Over the last 30 years Michael has worked on over 100 professional stage productions in various capacities, and has appeared on screen in a variety of roles. He has been Co-Artistic Director of Matrix Theatre, with Helen Howard, since 1994, Co-Artistic Director of Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre 2011-2013, Resident Artist of World Interplay 2006-2007, and has had a close association, throughout his career with all of Queensland’s leading arts organizations as director, writer, actor, drama coach and dramaturg. He has been the recipient of over 30 Queensland and national awards and nominations, including a Green Room Award, various Matilda Awards, AWGIE and Helpmann Award nominations, and a Playlab Award for his outstanding contribution to Queensland writing. He was also the recipient of the Arts Queensland Creative Fellowship in 2007/2008.
Michael’s visionary and innovative leadership of Matrix Theatre has been lauded by critics, the profession and audiences alike for over twenty years and has resulted in several landmark productions, including: A Beautiful Life, written by Michael and Helen Howard, which was originally co-produced with The Brisbane Festival and La Boite, then toured nationally with Performing Lines in 2000, winning 4 Green Room Awards, a Matilda Award, was nominated for an AWGIE, short-listed for the Queensland Premier’s Drama Awards and was recorded for ABC Radio, and has developed into a modern Australian classic, currently appearing on the HSC lists and syllabuses of many schools and universities around Australia; the 2009 national tour of The Kursk with Critical Stages, which was then one of the largest tours of an independent theatre production ever undertaken in Australia’s history, travelling to 34 venues in 6 states and territories, and winning three Matilda Awards, and a Helpmann Award nomination; the Matrix/La Boite production of The Drowning Bride at The Roundhouse in 2005, written by Michael and Helen, which received 3 Matilda Awards, and was called “the best Queensland play and the best Queensland production in years” by The Australian; the hit production of Treasure Island adapted by Matrix (in co-production with QTC), which toured nationally in 2012, and the Brisbane Festival in 2013; the highly acclaimed The Wishing Well, also written by Michael and Helen, performed at the Roundhouse in 2008, and for which Michael received a Matilda Award for best director; and Piano Lessons co-produced with Metro Arts, which toured nationally in 2015 and 2017.
Alongside running Matrix Theatre, Michael has collaborated with some of Australia’s most exciting artists and worked with a diverse range of companies and organizations both within Queensland and nationally, including STC, Performing Lines, the Malthouse, Critical Stages, the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, the Brisbane Festival, the Queensland Music Festival, the Brisbane Cabaret Festival, the Sydney Olympics Festival, the Brisbane Writer’s Festival, World Interplay, La Boite, Shake and Stir, JUTE, Queensland Theatre, Tropic Line, QPAC, QAC/Artslink, Opera Queensland, Qld Conservatorium, QUT, USQ, UQ, NIDA, Griffith University, Playwriting Australia, Out of the Box Festival, Backbone Youth Arts, ATYP, Playlab and The Brisbane Powerhouse.
Other directing highlights include: Queensland Theatre Company: 1001 Nights (co-production with Zen Zen Zo/Qld Music Festival), Grimm Tales, Rabbit Hole, The Glass Menagerie, A Life In The Theatre (Noosa Long Weekend), Oz Shorts, Explosions, Blithe Spirit (assistant director); Shake and Stir: Animal Farm, 1984 and Dracula, which toured nationally in 2013, 2014 and 2017 respectively, Endgame and Tequila Mockingbird; La Boite: Pale Blue Dot, Walking By Apple Tree Creek, James and Johnno, Salt; Matrix Theatre: The King and the Corpse! (co-production with The Brisbane Festival), 1347, Cutting Loose, Lunch/The Woods; Queensland Music Festival: Piano Lessons with Anna Goldsworthy, Dirty Apple – a youth opera (co-produced with Opera Queensland and Backbone Youth Theatre); Zen Zen Zo: Vikram and the Vampire, Marcus and the Manic Music Makers/Macbeth A Porter’s Tale (co-production with Artslink); Out of the Box: Bear With Me and Beeware; Queensland Arts Council: Citizen Jane and The Bush Genie; Rheingold Theatre Club, London: Macbeth; Latchmere Theatre, London: What Are You Afraid Of?; Krakajak Theatre Company: Rapunzel and The Robin Hood Show. Since 1999, Michael has also had a close association with QUT, directing several productions including: Enemies, Children of the Sun, The Seagull, As You Like It, Jane Eyre, Cymbeline, The Crucible, Three Sisters, The Duel, The Cherry Orchard (twice), Camille, Outside In, Connections, The Gypsy’s Gift. Michael has also directed The King and The Corpse!, The Caucasian Chalk Circle and The Master and Margarita for Griffith University, and Jane Eyre for the University of Southern Queensland.
Michael’s writing credits, with Helen Howard, include: The Wishing Well, The Drowning Bride, A Beautiful Life (all Currency Press); Citizen Jane and The King and the Corpse! (both Playlab Press); Cutting Loose, 1347, The Gypsy’s Gift, Disobediently Yours, Edmund Kean; and stage adaptations of: 1001 Nights, Treasure Island, Therese Raquin, The Duel, Memoirs of a Physician and The Master and Margarita.
As an actor on stage Michael’s credits include: Words and Music (Kupka’s Piano/QMF); An Oak Tree, Constance Drinkwater and the Final Days of Somerset, Arcadia, The School for Scandal, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Animal Farm and Three Sisters (QTC); The Mayne Inheritance, Svetlana in Slingbacks, First Asylum, As You Like It, The Zoo Story and The Kelly Dance (La Boite); Hamlet, Lunch, The Woods and Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me (Matrix); Empire Burning (Metro Independents); The Elephant Man, Deathtrap, Noel Coward Revue, Duck Variations, Under Milkwood, The Architect and the Emperor of Assyria, The Ur Sonata, The Woods, The Shearer’s Strike, Private Lives and The Importance of Being Earnest (Tropic Line); Dracula (Fractal); Grendel (Brisbane Ensemble); The Caucasian Chalk Circle and As You Like it (Harvest Rain); All’s Well That Ends Well and Macbeth (Rheingold Theatre Club, London); Disobediently Yours, Edmund Kean (BK Productions, London); and Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra (Performance Theatre Company, UK).
On screen as an actor, Michael’s credits include: Fire and Steel (Channel 4, UK), Wombat, Medivac, Fire 11, The Day of the Roses, Green Sails, Paradise Found, Hey Sista, Fat Cow Motel, The Sleepover Club, and Monarch Cove. As an acting coach for screen Michael’s credits include: The Family Law 1 and 2, The Sleepover Club and Answered by Fire.
Helen trained at Mountview Theatre School in London in the early 1980s, enjoying it thoroughly and garnering lead roles (Jean Brodie, Roxie Hart) in her final year …only to struggle for three years to earn an elusive Equity card, learning on the way that actors usually find their own first job, in spite of a good agent. Finally finding a niche for herself at Kent Rep – beautifully situated within the precincts of Hever Castle – Helen sold tickets, swept the stage, sound operated, and understudied, until being cast as Julia in The Rivals at the end of the season. With union membership at last secured, she learnt to type fast and temped a lot, earning just enough to support a couple of roles in Fringe theatre. Charlotte Deans in a musical, Barnstormers, and Lady Macbeth off Oxford Street were two highlights.
Michael Futcher directed Macbeth, in 1989, and a personal and professional lifetime partnership was born. Producing Shakespeare’s Macbeth together was demanding and exciting – with no resources but a converted singles-bar space – creating a precedent for how Michael and Helen might work together creatively. Almost immediately they began to write Disobediently Yours, Edmund Kean, giving up their honeymoon in 1992 to pay for its production at the Hen and Chickens Theatre bar in Highbury, London, where it played to small but enthusiastic houses and opened a door to the prospect of writing original material, of running a company.
Acting work beckoned Michael back to Queensland, where he’d been brought up, and Helen joined him, finding herself playing Amanda in Private Lives for Tropic Line, opposite Michael, and then Chrissie in Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa, and roles in Peter Pan and The Winter’s Tale, all at Queensland Theatre Company in 1994. In 1995 the lead role of Lady Teazle in The School for Scandal followed at QTC, and then a wild Morgause in Glamalot for Toadshow ensured Helen a small but coveted mention in Queensland’s popular culture history!
In the meantime, Helen and Michael had established their own theatre company, Matrix, receiving acclaim for their double-bill of Berkoff’s Lunch and Mamet’s The Woods, and adapting some ancient Sanskrit stories into The King and the Corpse! – a critical and popular hit in the open air at Mount Coot-tha Botanical Gardens. The show was taken up by the inaugural Brisbane Festival in 1996, staged in the City Botanic Gardens, and played back to back with its “sister piece” 1347 (based on Boccaccio’s Decameron) over at Mount Coot-tha. In this way, producing, writing, co-directing and acting were all interlaced as professional activities in Helen’s early thirties. A very important connection, in the person of Janis Balodis, was made at this time, when Helen and Michael travelled to Lismore to play roles in the brilliant playwright’s Too Young for Ghosts. Janis became a firm friend, but also a mentor, invaluably providing dramaturgical guidance as Michael and Helen began their most ambitious writing project – A Beautiful Life. The life story of one of the Iranian musicians working on The King and the Corpse! (Cieavash Arean), A Beautiful Life – directed by Michael, assisted by Helen – was a hit of the 1998 Brisbane Festival, and went on to tour with Performing Lines in 2000, winning four Green Room Awards, a Matilda Award, an AWGIE nomination, and finding its way onto the HSC list, and to an extent into the psyche of Australian theatre, for many years. It was co-produced originally with La Boite Theatre, enhancing an already healthy relationship with that company, which was to burgeon later.
As A Beautiful Life was created, so was Frankie, the couple’s first child. The company went on to stage Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, Cutting Loose, Hamlet and Citizen Jane whilst another little boy, Jimmy, joined the family, (after a tour of The Importance of Being Earnest for Tropic Line, playing Gwendolen, during which Frankie was the star). Helen returned to acting briefly, as the children grew up, to play Molly Sweeney, the blind, eponymous heroine of Brian Friel’s extraordinary monologue play, directed by Jennifer Flowers, produced by Queensland Theatre Company, it won Helen her first Best Actor award at the 2001 Matilda Awards.
Another strand of professional practice emerged at this time, when a television production company needed emergency assistance for a young actor requiring a London accent in a hurry! Helen discovered that she could impart accents to other actors in a way which they could understand quickly, and absorb into their role. Recommended mainly by word of mouth, Helen found herself on other projects, and developed her way of teaching whilst on set, or in rehearsal rooms, around Queensland. Through her work on these projects, Helen discovered a holistic approach to accent work – believing that, when required, an accent is inseparable from the work of building a character, and integral to the voice work most actors incorporate into a working day. Importantly, Helen found a way to work with directors which enhances rather than intrudes upon their unique relationship with the actors. Seamlessly, this work evolved to include acting coaching, most often with children in the work-place – drawing hugely on the hundreds of workshops she and Michael had conducted during the evolution of Matrix – an area which has bloomed into a true calling, and which continues to grow, and to include trainee and established adult actors. Helen has worked as an accent coach on diverse projects: on screen – Misery Guts, Jeopardy, Peter Pan (director P J Hogan), The Ruins (director Carter Smith), and Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (director Michael Apted); and on stage – for Queensland Theatre Company (Private Lives, Stones in His Pockets, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Absurd Person Singular, Constellations); for La Boite (Summer Wonderland) and also for many independent companies. Acting coaching began in earnest on Narnia, developing into a key role on the teen tv series Slide (Fox 8, with director Shawn Seet), the feature film Mental (again with director, P J Hogan), and most recently, SBS’s new 2016 series The Family Law and the feature film Flammable Children (with director, Stephan Elliot).
Helen’s acting continued with her debut at La Boite Theatre in Last Drinks, winning a Best Supporting Actor Matilda Award, but the chief relationship with the company was as a co-producer/director for two more of her plays, both written with Michael: The Drowning Bride in 2005 and The Wishing Well in 2008. She also appeared in other productions at Queensland Theatre Company, returning after an absence of 5 seasons to play Theresa in The Memory of Water, with director Leticia Caceres at the helm. There followed Absurd Person Singular, and Private Fears in Public Places – both directed by Michael Gow – and then, memorably, Rabbit Hole, as Becca, with long-standing friends and colleagues Eugene Gilfedder as Howie, and Carol Burns as Nat, under the direction of Michael. After 18 years, the pair were reunited in this actor/director relationship to great acclaim, and another Best Actor Matilda for Helen and Best Director for Michael sealed a happy, fulfilling project. There were appearances for independent companies too – with the joyful Awfully Big Adventures of Peter Pan for Harvest Rain, and Dead Cats Don’t Bounce for Hot Tin Roof (with the great team of Robert Coleby, Steven Grives, Chris Betts and Lewis Jones). Her last credit to date for Queensland Theatre Company came in 2009 when Nic Dorward cast Helen as the dysfunctional and dangerous, Martha, in That Face, again opposite Eugene Gilfedder.
David Berthold’s arrival to lead the team at La Boite resulted in a series of acting roles which proved that in middle age actors continue to grow and learn and stretch themselves – indeed they must! Helen played Gertrude in Hamlet, opposite Toby Schmitz in the title role; Robin in Lachlan Philpott’s Colder for the independents season at La Boite, with director Michelle Miall; she played Rosalind – at 49 – in As You Like It opposite up and coming Thomas Larkin as Orlando, and was honoured to play Mary-Gert, Lois, and many other roles in Tommy Murphy’s adaptation of Holding the Man. It was also an emotional challenge to take over the guardianship of the extraordinary Amanda Wingfield, from great actor and friend Caroline Kennison, in The Glass Menagerie in 2013. The partnership with David was a significant milestone in Helen’s acting life.
Earlier Helen’s writing had developed a tentative solo strand, being commissioned to write Talking Dirty for Sex:Cubed at La Boite in 2006, Beetle-Eyed (Griffith Uni – part of a project published as I Will Kiss You in Four Places) and the story of King Arthur for Queensland Ballet’s production.
Screen work as an actor had peppered the years, by this time, beginning with roles in the UK in The Bill, Through the Looking Glass (BBC), and Capstick’s Law. In Australia it continued with roles in the series Paradise Beach, and Pacific Drive, in short films The Birthday, Now and Then, Fools Rush In, A Hole in the Wall, and more recently Doing Time and The Girlfriend, and in feature films such as Hypersleep, Code 111-4, The Marine, 2015’s The Fear of Darkness, the recently released Bullets for the Dead and The Contents (in post production).
Since 2012, Helen has pursued a directing branch to her work, beginning with her adaptation of Zola’s Therese Raquin, collaborating again with Michael. This production marked Helen’s debut as a solo director whilst the pair were the Co-Artistic Directors of Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre Company. In 2013, Helen won a Best Director Matilda Award for Therese Raquin, and a gold Matilda for her body of work in 2012. They also mounted a successful re-working of The King of the Corpse! for Zen Zen Zo, entitled Vikram and the Vampire. During this engagement, Helen and Michael adapted the classic ancient tales from 1001 Nights and co-directed it in co-production with Queensland Music Festival and Queensland Theatre Company in 2013, winning a Matilda Award for best new work. As part of her move towards directing, Helen took on productions of Ruby Moon for Artslink and Gold Coast Arts Centre, Godspell for the Griffith Conservatorium 2nd Year Musical Theatre students, We That Are Left for University of Southern Queensland 2nd year acting students, Piano Lessons, with Carol Burns, for the Queensland Music Festival, and Pride and Prejudice for the 3rd Years at USQ in 2015.
Acting remains Helen’s first love, and playing Mrs Eleanora Sivan – renowned Russian piano teacher and mentor of concert pianist, Anna Goldsworthy – made a delightful return to the stage in 2015, touring to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, and appearing at the Melbourne Recital Centre. She hopes to find further opportunities to play Mrs Sivan, whose original she met in Adelaide! And there are many other great roles Helen still dreams of playing in the future.
Helen is currently commissioned by Queensland Theatre to write a piece about Jane Austen and her last novel, Persuasion, in awed memory of a great writer and deeply inspiring woman. She is collaborating with Michael on a script, working title Haneef, about the Gold Coast doctor wrongly suspected of terrorist links in 2007, and on a chamber piece, with Anna Goldsworthy and Karin Schaupp. She is also beginning an adaptation of The Wishing Well – which was a story from her own family’s history – into a novel form.