Daniel Monks, performer
My mum was an actress. When she was eight months pregnant with me, she did a one-woman show called 'Here to Maternity'. So ... that was my very first credit!
Daniel Monks is a rising star, actor, dancer and fearless filmmaker. The Sydney-based talent has been announced as the headline act in a breathtaking new production called Frank Enstein, which will premiere right here on the Gold Coast in March as part of Bleach Festival 2017. Daniel is an inspirational human and no stranger to the Gold Coast. As an incredibly talented professional performer, Daniel has embraced his own unique physicality, which will form a significant element of the upcoming production, where he hopes to connect with every person that has gone on a journey of self-acceptance. Daniel’s authenticity, creativity and humour is refreshing and his ability to embrace imperfections is beyond inspiring. We took a few minutes out of Daniel’s busy schedule to chat about what’s in store for Bleach Festival 2017 and the exploration of self-acceptance.
It has been announced that you will be playing a large part in a production for Bleach Festival in 2017. Tell us a little more about what is in store?
I am part of the show called Frank Enstein, a collaboration between The Farm, Bleach Festival and West Australian contemporary dance company, Co3. It’s a family dance theatre show that has a bit of stage magic – it uses the device of the classic story of Frankenstein in the sense of a creator creating humans, but it’s been given a new spin. I have a physical disability and in the story, the doctor who I play is a lonely man who is afraid because of his disability and physical imperfections – he feels like he is unlike everyone else and lesser than everyone else, so he decides to create his own perfect humans, who are played by the amazing dancers from Co3. It’s kind of an exploration of self acceptance and bodies, and trying to embrace your imperfections.
What role have you played in developing the Frank Enstein concept thus far?
The two directors and choreographers Gavin Webber and Grayson Millwood have been amazing, and from the start they have wanted my input and collaboration – and because I also have former experience with screenwriting. The three of us spent a week together before the first development to explore the themes and potential characters and stories and things like that, so they have been really amazing to collaborate with. We were very conscious of keeping it authentic for everyone with a disability, and every person that goes through the journey of self acceptance.
When did you first get into the filmmaking side of the industry?
I always grew up acting, and then when I acquired my disability when I was 11 years old, I gave it up. At the time I thought that it wasn’t a feasible career path – then I discovered filmmaking. I am predominantly a screenwriter, and when I do write, I only write things that are quite personal to me. So, stylistically they all end up being pretty similar even when I am trying not to be. Let’s just say my style is naturalistic drama with fantastical elements … kind of like a magic-realism type thing.
Frank Enstein is a really exciting new commission and collaboration – there will be a lot of hype around its premier at Bleach Festival 2017, though, what is it about the performance that you think will really engage with the audience?
Well, I feel like everything that The Farm does is always so inventive and creative – they kind of take the form of dance or theatre and they always do something new or exciting with it. What I am really excited about is for Frank Enstein to reach younger audiences as well. Even though it will be a fun, spooky, exciting and magical show, there’s still a lot of thought in it and there is a real human emotion undercurrent to it – it’s about self acceptance. It’s such a rare thing as well to see people with disabilities on stage, especially in dance and theatre shows. In my experience, the more that we see disabled people on stage, to more normalized it becomes – so it’s great for younger audience to be able to see and empathise with a person (myself) with disabilities and from what we’ve developed so far, I am really excited by it – it’s really fun, funny and irreverent, but also hopefully moving. It’s very live, electric and exciting.
What are the most challenging and rewarding elements of this industry?
For me, the most challenging would be being an actor with a disability – there is not much precedence for it, which is part of the reason why when I was younger that I thought was unfeasible for me to have a career as an actor. There is a lot of close-mindedness about it, particularly in the film and television industries. I feel like theatre is a bit more embracing and open. In the life of any actor there is always rejection, but its harder to accept that rejection when its purely because of a disability. On the other side, when I do get the opportunities to do this work, like with Frank Enstein and Bleach Festival, I see the impact on not only the people seeing my work but also seeing a disabled person and being able to connect with them and empathise in a different way … for disabled people to see themselves represented. Even though its hard to get those jobs, I feel like when I do, they can be hopefully create more impact and create that precedent. There is a great wave of new, young disabled actors and filmmakers and performers, that I feel like it is starting to come up and it’s starting to be supported.
Do you feel the performing arts landscape is changing when it comes to people with a disability?
I am hopeful. Weary, yet hopeful. I feel like diversity has been a hot topic in the last couple of years, but disability is not usually included in that conversation, it’s usually talking about racial diversity. Even if you have screen characters with a disability, 95 per cent of them are played by non-disabled actors, which is kind of insane. The first step is awareness, and I do think we are becoming more aware, so hopefully that change will start to happen. And that’s why projects like Frank Enstein – by incorporating the disability into the character, it makes the story and the journey so much more richer. I feel like seeing my physicality, which is so unique compared to the dancer physicality, is an interesting thing to watch as an audience.
There are a lot of feathers in your hat, so where is the happy place for you – screenwriting or performing?
Definitely performing. Screenwriting I find really satisfying, but it feels like a lot more hard work. Whereas the hardworking side of acting is just so joyous. I feel like I am the happiest and the most sane when I am acting … if that makes sense? I guess I am an actor, filmmaker and dancer – and in that order. Whilst I have an understanding of the movement of dance, I wouldn’t call myself a professional dancer, so I am definitely coming from the acting side of things.
Has performing arts always been in your blood?
Yes. My mum was an actress. When she was eight months pregnant with me, she did a one-woman show called Here to Maternity … so that was my very first credit! I kind of grew up around theatres and on sets and there is nothing else I have every wanted to do – I have always just loved it so much.
Daniel Monks will play a lead role in Frank Enstein – an exciting new commission and collaboration with local Gold Coast dance company The Farm and West Australian-based dance company Co3, which will premiere at The Arts Centre Gold Coast on Friday March 31 as part of Bleach Festival 2017‘s exciting program of events and performances. Tickets are on sale now, so be quick. The full program for next year’s Bleach Festival will be announced on 1 February 2017 – we cannot wait!