WHEATFIELD WITH CROWS A lasting impression

What led Vincent van Gogh to his final painting? Delve into the absurd internal monologue and dysfunctional life of Vincent and the van Gogh family and explore how his mind manifested onto his canvas in Wheatfield with Crows, as local team Motif Collective reveal these secrets and more at the After Dark gallery from Thursday, January 20 to Saturday, January 23. KWANWOO HAN caught up with the show’s producer Charis Postmus and writer and director Madeleine Stephens to find out about the development of the show and about Vincent van Gogh himself.

Congrats on bringing Wheatfield with Crows to Fringe 2022! How does it feel to present this show this year?

Charis: Thank you! The feeling is definitely incredulity wrapped in disbelief. In the arts industry, everything is so fast-paced and there are hundreds of hours of preparation for every show. As a producer, as well as a performer, you hit the ground running and get so wrapped up in a project that sometimes you have to pinch yourself to make sure it’s real!

Wheatfield with Crows is a theatre performance that details Vincent van Gogh’s arduous life, but it’ll be squeezed into less than two hours. How long has this been works? and who helped build it?

Madeleine: The idea for Wheatfield with Crows, as corny as in sounds, came to me in a dream. I spent hours planting my mind to paper and much of the poetic text came to me in the moment. I did of course continue with an abundance of research and have even included direct quotes from certain characters – see if you can pick them out when watching the show!

My first draft was done within 48 hours and there was little editing done. All I needed was actors to bring my writing to life. Charis Postmus and Rachel Anderson have been my Charlie’s Angels right from the get-go. They are my left and right hand in the production of this show and have gone above and beyond. I am so grateful to have such strong young women by my side. It has been a challenging road to get to where we are now, but we persevered, and the hard work will, hopefully, pay off!

Nuit D’Étoile roughly translates to Starry Night in French, and is the name of a curated program of French art songs that will be performed with the show. Is this an original creation? Who is credited with designing it?

Charis: Yes, “Nuit D’Étoile” translates to “Starry Night.” I am a very visual musician and often use imagery to guide my emotive choices when singing art song. When I learnt Claude Debussy’s mesmerising French piece; Nuit D’Étoile I immediately visualised Van Gogh’s Starry Night’ in my mind’s eye…

Two years later when Maddie Stephens came to me with her poetic script, Debussy’s hypnotic melodies sprang back into mind. It felt like a match made in heaven!

The key to an ‘original’ initiative, however, is not to try and take it all on alone but to entrust your ideas to a creative team. Luckily, I am blessed with many talented colleagues, so the pieces seemed to just fall into place. My artistic and academic colleague Ava Charleson planned a beautiful program, pairing the incredible piano skills of Lydia Lai, and the angelic voice of Jessè Chester-Browne’s voice, as well as my own, with a selection of van Gogh’s artworks. Each painting, matches the imagery within the poetry of works by Debussy, Fauré, Hahn, Duparc, and Poulenc, just to name a few!

My favourite part of this project was learning how to “make a painting come to life” through virtual programming so that the paintings move with the live music. What’s more, we are so lucky to be performing in a gallery space and to have the “live” images projected onto the gallery walls by our wonderful lighting technician; Tegan Leggett.

Vincent van Gogh is an artist with a unique style, using short brush strokes to build sceneries and portraits. What do you believe makes him and his style so special?

Madeleine: Vincent van Gogh’s style was the epitome of what became known as Impressionism. This style is so intricately divine not only because of the glorious perspectives of still life it creates, but the personal detail each artist brings to the canvas. If you look closely at any of Vincent’s paintings, you will see an array of different colours used in close proximity and in small refined strokes. But when pulling away to take a painting in as a whole, everything melds together to create a beautiful image. The science of primary and secondary colours and colour relationships were so intricately placed that they trick the viewer. It is both clever and witty and yet marvellous.

The event is named after his last painting, created a few weeks before his death, but why is that? Why not name it after his more famous pieces like The Starry Night or Sunflowers?

Madeleine: This physical theatre play is a take on Vincent’s demise and how his mental illness slowly took over each of his daily tasks. He had no control over his own actions and decisions, and we see that unfold with our ensemble. It is only fitting that the play is named after Vincent’s final painting Wheatfield with Crows as throughout the show Vincent is always moving and searching and never finding his place. But when he finally does, Wheatfield with Crows is there and what happens? You’ll have to come see the show to find out…

Vincent van Gogh is one of those artists who epitomise the “tortured artist” trope due to the hardships he trudged through life. What is your thoughts and opinions on this visage?

Madeleine: When thinking of Vincent, the common misconception is that he was lonely and spent most of his time alone. True, he was a recluse at certain points in his life, but the important and influential people in his life are rarely acknowledged. Vincent had many mentors and physicians that supported his work and attempted to medicate his illness. His brother, Theodorus van Gogh, was the most influential and consistent presence in his final years and it is believed Theodorus died of a broken heart following the death of Vincent. Vincent nicely fits the stereotype of the “tortured artist” but there are so many layers to that title. Come see the show to watch them unfold.

Vincent van Gogh’s life is a depressing and emotional one with no clear improvement. What do you believe that the audience should look forward to and expect?

Madeleine: One can never truly understand another’s mental illness. Whether that be depression, anxiety, bipolar, or schizophrenia. All these things present differently from person to person. As a personal issue, I have attempted to manifest these concepts into a work of art that is both informative and beautiful. There are strong themes of depression and suicide yet nothing is too heavy and more artistic as we attempt to keep our audience pool vast.

What about you? What will you be looking forward to when the show is being performed?

Madeleine:  I am most excited to take a step back and just get to watch everything through fresh eyes. Seeing the show as a whole will, hopefully, be such a sigh of relief. I am so incredibly proud of my cast and crew and the countless hours of blood, sweat, and tears they have poured into bringing this show to life. I have no doubt they will all go beyond any of my expectations.

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