Deconstructing the idea of an iconic male “hero”

Kaylah Joelle Baker

At the young age of 10, director Daniel Schlusser remembers reading The Labours of Hercules (Heracles in Greek) as a lovely book of Greek myths.

It was only as an adult when he read an overlooked work called The Madness of Heracles that Mr Schlusser questioned why we were celebrating a so-called hero who after saving his family from a murderous tyrant went mad and killed them himself.

“I came back to it as an adult with my beautiful Daniel Schlusser Ensemble and we became interested in a whole lot of other issues which are more about the figure of Hercules and the idea of the male hero and how inaccessible that is to women,” he said.

“We happen to be in a moment of time where we are very conscious of figures in our public who have overstepped their boundaries and committed grave ethical crimes despite their jobs being to protect us.”

Through grappling with a multitude of challenging concepts and layers, the Daniel Schlusser Ensemble have created a new work in Hercules that is radical while profoundly balancing the line of what is real and what is not.

“We have a very developed style of making work, which is based on improvisation and bringing the performers' experience, the design team’s experience and my experience into the room as material,” Mr Schlusser said.

“Often we will be talking about moments in our lives which are embarrassing, funny or dark and they are brought into proximity with the story, and it starts to fade away and we have that sense that it’s lurking beneath the work.”

Known as a multi-modal theatre of work, Hercules is performed by three strong female performers – Mary-Helen Sassman, Katherine Tonkin and Edwina Wren – as they authentically represent themselves through the parameters of the show, while still intertwining the tragic consequences of confused masculinity, heroism and coercive control.

Currently at Arts House preparing for their world premiere on May 24, Mr Schlusser makes sure to note that the approach of Hercules is not even vaguely classical.

Instead, he chose “bonkers” as his choice of description.

“It is much more about a complete theatrical act that will work on an audience in the way an immersive visual artwork will. It is as sensory as it is literary and it is as physical as it is verbal,” he said.

As “wrapped” as the ensemble are to be making art again, Mr Schlusser said it was the Arts House’s support and “sense of pastoral care” that had made the transition back even more worthwhile.

It’s a trust in methods that went both ways according to Arts House artistic director Emily Sexton.

“We could not be in safer hands than with these exceptional artists, and I trust them fully to create a theatrical world that both surprises and challenges us in equal measure,” she said.

“This is a timely and politically urgent work on a topic that has received less attention than it should as we’ve navigated the challenges of the pandemic.”

Hercules is being presented by the Daniel Schlusser Ensemble, and haunted by Euripides, at the Arts House from May 24 to 28.

artshouse.com.au

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