Over the last 35 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-five 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, TheatreiNQ, 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 Brisbane Powerhouse.
Other directing highlights include: Shake and Stir’s A Christmas Carol which opened to a sold-out season at the Playhouse in 2018 and has been running at QPAC as a Christmas production ever since, including a sold-out season at the Lyric Theatre in 2020. Other highlights with Shake and Stir include: Animal Farm, 1984 and Dracula, which toured nationally in 2013 (and 2021), 2014 and 2017 respectively, Jane Eyre, Endgame and Tequila Mockingbird; For Queensland Theatre (Company): Family Values (QT Play Club), 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); 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: Concerto for Harmony and Presto (debase), Bear With Me and Beeware; Queensland Arts Council: Citizen Jane and The Bush Genie; For TheatreiNQ: One Man Two Guvnors; 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: The Winter’s Tale, The Merchant of Venice, 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, Lungs. Michael has also directed The King and The Corpse!, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, The Master and Margarita and AllSorts 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, Monarch Cove and The End. As an acting coach for screen Michael’s credits include: The Family Law 1, 2 and 3, The Sleepover Club and Answered by Fire.
Helen trained at Mountview Theatre School in London in the early 1980s, playing the title role in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Roxie Hart in Chicago in her final year. The struggle for Equity membership tested her resolve, commitment and resilience happily ending at Kent Rep, Hever Castle; Helen sold tickets, swept the stage, operated sound, understudied several roles and played Julia in Sheridan’s classic The Rivals at the glorious lakeside open-air theatre. Supporting herself as a typist, Helen funded her own work in fringe productions – playing eighteenth century actress Charlotte Deans in a musical, Barnstormers, Lady Macbeth at The Rheingold Club off Oxford Street; she made her TV debut in Granada’s Captstick’s Law, the BBC’s costume docu-drama “Through the Looking Glass” and the iconic “The Bill” for Thames TV.
Macbeth was directed by Michael Futcher in 1989, in a collaboration which heralded a personal and professional lifetime partnership. Helen assisted Michael to produce the under-resourced play in a converted singles-bar space, a process presaged their creative work together in the future. They wrote Disobediently Yours, Edmund Kean, their first play, and presented it at the now famous Hen and Chickens Theatre bar in Highbury, London, in 1992, opening the door to the prospect of writing original material for their own company.
Acting work beckoned Michael home to Australia, and Helen made her Queensland theatre debut as Amanda in Private Lives for Tropic Line, opposite him, closely followed by the role of Chrissie in Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa for Queensland Theatre Company in 1994. Further roles followed in Peter Pan and The Winter’s Tale the same year. In 1995 she played her first leading role there, as Lady Teazle in The School for Scandal opposite Queensland theatre luminary Alan Edwards, the founder of the company. A subsequent appearance as Morgause in Glamalot for Toadshow ensured Helen a small but coveted mention in Queensland’s popular culture history.
Helen and Michael had by now established their own theatre company, Matrix, with an acclaimed double-bill of Berkoff’s Lunch and Mamet’s The Woods, and an adaptation of 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 professionally remounted for 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 by Helen’s early thirties.
A very important connection was made when Helen and Michael were cast by the brilliant playwright Janis Balodis in a production of his own play, Too Young for Ghosts. Janis became a mentor and close friend, providing dramaturgical guidance on Michael and Helen’s 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 becoming a permanent fixture on education text lists to this day. The play has earned its place in the Australian canon of theatrical literature. Co-produced originally with La Boite Theatre, and Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Matrix Theatre developed crucial new relationships which would burgeon later.
A Beautiful Life was created as Helen and Michael’s first child Frankie arrived; not yet one year old, he joined Helen and Michael on a tour of The Importance of Being Earnest for Tropic Line. Their second child, Jimmy, was born as they added more productions to the Matrix name: Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, Cutting Loose, Hamlet and Citizen Jane. Helen returned to acting 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, as an accent coach. Stepping in to assist a young actor on a TV series, Helen found she had untapped inherent and learned skills to impart accents to other actors intuitively tailored to their needs and way of working. From the beginning it was clear to her that acting preparation and accent acquisition are parts of one process, connected and complementary; it’s a belief that Helen still earnestly canvasses today in an effort to raise standards of practice in the local industry. Word of mouth has ensured Helen a rich list of professional credits as dialect/accent or dialogue coach on stage and screen projects in Australia. As her holistic approach gained traction, Helen found herself in the role of acting coach more often, and broadened her scope to include the voice- work that forms the foundation for any role. Importantly, Helen’s coaching preserves the unique and seminal relationship between actor and director. Drawing on the hundreds of acting workshops conducted with Michael for Matrix, and indeed from Michael’s inspired work as a director, Helen has found in acting and dialogue coaching a true calling, which continues to grow. On screen accent coaching credits include: Misery Guts, Jeopardy, Peter Pan (director P J Hogan), The Ruins (director Carter Smith), Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (director Michael Apted), Tidelands and Harrow for Hoodlum, Sit, Stay, Love (director Tori Garrett) and The Portable Door (director Jeffrey Walker); 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; The 39 Steps and L’Appartement; for La Boite Summer Wonderland and many more. Acting coaching began in earnest unofficially on Peter Pan, and then on Narnia, developing into a key role on the TV series Slide (director Shawn Seet), the feature film Mental (again with director, P J Hogan), SBS’s hit series The Family Law (director Jonathon Brough), the feature films Swinging Safari, (director, Stephan Elliot), and Interceptor (director Matthew Reilly).
Helen’s writing continued in tandem with her coaching. Matrix flourished in co-productions with La Boite, under Sean Mee’s artistic direction, of two award-winning plays, both written with Michael: The Drowning Bride in 2005 and The Wishing Well in 2008. That year Helen received, with Michael, the Playlab Award for their outstanding contribution to Queensland writing. During this period, Helen’s writing had developed a tentative solo strand, as she was 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), a verse-play of the story of King Arthur for a Queensland Ballet production, and more recently she was commissioned by Sam Strong at QT (the current title of Queensland Theatre Company) to develop a play now called The Persuasion of Jane Austen – about the great novelist at the end of her life, incorporating a theatrical recreation of her last book, Persuasion.
In tandem with her writing projects, Helen also played roles at La Boite in Last Drinks, directed by Ian Lawson, winning a Best Supporting Actor Matilda Award. She also returned to Queensland Theatre Company to play Theresa in The Memory of Water, with director Leticia Caceres, followed by Absurd Person Singular and Private Fears in Public Places – both directed by Michael Gow. Most memorably, she played Becca in Rabbit Hole, with Eugene Gilfedder as Howie, and Carol Burns as Nat, under the direction of Michael Futcher. 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 fulfilling project. Appearances for independent companies included the joyful Awfully Big Adventures of Peter Pan for Harvest Rain, Colder with director Michelle Miall at La Boite Independents, and Dead Cats Don’t Bounce for Hot Tin Roof (with cast Robert Coleby, Steven Grives, Chris Betts, and Lewis Jones directing). Then in 2009 director Nic Dorward cast Helen as the dysfunctional and dangerous, Martha, in That Face, again opposite Eugene Gilfedder, for Queensland Theatre Company.
Between 2010 and 2013 Helen was championed by David Berthold, during his artistic directorship, in a series of acting roles which celebrated her mature powers as an actor. He cast her as Gertrude in Hamlet, opposite Toby Schmitz; in the title role, Rosalind – at 49 – in As You Like It opposite Thomas Larkin as Orlando; as Mary-Gert, Lois, and many other roles, in Tommy Murphy’s adaptation of Holding the Man. It was an emotional challenge to take over the role of Amanda Wingfield, from great actor and friend Caroline Kennison, in The Glass Menagerie in 2013 due to illness. The rich actor/director collaboration with David was a significant milestone in Helen’s artistic life.
Screen roles in Australia occurred occasionally, 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, Doing Time, The Girlfriend, and Thea Goes to Town, web-series The Wedding and Nevernight, TV series Harrow and Joe Exotic, and in feature films such as Hypersleep, Code 111-4, The Marine, The Fear of Darkness, Bullets for the Dead, Don’t Tell, Love and Monsters and Christmas on the Farm.
Since 2012, Helen has added direction to her work, beginning with her own adaptation of Zola’s Therese Raquin, for which she won a Best Director Matilda Award, during a brief time as Co-Artistic Director of Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre Company, with Michael. Helen also won a Gold Matilda for her body of work in that year. Whilst at ZZZ, Helen and Michael mounted a successful re-imagining of The King of the Corpse! re-titled Vikram and the Vampire. During this engagement, Helen and Michael adapted the classic ancient tales from 1001 Nights and co-directed them 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, returning to the stage as Mrs Eleanora Sivan – renowned Russian piano teacher and mentor of concert pianist, Anna Goldsworthy – in a tour to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, and the Melbourne Recital Centre, of Anna’s adapted memoir Piano Lessons, directed by Michael, for Matrix. She returned to La Boite in 2016 to appear in The Tragedy of Richard III as Margaret, under Daniel Evan’s direction and later, Shake & Stir, Brisbane’s foremost independent theatre company, cast her as Mrs Fairfax in their acclaimed production of Jane Eyre at QPAC in 2019, reuniting her with Michael as director. This was followed by the formidable triple of Professor Umbridge, Aunt Petunia and Madame Hooch in the world-renowned production of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child for a year’s contract in 2020, which coincided with the Covid outbreak. The show re-opened at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre in February 2021 and Helen was able to complete her contract, returning to her family in Brisbane for another film project, The Portable Door as Dialogue Coach mid 2021. By this time, granddaughter Mila was turning four years old and proving to be a major attraction to remaining closer to home.
At the time of writing, Helen is finishing an adaptation of The Wishing Well – which is a story about some extraordinary women from her own family’s history – into a novel form, and finishing her Jane Austen play at last.