Pillbox

Suitcase Royale unpacks in Pittsburgh

The Suitcase Royale, a touring theater company from Melbourne, Australia, visited the School of Drama on Saturday. The Royale, made up of Miles O’Neill, Joseph O’Farrell, and Glen Walton, is a young company, brought to the city by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust as part of this year’s themed celebration of Australian artists. The members have only recently graduated from Victoria College in Melbourne, Australia, where they pursued double majors in theater and, respectively, English (O’Neill), contemporary dance (O’Farrell), and communications media (Walton). During the question-and-answer session at Carnegie Mellon, the Royale members answered questions about their recent success at international theater festivals such as the Edinburgh Fringe, where their performances generated praise from critics and audiences.

The group’s success, like its work, has taken an unconventional route. From performing atop a bar at the Melbourne Fringe Festival, where the Royale won the Audience Choice Award, to Edinburgh, the company’s rise to critical acclaim has been fast. Despite this, the trio’s attitude during the session here was relaxed and humble as the actors spoke of their experiences at school, their creative process, and their plans for the future.

The Royale’s performances are shaped by the actors’ dislike of aspects of their traditional conservatory training and the professional theater world in general, but they agreed that school was a valuable experience. “Even though we went to a sort of mediocre university, school gave us access to these great things,” said O’Neill. “Black-box theaters. Tech guys always hanging around willing to talk to us. Extension cords. That helped a lot.”

The actors’ work onstage reflects their diverse training and interests: incorporating music; quick, clever dialogue; and physical movement so exaggerated it sometimes evokes choreography. The Royale’s performances are exhilaratingly rough, falling under the category of D.I.Y. The set is a harvest of the street, the living room, and the junkyard, with transitions often signified by cardboard signs, the passing of time with a handheld moon. The fake blood is an aromatic blend of food coloring and vinegar, and green masking tape at one point becomes a moustache.

But what distinguishes the Suitcase Royale from many of the “experimental” D.I.Y. theater collectives or performers is the actors’ commitment to craft onstage. This isn’t craft as it appears in traditional theater format, but skilled timing, complex narrative technique, and consistently powerful energy. Their tight, controlled pacing and delivery show an understanding of theater and the importance of communication with the audience — a sensibility that many D.I.Y. acts, despite their high energy, miss.

The Royale draws inspiration from various sources outside traditional drama. “We don’t really see much theater,” O’Neill said. “We draw more from films and music.”

“I don’t know if that’s entirely true; we watch plays,” O’Farrell interjected.

“We haven’t decided whether we watch theater or not,” Walton concluded, to laughter from the audience.

Although theater attendance is somewhat of a gray area, the influence from other genres is clear. “We really wanted to be a rock band,” Walton said. “That didn’t work out, so we were like, ‘Hey, theater!’ ”

“We’re influenced a lot by film — a story unfolding in a series of frames,” added O’Farrell. “We start with images we find striking, then build a story from those images.”

Though this method may sound theory-driven or detached, the Royale in action is anything but abstract. Last week, the troupe’s performances at the Warhol Museum of its most recent piece, Chronicles of a Sleepless Moon, burst off the stage with rampant energy. O’Neill, O’Farrell, and Walton used slapstick and vaudevillian physical techniques to tell the bizarre story of a newsman, a butcher, and a mad doctor who travel under the earth in a machine fueled by cow blood in a mysterious but noble quest to map the underground. Attending audiences welcomed the scrambling energy and madcap, nonsensical plot of the piece, which had some sold-out shows.

The friendship and rapport between the members of the Royale was clear from their easy overlapping in the School of Drama meeting, and their work onstage shows their shared enthusiasm for what they do, as artists and as friends. They are optimistic about their future as a company and want to continue experimenting.

The Suitcase Royale performs at the Andy Warhol Museum on Sunday at 6 p.m.