Making your own work is one of the best ways to gain experience and build your network in the industry, and we want to give our students every chance of success. That’s why in 2018, we launched Fine at Fringe, a program designed to offer support to HFAS students and friends wishing to stage works during the Melbourne Fringe Festival. This week, we’re thrilled to be chatting to the third and final 2019 Fine at Fringe recipient, Mark Salvestro.

Mark graduated from the HFAS Full Time program in 2014, and has kept himself busy since, acting, writing producing, performing Shakespeare in Prague, and writing and performing his critically acclaimed one-man show Buried at Sea, which he performed for Melbourne and Adelaide Fringe Festivals, Brisbane Anywhere Festival, and a NSW Snowy Mountains tour. And if all that wasn’t enough, Mark is also a founding member of North of Eight theatre company.

Mark’s upcoming Fringe show ‘The Will To Be’  is a one-man show exploring legacy, sexuality, and shame, married with the words of William Shakespeare and music of the 1960s.

Q. Hi Mark! Can you tell us a bit about your show, ‘The Will to Be’?

Mark: Hi HFAS! So ‘The Will To Be’ is a new one-man show that I’ve been working on for the past eight months. It tells the story of a young university lecturer in 1960s Melbourne who has been let go from his job because he is a homosexual and has been having an affair with one of his third year students. 

Q. The show deals with some complex themes such as legacy, sexuality and shame, as well as incorporating Shakespeare and 1960s music. Where did the idea come from/what inspired you to write it?

Mark: Initially, my ego just wanted to create a solo show with lots of Shakespeare monologues! I tested and tried many concepts but not a lot really stuck for the first couple of months. I felt like I was pushing past something – a concept, a premise perhaps – that was much closer to me, so I asked myself David Coury’s inevitable question from SFA: “What is the thing beneath the thing beneath the thing?” Through this process, I realised that I was not yet fully owning my sexuality and identity as a gay man, particularly through my work as an actor and writer. I knew it was time I explored this in depth once and for all. What was in my way? A whole lot of deep-rooted shame, denial and fear of not being fully accepted, both in my personal life and – probably more so – in my creative career. I then needed a character who would know Shakespeare so well that he could recite any of The Bard’s words at will, as well as a time period that raised the stakes for this character all the more. And this is how I arrived at a gay university lecturer in 1960s Australia; a time when homosexuality was still very much illegal across Australia.

Q. What was your process for developing your show/script?

Mark: Once I had my premise for the show, I needed to get as much content as possible on the page, so I spent about five weeks journaling and free-writing every day, finishing up with about 60 typed pages of word vomit. My process then became quite logical, even mathematical at times, as I labelled each and every single writing excerpt and began to order them. Once I created a rough structure, I continued to re-draft the piece for a further two months until, with some dramaturgical assistance, I arrived at a fifth and final 16-page rehearsal draft.

Q. This is your second solo show (the first being Buried at Sea). Is there anything you learned from writing and performing Buried at Sea that changed the way you approached The Will to Be?

Mark Salvestro The Will to Be

Mark: For sure! The main lesson was to trust my process (a little more). While it still felt like I was pulling teeth at times, I had a few processes that worked well with Buried at Sea that I could borrow from when the writer’s block really hit hard. Another lesson was to just write! Everything! ‘Buried at Sea’ began with A LOT of ancestry research and it took me months to even write a single word of my own. With ‘The Will To Be’, I tried to write earlier than I felt comfortable, despite that feeling of not having done enough research, to get something, anything, on the page. I’m still surprised by some of the excerpts that made their way into the final draft of BaS; you never know how and where you might just find some gold!

Q. Did you pick up any lessons in Sally McLean’s Playing the Bard class that helped with your writing, rehearsals, etc? 

Mark: Sure did! I was about to begin writing my first draft during ‘Playing the Bard’. I emailed Sally at the beginning of the course to let her know about the play and the themes I was exploring, and asked her to choose my Shakespeare piece for class. I got quite a shock – actually, I think I even cringed - when she sent me back one of Romeo’s monologues. His “’tis torture and not mercy” piece. I wanted to write a show about homosexuality, about shame and denial – what did some heightened story about two ‘star-crossed lovers’ have to do with it? But as I began to discover throughout class and my writing process, Romeo and Juliet couldn’t have been a better parallel to what I was exploring. There is love and there is passion, but there is also banishment and sacrifice. When adapting Romeo’s monologue for the modern era – as per the class format - Sally let me use the character and premise of ‘The Will To Be’. So, Romeo became my lecturer, William O’Halloran, Verona became the university, and Juliet became William’s student and lover. The opening of the play is now very much inspired by this piece and what I explored in Playing the Bard back in June.

Q. Both Buried at Sea and The Will to Be have an element of exploring the past. What is it about history that inspires you?

Mark: I was never all that fond of history at school; in fact, I found it rather boring. I seem to have developed a love of research and historical periods through my acting work – it’s one of my favourite parts of my process these days. I’m fascinated by time and how much it can affect a person’s being. I’m somewhat of a deprived history nut inside who can only truly justify spending time on research if it’s in relation to my creative career. I’ve never completed a degree (ironic, considering my character is a lecturer, I know!), but I like to use my creative projects as a means of educating myself along the way. I feel the more I can learn about people over time, and how society and circumstance influences their behaviour, the better my chances are at becoming a more empathetic and well-rounded actor and human being.

Q. Do you have any advice for someone who wants to write, perform and produce their own show? 

Mark: Ask for help! Even if you’re a control freak like me and want to take on the roles of writer, producer and performer, be sure to develop a team still. Involve mentors, coaches and/or dramaturgs where and when you can. It’s not always possible time-wise and financially, but you’ll thank yourself later if you do. 

Also, as Nike readily suggest…just do it! If you want to create a show, get on it. Stop talking about it, dreaming about it, complaining that you just don’t have the right idea yet. If you truly want to create a solo piece, carve out the time to do it, and get to work. It will come together…eventually…after a shit tonne of blood, sweat and tears. Believe me, I know, I’m in the thick of it right now. I’m writing this a week out from my opening night, and am absolutely petrified. But I must borrow a leaf from Howard’s book, and remind myself WHY I am telling this story, not how, and revel in the process of it all. 

Thanks for taking the time to chat to us Mark! ‘The Will To Be’ runs from September 23 - 29 at the Butterfly Club. Click here to get your tickets now: https://thebutterflyclub.com/show/the-will-to-be