Lynne Bradley studies Noh and Butoh in Japan. Back in Australia Simon Woods makes a number of award-winning short films. The combination of these influences will later form the foundation of Zen Zen Zo’s physical and visual style.
Lynne Bradley and Simon Woods meet in Brisbane at the University of Queensland and found Zen Zen Zo. The first production, which introduces the Japanese avant-garde dance-theatre style of Butoh to Brisbane, is entitled Never the Elephant – a loose translation of “Zen Zen Zo”.
After three more productions – Galileo, The Zoo Story, and Butoh: The Way of Mud, Lynne and Simon and early company members Rachel Konyi and Fran Barbe relocate to Kyoto, Japan. During this time they collaborate with local Japanese artists and actors from around the world, as well as long-term Zen Zen Zo composer Colin Webber to mount two large-scale bilingual productions, The Cult of Dionysus and Macbeth under the direction of Simon Woods.
Back in Brisbane, Lynne and Simon bring their knowledge of both Butoh and the Suzuki Method, which they have studied with the Japanese founders of these forms, back to Brisbane and begin teaching weekly classes. Zen Zen Zo becomes Company-In-Residence at the University of Queensland, and finds a home at the Avalon Theatre. John Kotzas (current CEO of QPAC) invites The Cult of Dionysus to be a part of the inaugural Brisbane Festival, and the show features long-term Zen Zen Zo lead actor Christopher Beckey in the title role. Zen Zen Zo also creates Unleashed, a Butoh-based work which taps into the surreal world of the audience’s dreams and nightmares, and an opera-meets-physical-theatre performance of The Marriage of Figaro – an innovative collaboration with the QLD Conservatorium of Music for the first Stage X Festival performed at the historic Masonic Hall in Ann St. All three shows have sell-out seasons and showcase many of the early company members including Jason Klarwein, Kelly Lazarus, Andrew Cory, Rebecca Murray, Taya Seidler, Lorne Gerlach and Laurel Collins.
Macbeth: As Told by the Weird Sisters overtakes the Princess Theatre in a promenade production which immerses the audience in the midst of Macbeth’s turbulent world. Later that year, five members of the company travel to the USA to study The Viewpoints with Anne Bogart and the SITI company. Lynne and Simon become the first teachers of this innovative method of actor-training in Australia. Upon returning from the US, Zen Zen Zo debuts a new work, Steel Flesh, which investigates the relationship between technology and the body, at the Brisbane Festival. In 1998 Zen Zen Zo also begins its Youth Education arm of the company, creating its first schools touring production, Visions of Macbeth (which toured around Queensland for three successive years), and the Breaking Boundaries physical theatre workshops presented in schools.
The year kicks off with the founding of Stomping Ground, an annual summer school which is the first of its kind in Australia. Due to popular demand, a second month-long sold-out season of Macbeth: As Told by the Weird Sisters is staged at the Princess Theatre. In the same year the company is awarded the Brisbane City Council Performing Arts Fellowship and Lynne and Simon take the core company back to Japan for a month to study with their old masters in Noh, Kabuki and Butoh.
Unleashed, first performed in 1996, tours to the Adelaide Fringe Festival and the Australian Performing Arts Market. In the same year Zen Zen Zo creates two new works, Oedipus (a collaboration with Southbank TAFE), and The Man Who Sold the World for the Brisbane Festival – a devised piece about 1950’s Ad Man Rosser Reaves and the birth of Advertising as we know it today. This production is further adapted into a schools touring show, and tours for two more years around Australia.
The company undertakes its first international tour, with Macbeth: As Told by the Weird Sisters headlining the Singapore M1 Youth Festival. The production also does a regional tour of Queensland and a season at the Playhouse in Brisbane. As a part of XL-D Express, Zen Zen Zo works with six schools to stage The Mayne Inheritance at the Cremorne Theatre. This landmark production is the first Youth Production by the company. Zen Zen Zo begins teaching annually in the International Schools in Hong Kong, which generates a decade-long creative partnership.
After a long and fruitful relationship, Zen Zen Zo takes up a 6-month residency at QPAC and works on The Odyssey as the centrepiece of the residency. The production wins 3 Matilda Awards and later (in a reworked version) does 2 years of regional schools touring. Zen Zen Zo also produces Wicked Bodies, a co-production with La Boite theatre as part of their Mainhouse season. The company’s third schools touring production, Romeo & Juliet, is created by newly appointed Associate Director Steven Mitchell Wright and goes on to tour for three years around Australia and to Hong Kong. Zen Zen Zo’s In-Schools Program undergoes extensive expansion with the appointment of Education Manager Simon Tate. Zen Zen Zo also launches the Company Internship under the guidance of Lynne Bradley, lauded as one of the finest emerging artist programs in Australia.
Zen Zen Zo relocates to the heritage-listed Old Museum Building in Spring Hill. The next Butoh-inspired production, Those with Lucifer takes place as a part of Zen Zen Zo’s inaugural IN THE RAW Studio Season at Sub-Station 4. The company also introduces weekly youth physical theatre training classes, as well as Small Stomp a week-long intensive for teenagers. Sub-Con Warrior 1 is staged as a part of the IN THE RAW Studio Season, selling out two months in advance of its opening. The company performs with renowned American band The Dresden Dolls as a part of their Brisbane and London shows. A series of annual week-long physical theatre training intensives, known as the Stomp series, are launched in Sydney, Melbourne, Darwin, Adelaide and Launceston.
Dracula, directed by Associate Director Steven Mitchell Wright and produced by General Manager Dave Sleswick, has a sold-out season as a part of Zen Zen Zo’s IN THE RAW Studio Season at the Old Museum. Simon Woods returns to Japan to study with Suzuki Tadashi, several members of the company travel to the USA to study with Anne Bogart and the SITI company, and Lynne Bradley receives funding to work and perform with world-famous Butoh group Dairakudakan and their founder Maro Akaji, which seeds an ongoing creative partnership between the two companies.
Zen Zen Zo travels to Canada to launch Vancouver Stomp. The Training Centre also opens a branch in Melbourne, under the guidance of Damian Bernardo and Hannah Fox. The Performance Company produces eight new works during this highly active period. These include the Butoh-inspired Zeitgeist, Sub-Con Warrior 2.0 at the Judith Wright Centre, and Hong Kong Fu Kwai in Hong Kong (with the ESF International Schools). Zen Zen Zo creates The Tempest, featuring Brisbane theatre legend Bryan Nason as Prospero and renowned singer/songwriter Emma Dean as Arial, which receives the Matilda Award for Best Independent Production. Zeitgeist tours for a month-long season to the Edinburgh Fringe and garners seven 5-star reviews and is short-listed for the prestigious Total Theatre Award. Zeitgeist continues to tour, doing seasons at the Adelaide Fringe (at the Garden of Unearthly Delights) and the Nelson Festival in New Zealand. Lynne Bradley also directs The Tempest and Amadeus in Hong Kong. Zen Zen Zo presents GAIA, a significant new work in collaboration with Dairakudakan (the world’s oldest and largest Butoh company).
The IN THE RAW Season production, Dante’s Inferno, takes the audience on a journey through the heritage-listed gardens and bowels of the Old Museum Building, selling out two shows per night. Emma Dean and Jacob Diefenbach collaborate with the company to produce the cabaret show My Sublime Shadow. Associate Directors Noa Rotem and Drew der Kinderen direct numerous Youth Productions in Hong Kong and around Australia. Lynne Bradley directs Cabaret starring Emma Dean as Sally Bowles and Sandro Colarelli as the Emcee at the Cremorne Theatre, QPAC. Cabaret (a co-production with QPAC & PowerArts) goes on to win the Matilda Award for Best Musical. Dairakudakan and Zen Zen Zo collaborate again for the Brisbane Festival creating 2012: The Apocalypse. An adaptation of Peter Carey’s Bliss becomes the first annual end-of-year show at the company’s country base in Montville.
Merlynn Tong takes up the reigns as Education Manager with a smile and a wink. Michael Futcher and Helen Howard play a vital role directing Vikram & the Vampire and Therese Raquin, which are nominated for a record 11 Matilda Awards (winning 4). Drew der Kinderen directs Zen Zen Zo’s first primary school show, Hello Spaceboy!, which does a year of regional touring and features at the OUT OF THE BOX Festival at QPAC in the Cremorne Theatre. The Montville end-of-year piece, Last Drinks, pays homage to the End of the World…
Zen Zen Zo relocates to the Brisbane Powerhouse at the invitation of Artistic Director Kris Stewart to become a Home Company. The Performance Company produces several new works, including Medea: The River Runs Backwards (starring Lauren Jackson & Eric Berryman), Here There Be Dragons (featuring spoken word artist Scott Wings), and the QTC/QLD Music Festival co-production 1001 Nights (featuring Steven Rooke). The company travels to Japan twice to train and perform with Maro Akaji and Dairakudakan. The Training Centre launches Perth Stomp & New Zealand Stomp and continues to be a leading organization in Schools Education, offering workshops and residencies to schools throughout Australia and Asia.
Zen Zen Zo finally gets its own home in a purpose-build studio & offices in Brisbane, affectionately known as “The Zen Den”. In 2016 the company produces In the Company of Shadows at The Loft, QUT – an immersive, intimate theatre work directed by Lynne Bradley that goes on to win the Philip Parson’s Prize. In 2017, in collaboration with Richard Grantham and his company, The Viola Cloning Project, Zen Zen Zo stages DUSK at the Brisbane Powerhouse as part of the Restrung Festival. This year Zen Zen Zo has been selected to perform a new work, ALCHEMY, for the Commonwealth Games public art program – Festival 2018.