages, we seek accounts of practice, both from within Stone & Company’s orbit and from outside. Stone is an unabashedly polemical artist — and we invite other practitioner/scholars to take up similarly polemical positions in creative responses. We particularly welcome any ‘insider’ accounts of Stone & Company’s rehearsal room practice, including rehearsal ethnographies, as well as interviews and other collaborations with the network.