Sam Foster, physical theatre performer
Theatre's job is not to give answers, its job is to raise questions and provoke discussion ...
Sam Foster is one extraordinarily talented individual. A skilled actor and director, Sam can also add stunt performer, physical theatre performer, martial artist and fight choreographer, yoga teacher, massage therapist and workshop facilitator to his remarkable resume. As if that isn’t enough, he is the co-owner and founder of Shock Therapy Productions and is also responsible for running Zeal Theatre Queensland and is performing in The Forwards at The Arts Centre Gold Coast from July 9–18. The Weekend Edition Gold Coast caught Sam in between rehearsals to have a chat about the current show and being a Jack-of-all-trades.
You’re currently involved in a production of The Forwards, which opens at The Arts Centre Gold Coast on July 9. What can audiences expect from that show?
It’s going to be something a little bit different for the Gold Coast and true to Zeal’s style of theatre, which is hard-hitting, in your face and very physical. It’s a story about a small country town football team and all of the drama that happens both on and off the field in the lead-up to the grand final. It will be an action-packed, high-energy theatrical experience.
What drew you to physical theatre?
I was an athlete growing up and my dad was the head of theatre at Griffith University Gold Coast so I was always around theatre but when I came across physical theatre and circus, I guess it just made sense. I had always enjoyed storytelling and the way theatre could evoke certain emotions and move people to feel and question themselves or society and the fusion of that theatrical storytelling with physicality was really appealing to me from a young age.
One of the shows you’ve previously been involved in is a travelling production of The Stones, which tells the tale of two kids, aged 13 and 15, that are charged with manslaughter after kicking rocks off a freeway overpass killing a motorist. That’s a pretty heavy message for kids, how did audiences react to that show?
All of Zeal’s shows are based on true stories so although they might be confronting to people there’s always an element of truth and from my experience, kids are a good radar, if there’s too much bullshit they won’t tolerate it. Especially high school kids, they can be a tough audience but if you’re coming at it from the perspective that this is true, this is relevant, this is real and you put that on stage then they really respond well to it. Our other show, The Apology, is a similar thing, it’s a true story about a kid that gets hassled in school and it’s pretty dark and pretty heavy but kids really respond well to it because they feel empowered by the fact that it is their story on stage. The Forwards, which will also tour schools, is definitely not light-hearted, although we weave a lot of comedy into the show it deals with some pretty confronting topics and issues but for a lot of young people it is hard and is confronting and it is difficult so it’s good to be able to raise those questions in a public forum and get people thinking about those types of issues.
You’ve recently moved into doing some film work. How does it compare to live theatre?
I guess the biggest difference is that the reaction from the audience is not immediate. The great thing about live theatre is the audience is such an integral part of the experience. When they come in they create an energy in the theatre and what you’re doing on stage combined with that energy creates this really unique experience and the feedback is immediate. You can tell a gag or play a dramatic moment and you get a sense straight away how that’s gone down and how people have reacted where as with film, you do 100 takes of it and two years later it gets released so by the time people see it it’s a distant memory because you’ve done seven other gigs in the meantime. The other major difference is that film captures a lot more so it requires a more subtle performance than theatre.
Your work has taken you to some amazing places including Namibia, South Africa while shooting Mad Max 4 – Fury Road but you always come back to the Gold Coast. What is it about this place that makes it home?
My family are all here, I grew up here, my son goes to school here on the Goldie so it’s home. I think that the climate and the lifestyle has a lot to do with it. I love surfing and I love the beach and I love the hinterland, I actually live out there so the balance of those two worlds is really important. When you travel the world and see how hard life can be for other people in other parts of the world you start to really appreciate your own home a lot more. We’re on a pretty good wicket here on the Gold Coast.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you faced as a physical performer on the Gold Coast?
Up until relatively recently a lot of actors, directors, writers and people in the performing arts have had to travel elsewhere for work as their careers expand but there’s a real positive energy around the Gold Coast at the moment. I’m finding a lot more artists are staying here and not only staying here but are generating work here. That was the real inspiration for us to start Shock Therapy Productions so we could work here on the Gold Coast and didn’t have to go and try and get employed as actors with companies elsewhere. I think the time is right and the general feel among the artistic community is that there is a demand for high quality art and a different kind of art and theatre that perhaps Gold Coast audiences haven’t seen in the past.
Is there one performance in particular that is eternally etched in your memory?
In the show The Apology, a bunch of young kids go on an excursion to Boggo Road Gaol and some of the boys start teasing this one kid and they play a practical joke on him that all goes pear shaped and for years I’d had this idea of doing the show inside a jail, ideally Boggo Road Gaol. I pitched the idea to the Anywhere Theatre Festival and they were on board and we actually did a season inside Boggo Road Gaol in May this year. It was a real highlight on so many levels. Mad Max was also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Many of your shows are two man plays that take on multiple characters. Was there ever a time when things didn’t go to plan?
That’s the beauty of the convention! In The Forwards there’s a whole plethora of townsfolk and we all play multiple characters and switch lines right on stage without costume changes so once you set up that convention, if things do go wrong you can generally improvise your way out of it and hopefully the audience is none the wiser. It’s part of the skill of being an actor, you have to not only know your part but the whole show so that if something does go wrong or someone misses something you can cover for it. That’s one of the benefits of working with a really tight ensemble that you trust and have developed a short-hand for working together, you can help each other out.
You’ve achieved some amazing things so far, can you share with us some of your personal highlights?
Mad Max was definitely a highlight. We travelled The Stones to a theatre festival in India a few years ago and that was a crazy, bizarre experience. The Boggo Road season was amazing and this show that we’re doing at The Arts Centre Gold Coast will be a piece of Zeal history and will be a highlight for me because we invited one of the founding members of Zeal to be in the show. I worked on the opening ceremony of the Asia Cup earlier this year in Melbourne as well as King Kong the musical, they were both amazing experiences. In general, I’m just really happy, grateful and humbled to be making a living out of my work. It’s a really hard industry so to be able to call it my job is pretty special.
What and who inspires you?
Inspiration comes from all around and I think that as a theatre maker you’re a storyteller and everyone has a story to tell, whether it’s events in your own life, observing something that has happened to a friend or stories you hear about other people and feel compelled to share. Creatively, fellow artists inspire me and professionally other people’s achievements inspire me. When things get hard you need that inspiration from friends, family and peers to keep on keeping on.
Do you have any advice for people who want to pursue theatre or acting?
I’ve had some great mentors over the years who have really helped and guided me along the way and I wouldn’t be where I am today without that guidance and those people. I definitely think that anyone wanting to get into the industry should make connections with people who have been around for a long time and listen to their stories and the mistakes they’ve made, because we’ve all made mistakes, and that’s a good thing. I heard this term recently at 2970° The Boiling Point conference and that was ‘flearning’, which is the combination of failure and learning. I really like that and I think that we shouldn’t be scared of failure because it’s through out failures that we learn. I think you also need tenacity, it’s a hard industry and I’m a bit of a Jack-of-all-trades so I have a few strings to my bow. I’m a yoga teacher and a meditation teacher and was a massage therapist before that so I’ve always had that as a gap filler in between my creative career. Having multiple skills is an asset as an artist and a creative person. And obviously you’ve got to be passionate about what you do. Like anything in life, it starts with passion and then a lot of hard work and discipline and then you start to slowly get results and get some outcomes.
How do you see theatre’s role within society?
I think theatre should raise questions. It should make us question the society we live in, it should make us question ourselves as human beings. I think that often people go to the theatre or think that the function of theatre is to give us answers about certain things but I think just like science, its job is not to give answers, its job is to raise questions and provoke discussion and thought and make us look at our own life and hopefully grow and evolve as a human race. Ultimately theatre is a form of storytelling and therefore we have a responsibility as theatre makers to keep telling stories and pass on information.