Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Obituary

Lindzee Smith: 22.9.1940 – 24.2.2007
Lindzee Smith, aged 66 and one of the founding members of the Australian Performing Group (APG) died last Saturday after battling a long illness.
Following an operation conducted ten days earlier, the actor-director and dedicated avant gardist of the theatre died of a post-operative infection. Lindzee had been living with Lupus blood disease which had resulted in a highly compromised immune system and an above the knee amputation.
First treading the boards in a 1966 production of CRIMES AND CRIMES, Lindzee bore the tag 'Ironman' (having once won a Bellarine Peninsula Mr Geelong style endurance event). The Strindberg play featured other giants in the theatre – the co-star was Lindy Davies and it was directed by Richard Murphet, who has since proved critical to the life of the VCA Drama School.
In those days, the emergence of La Mama was all the go and Lindzee, along with Max Gillies, Peter Cummins, Bruce Spence, Sue Ingleton, Peter Corrigan, Evelyn Krape, Jane Clifton and many others were soon to board that underground flagship, the Pram Factory.
If the company you keep is a measure of your worth, Smith as an actor-director had the knack of befriending notables. Primarily based in New York through the 80s and 90s, he wined, dined and spawned projects with James Purdy, the aging Tennessee Williams and Gregory Corso. The likes of Sam Shephard and Jim Jarmush were great fans of Lindzee.
In the Melbourne of the 60s and 70s Lindzee worked with Australian writers such as Alex Buzo (“Norm and Ahmed”), Jack Hibberd (“Who” and “White With Wire Wheels”), John Romeril (“Chicago Chicago”, “The Golden Holden”, “The Floating World”), Daniel Keene (“The Fighter”, Isle of Swans”, “The Hour Before My Father Dies”) and Barry Dickins.
Under the name of Nightshift (with Lindzee in the director's chair and often with Phil Motherwell writing), he produced many works including Motherwell’s “The Fitzroy Yank” and “Dreamers of the Absolute”. Nightshift began as an ensemble within the Pram Factory and went on to make its mark in Sydney, Perth, New York and Bergamo.
A dedicated internationalist wherever he lived, Smith revisited his past productions, continuing to net royalties for such playwrights as Orton, Brenton, Hare, Mueller, Fassbinder, Handke, Kroetz, Arrabal, Maria Irene Fornes. Nor did the classic repertoire escape his attentions with productions of works by Brecht, Ibsen, O’Neill and Sophocles.

3 comments:

shuvus said...

Its shuvus..I was at the funeral yesterday of our Lindzee. What a gift he was to all of us. He made me believe I could be what I wanted to be. He made me believe i could be an actor (not a very good one as it turned out in time). But he did the same for so many of our national treasures. Romeril, Hibberd, Williamson, Motherwell. I met in Lindzee in the early seventies. My aspirations were way ahead of my abilities. One of my first memories .Everyone was in the tower reading "floating World" for the first time. It was this wonderful talent ripping open this new script. Kerry Dwyer, Carol Porter, Wilfred Last, Tim robertson, Rob Meldrum, Jane Clifton. It was fresh and raw. Tim was larger than life. Powerful , alarming. I was seduced. And there at the centre of it all was Lindzee letting you know you were capable of it.Dragging it out of us all. Not scared to tell you when its crap and not working, courageous. Lets not mince words here...atcha!
Also our scout , the one to go out there into the world and drag back an armload of new scripts. Everyone just ate it up.
My next memory is ACDC by Heathcote Williams with Phil Motherwell and Carol Porter, magic on a stick. The laconic madness of Perowne by Phil with Carol Porter as Sadie, red hair, blue eyes blazing, it was to behold. special.
The loft at 303b Smith Street. Betsy and Linz in one loft. Khorshed and Phil in the other. I remember inspecting it with Linz. It had a fake fur company, and it was a shemozzle . For only about 6 months until he had "Saliva Milkshake" and "Ruffian on the Stair" playing in what really was the Kitchen".
He honored the gift that was given to him .What a life ...It aint about the years, but how much you can squeaze into them. Overflowing would come to mind.
A giant among us on both counts , I loved his bigness it filled the room. Spikey hair or whatever was fashionable at the time. He was no daggy looking director. Out there.

Once the Pram Factory closed , and linz disappeared off to New York with less of a reason to come back, There was no longer that net that Drummond street provided. We really lost him for a few critical years in the early eighties to New York . Carol stopped acting . What a shocking loss to us all. I know she is fine artist now , but boy. More fools us.1980s It dried up in a sea of standup comedy,a my story rather than an "our story" that a playwright and an interpretation provides.
I lost interest, I took drugs, I stole from my friends and family , I beacame a moral-free zone. I went to New York and lived with Lindzee in 1982. Fantastic scripts by Purdy. Wonderful talent like Tim Burns, Betty Gordon, Steve Wilkinson. I blew it in a haze of chemicals. It was over.
I lost all self belief, that I could act and I stopped.
So in the scheme of things I was only around for a short part of Lindzees life from 1974 till 1982. But they have been critical to who I am today. I was 23 when I met him. What I am trying to say to those of you out there reading this is ponder the contribution he made to your life.
Thank you Lindzee , from the bottom of my Heart. Shuvus

Jane Rankin-Reid said...

Lindzee was complicated tricky human who could drive the sanest person mad, but on stage, he was one of the most dynamic performers I've ever seen , and that's saying something...New York was more of a struggle for him professionally and personally than it often appears, but his remarkable energy and commitment to making genuinely innovative theatre usually transcended the grubbier side of his survival there. He was the sort of person who'd leave an entire load of laundry on your washing line and return expecting to collect it folded and ironed years later, the sort of person who'd eat everything in your fridge and then tell you you'd failed to feed him properly, and who'd run up massive phone bills to some of the most interesting numbers in the world of international theatre and tell you the bill was your fault for not having stopped him...yes he was maddening but relentlessly charming without being remotely smarmy. He never failed to irritate me when I first met him 30 years ago but somehow over the years, I ended up believing he was worth all the mess he'd leave in his wake. I will never forget his performances, it was like witnessing a secret assault on reason and I am very grateful that there is still a tiny philosophical space in this world for his remarkable gifts. To his enduring credit, perhaps at times even in spite of himself, Lindzee was blessed with a catalogue of some of the most patient forgiving friends anyone could ask for! Yes, I agree with Shuvus, thank you Lindzee!
Jane Rankin-Reid

Anonymous said...

In 1976 I was in second year of a bachelor of education in drama at Rusden State College in Victoria. Traditionally in second year the head of school, John Ellis, directed the major performance project. But for reasons I don’t remember exactly, it was announced that there would be a guest director that particular year – some guy called Lindzee Smith. Turned out he was from the Australian Performing Group, which was based at the Pram Factory in Carlton.

Big news. Exciting news, we were told.

Never heard of him.

So Lindzee turned up on day one and lodged his proposal. He was asking us whether we were interested in the idea of performing a work he had the rights for, a play FANSHEN written by David Hare. Normally he should have been directing it at the Pram but he had talked the collective into letting him do it with us students, providing we opened it at the Pram Factory before the traditional season at the college theatre.

Was he kidding?

Lindzee was big on talking. He wanted to know who we were. He asked questions, lots of questions, hard questions. If we asked questions he’d say, “you work it out”. He was scary. He was funny. He was dark. He was inspiring. He was difficult. He was challenging. He was provocative. He was alarming. He was also, in short, totally fucking amazing.

After a few readings he asked us if we had preferences in roles. He considered our requests though I seem to remember it was cast pretty quickly and there were few disappointments. I was to play a bloke and he said I should cut off my hair. “Are you a fuckin actor or what mate?” He said fuck a lot. We spent a couple of weeks learning our lines while skipping with an enormous rope in the rehearsal room. No meaning, no interpretation allowed. “Just learn the bloody lines so we can figure out where we’re going with the text”.

Didn’t he know already?

He took us away to Anglesea to rehearse for a while. We spent a lot of time telling stories about ourselves. He made observations, cast remarks. A few love affairs were launched. We meditated. We did Tai Chi on the beach. We sang. He had us trying to overtone, harmonically, Mongolian style. We played John Lennon’s Rock and Roll album and danced. We didn’t sleep much. Lindzee held court. We sat at his feet. Literally. I was hypnotised. I was 19 years old and my life was changing forever.

Once we had learned our lines we did speed runs of the text on a daily basis. He kept pushing us “faster, go faster”. We went faster. So fast, the text lost its sense, seemed to lose it’s meaning. Performance was impossible. No chance for acting, no possibility of loading the text up with “fucking acting school bullshit”. And then suddenly in that raw and stripped back state the sense of the piece cut through. Then we flew.

So we opened the show at the Pram. It was a big success. I was totally gob-smacked by the audience reaction. I played the bad guy and I had rehearsed my role without the faintest idea it was comic. My first lines brought the house down, wild raucous laughter. I was devastated. But after the show came the feedback. Apparently I was hilarious. It was a good thing. Smith was happy. I was relieved.

The next night I went out thinking I’d slay ‘em. I’d top the previous night’s performance. They’d love it. They’d love me.

They didn’t. I died! A couple of smirks and snorts but no belly laughs like I’d had the night before. Smith would not be happy. I was showing off. Totally not on.

I was sweating it after the show in the dressing room. What was he going to say? Smith was merciless in after show note sessions. He’d tear into anyone who fucked up, anyone who gave their ego a run. And I had certainly, royally, fucked up.

He ignored me. That was even worse. He didn’t give me one note. Not a word. Excruciating. I had to know. So I asked. He just fixed me for a second or two (I think so anyway – he was always wearing sunglasses) and then turning on his heel, muttered over his shoulder “Well ya won’t fuckin do that again will ya mate?”

The following year Lindzee directed us again, this time in Peter Handke’s KASPAR, also at the Pram. Peter Corrigan designed it. It was fantastic. I remember one day Lindzee and Corrigan were locked in a conspiratorial, whispered exchange in the rehearsal room at Rusden for what seemed like an eternity. Some of us wandered off to get a coffee and were told they were discussing how to tell us they wanted us to perform naked. Yeeeeuuuwwwww!

I was relieved to discover it was only the Kaspars who were being asked to nude up. I was a Prompter and thus exempt. Eventually after an hour or so of arguing the agreed compromise was that the Kaspars would perform naked from the waist up. I offered that as a show of solidarity perhaps the Prompters (four of us) should perform naked from the waist down – which would have been pretty funny as we were standing at music stands on elevated rostra at the back of the performance space. Wouldn’t those white legs and genitals look great peeping out from under the music stands? Lindzee didn’t go for it. Didn’t think he would – I was just trying to appear cool and unfazed by the nudity thing.

In the meantime of course we were spending more and more time hanging around the Pram. There was a group of artists who Lindzee seemed closer to than others. Nightshift. I can remember him talking about working with Nightshift and thinking that must have been because these guys worked at night, after he’d finished rehearsing with us. I was a kid. A baby.

I was utterly blown away by their work. This was the theatre I wanted in on. But then suddenly he was gone - to New York - for who knew how long. A huge hole opened up in me. I felt cast adrift.

My life took another swerve but this isn't about me so I'll leave that.

Years later he reappeared in Sydney. He and Cooney had set up shop in Newtown and suddenly we were just about neighbours. We spent a lot of time together. He came to every show I did. We was fabulously critical. He was extraordinarily helpful. Discussing my ideas with him was like have them fertilized, nourished. He always had some anecdote or book or magazine article or script that was entirely appropriate. He was totally supportive of anyone trying to work, to make work. We started to do stuff together again. But I was working for Sidetrack Perfomance Group fulltime at that stage and my time was limited. So mostly we just hung out and saw stuff and read stuff and talked. This was a period in my life I am really grateful for. During this time I got to know the guy off his pedestal. I saw the man who dearly loved his friends. Who was a friend to me. He was ill, really ill but didn't whinge. Not to me at least. He just kept going. I don't think he had any choice. He was driven. And yes sometimes that can be hard to live with. For those around him maybe and certainly for him.

Jon Hawkes has said that Smith had "the most detailed memories of things that did not happen in the way that he remembers them happening." I think that's true. But a lot of the time the story was much better when he told it. He was a master story teller and shit-spinner. He was an artist - a maker of magic. I think there has to be a bit of bullshit in there somewhere.

I was so saddened by his death. Because I had once again lost touch with him and hadn't seen him for a few years. I'd moved to France and he'd moved to Melbourne. I let things slide. I regret that. There are many things I wish I'd had the chance to tell him. But I think my mate Shuvus in essence said it best...

Lindzee, thankyou my friend.

The rest I'll tell him myself.

Jai McHenry Derra