Born Melbourne, Australia, 1970
They said, ‘You have a blue guitar
You do not play things as they are.’
The man replied, ‘Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.’
— Wallace Stevens
Daniel Schlusser began directing at the age of 20, forming the company Behemoth with his brother, performer Christopher Schlusser, and visual artist Michael Camilleri. This collaboration was marked by an interest in formally adventurous texts, audience management and chaos theories. Producing works by writers such as Heiner Müller, R.W. Fassbinder and Howard Barker was paralleled with premiering the work of some of Australia’s more innovative playwrights such as Jack Hibberd, Sam Sejavka, Angus Cerini and Ben Ellis.
Sent as the Australian representative to the Berlin Theatertreffen Young Director’s Forum in 1996, Schlusser returned to Melbourne to complete his Hibberd cycle, including The Prodigal Son (Playbox) with composer Darrin Verhagen, a collaboration that culminated with Medea for Robyn Archer’s Melbourne International Festival of the Arts in 2002.
In 1999, he staged a production of Durrenmatt’s The Visit with a cast of thirty, and an audience limited to thirty. This production was the seed for the development of a process that is particularly suited to large-format theatre, moving away from the reflection of the family unit or the personal drama, to a theatre that reflects the polis as a whole.
In 2002, Schlusser directed the hoist theatre group’s inaugural production, Ostrovsky’s It’s a Family Affair, which gave the company confidence to embark on a radical reinterpretation of Gogol’s The Government Inspector. This phase was a transition, with the Gogol specifically beginning a long journey that freed the performer to create scores that followed musical and improvisational structures.
More importantly it was a bridge between the dominant mode of Expressionism and the new methodology, which could be called hyper-realism or hysterical-realism, or simply realism. Its features include a low-key performance state from which “theatre” can emerge, an interest in functionality of the stage and closely observed “real time” rather than theatrical time.
Director Daniel Schlusser has drunk deep of such Russian philosophy in praise of literary “dialogism”, carnivalism, masquerade, satire and anarchy. Schlusser’s madly careening production of The Government Inspector for the Hoist theatre collective was replete with performers, largely without artifice, taking on several roles or characters, often in the same breath. Men play women, women play men and the whole edifice of theatrical convention comes tumbling down.
- Jonathan Marshall, realtime 57
After The Government Inspector Schlusser left Australia for three years. During this time, he traveled widely, directing at the Dublin International Theatre Festival, the Bush Theatre in London and observing the work of other artists, most importantly an intensive period attached to director Armin Petras at the Frankfurt Schauspielhaus.
Self-taught until this point, Schlusser returned to Melbourne and completed an MA at the Victorian College of the Arts, presenting Peer Gynt as the research project. With eighteen performers in a large space that resembled an installation more than a traditional stage design, Peer Gynt consolidated Schlusser’s unique approach to contemporisation and large-format theatre. Building on his work with large groups and improvisational methods, this production showed an evolution of dramaturgical structures that broke with traditional forms, resolving itself as a process and result based on weather patterns, or storm systems.
“To be a theatre-maker is to be a stubborn brute, howling in the desert.”
Daniel Schlusser interviewed by Jessica Szwarcbord for Meanjin.
“…its a compulsion, its in perpetual motion…”
Daniel Schlusser interviewed by Paul Andrew at Australian Stage online, as link.