Dino Dimitriadis is preparing a “farewell of sorts” with his Apocalypse Theatre Company production of Mary Rachel Brown’s All My Sleep and Waking.
“It’s very personal for me to do this play now because I’m heading in a more focused direction from 2019, one where my politics, identity and aesthetic are going to inform the work.”
After working on two of Brown’s plays (as the producer of The Dapto Chaser, and co-director of Permission to Spin), Dimitridis sees All My Sleep and Waking as a turning point in his career as a theatremaker. The change in direction is the result of a slow evolutionary process, the 31-year-old director explains.
“Coming to terms with my queerness has been a huge journey for me,” he says. “When I started [Apocalypse] 10 years ago, I was deeply scared and ashamed to own my own politics and identity in my work. I didn’t want to be known as a gay director. So I worked on well-made international plays that mostly had heterosexual relationships at their core. They were plays that hadn’t been done in ages in Sydney, like [Patrick Marber’s] Closer, for example, so they were exciting for audiences, but they were not by any means queer texts.
“Now I’m at a point where I see my queerness as an opportunity for me to open the door to other queer artists and also to put work and voices on stage that we are not seeing regularly.”
Apocalypse Theatre Company’s production of American writer Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses at the Old Fitzroy in early 2018 was pivotal, Dimitriadis says. “In order to do Metamorphoses the way I wanted it to be, I was willing to lose my reputation in the industry. I thought, ‘fuck it’, I want to put everything on the line for myself.”
It was a radical interpretation of the published text. “Seventy per cent of the production was not on the page, and that was terrifying,” says Dimitriadis. “But there was an opportunity for that play to speak to something immediately after the marriage equality vote. When it was programmed, the yes vote hadn’t happened. But I was feeling an energy in the country the year before, an energy in and around queer communities, and I felt we were not seeing this on our stages.
“I was not seeing my world on the stage.”
Also influential in Dimitriadis’ evolving viewpoint was Melbourne company Little Ones production of Merciless Gods, staged at the Stables Theatre in 2017. “When you see your world on stage, it’s astonishing. There was my world on stage, the Greekness and the queerness, I’d never seen anything like that combination before. And I started asking myself why that’s the case.”
Dimitriadis heritage is Greek, but with a twist: He was born in South Africa [his grandparents migrated from Greece to South Africa in the 1960s] and lived there until he was nine years old.
“My family moved to Australia to find a safer space,” he says. “It was a crazy time. It was the end of Apartheid and Johannesburg at the time was an incredibly violent place. My parents were very good at not allowing me to see black and white but it was impossible to not be aware of the divisions.”
Moving from Johannesburg to Sydney was difficult, Dimitridis recalls. “I was behind at school because I was coming from a completely different education system, and I had a strong South African accent. Part of the reason I started Speech and Drama was to get rid of it.”
Dimitriadis moved into community theatre while in high school. “I directed my first community theatre show at the Zenith [Chatswood] when I was straight out of high school. There were a couple of fantastic years where you had people like Suzanne Millar and John Harrison [who went on to build KXT bAKEHOUSE and were mentors of Dimitriades] and Damien Ryan, from Sport for Jove, working there. I did Our Town and then To Kill a Mockingbird. They were both school texts and they sold out, which was extraordinary for me at that young age.”
Dimitriadis didn’t pursue drama at university. Instead, he studied Commerce/Arts at the University of Sydney.
“I still had the idea that I needed to do a job that would make money, like being an accountant or something in finance,” he says. “I did a History major to keep me sane while I was doing Commerce. Then I found Performance Studies, so I did a major in that as well.
“I have no formal training. I didn’t do SUDS either, because I was making theatre throughout uni and it was towards the end of my course I started Apocalypse.”
As a self-starter, Dimitriadis says he’s always felt something of an outsider in Sydney’s theatre ecology.
“My path to being in theatre does seem to be a bit different to other people’s. I’ve never had networks, I’ve had to forge them myself. I’ve never had doors opened to me, I’ve had to open them myself. Apocalypse was about that. I’ve had to fight to able to make the work that I wanted to make. There were a handful of people who championed me early in my career and I’d like to acknowledge them – Mary Rachel Brown, Camilla Ah Kin, Suzanne Millar and John Harrison, Ross Mueller and Jane Bodie.”
The first Apocalypse production was Danny and the Deep Blue Sea in 2010, followed by Closer in 2011, and Dimitriadis’ first production of Metamorphoses (2012). More recent productions include John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt (Old Fitzroy Theatre) and the world premiere of Aanisa Vylet’s The Girl/The Woman at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta.
All My Sleep and Waking is being staged at the Old 505 Theatre in Newtown.
“What I love about Mary as a playwright is her ability to deeply interrogate character and moral dilemmas. She scratches at really uncomfortable ideas,” says Dimitriadis. “What I love about All My Sleep and Waking, from a directing point of view, is that the play confronts complex ideas around forgiveness and grief. I think about grief and forgiveness a lot, and how people carry it. Grief can come from lots of different things. In my queer world, grief is often carried and activated and embraced.
“The play is confronting death and family and how the rules can be challenged or changed when confronted with someone dying. And yes there is a couch on stage and it’s a family drama and it’s very different from the work I’ve done recently and plan to do. But the questions at its heart are painfully human. I’ve loved this play since the day I read it.”
Brown has redrafted the script for its revival. The play premiered at the Old Fitzroy in 2002 under the Tamarama Rock Surfers banner.
“She has done an astonishing job,” says Dimitriadis. “She has been able to retain the fearlessness of the writer she was in her twenties and has inject the life experience she’s had since. It’s a beautiful combination that works.”
After All My Sleep and Waking, Dimitriadis will be knuckling down to create Apocalypse Theatre Company’s most ambitious project to date – Tony Kushner’s revered queer epic Angels in America.
“The question I keep getting is how and how are you going to do it in the Old Fitz,” says Dimitriadis. “But I actually think Angels is a chamber piece and I think there is an opportunity to really get close to it if we strip back everything and access what that play is about. The play is a howl of rage but also a howl of hope. It demands a different future for queerness.
“It’s a huge mountain, fuck me, it’s the hardest thing I will ever do. I stand in awe of the play. But we will get to the top … and then there will be another mountain.”