Yin & Yang: Yvan Karlsson and Sally Richardson

Yvan, 19, has learnt a lot from his creative mother Sally, 50, but is taking a very different approach to his work.



I grew up in Perth and was connected with the arts from before I was born — I was in my mother’s tummy when she was directing my dad in a show and must have felt all the music pumping through! Afterwards, I’d always be going to shows with them. But none of this was ever pushed on me and during primary school I was actually more into sports. Then I did a dance class, a one-off for fun, and it turned out I was really good at it. So I pursued that and ended up going to John Curtin and performing with STEPS Youth Dance Company.

Towards the end of high school, I realised I was more interested in creating my own work and the stuff I wanted to create wasn’t dance. So instead of doing Year 12 exams I came to the Spare Parts Puppet Theatre and did a secondment with the artistic director Philip Mitchell. After that, I applied for the emerging artists’ program and spent last year training in puppetry and creative development. From that, the company hired me for two shows, which is why I’m working on Splat!, written by Mum and directed by Philip. It’s funny but Splat! was created a few years ago and Dad was in the first production. I sat through every performance. It’s the perfect kids’ show, with no dialogue and lots of colour and movement. It’s very physical theatre, so it’s also perfect for someone like me with a dance background.

For the past half year I haven’t been performing much but I’ve been creating a lot of work. And that’s in line with what Mum does. It just happened that way. And we’re actually very different. Growing up and watching Mum and Dad’s work, I can now see flaws, things that are missing and part of what I do is what she doesn’t do. For example, Mum’s work always has something to say. Or it’s exploring something. With the work I make, it’s all about the audience and about entertainment. Maybe it’s my age — and that could change in the future.

I disagree with a lot of the things she says and she disagrees with me. She directed Dad and me in a Fringe show called Rites a few years ago and I’m not sure I’d want to do that again. It was very full-on, with all of us having different opinions and everything.

But those moments can also be very lovely and there’s so much I admire about my mother. Like her ability to stay current. She’s just turned 50 but she still keeps up with the latest technology. She is also very forward-thinking, looking further and further along and setting up the next big chapter in her life. That influences me and my two brothers quite a lot: we are always thinking of the future and where we want to be in the next five years. She’s just an incredible person.



I was born in Melbourne and moved over here with my parents when I was five. I have one brother, who’s a teacher in rural Victoria. My early memories of the arts include seeing The Magic Pudding at the Sunken Gardens. And seeing Stravinsky’s The Firebird for the first time. But my mum was a librarian and I was really into books more than anything else. So while the works I create are very physical, I always start with a narrative which I then translate into other forms. Words are in everything I do.

From about five years old I went to Penrhos College and engaged with drama there quite intensely. I played everything from a pink galah to the owl in Winnie the Pooh; I also got to do things such as write and direct. I started a BA at UWA, where I joined the drama society but withdrew and started again only after I had my oldest son, Thomas, who’s now a successful make-up artist. It was at UWA that I studied with David Williams, who introduced modern physical theatre to us young uni students.

But professionally, I learned by doing. I was one of the Artrage babies, getting grants and putting on weird little shows, one of which was picked up by what is now PIAF. There I was, in my early 20s, acting, writing and directing a show for the festival. It was a really pivotal point for me.

From then on I trained under and worked with people and organisations as diverse as Philip Mitchell, Alan Becher, David Milroy, Michael Gow, Peter Wilson, Yirra Yaakin, Sydney Theatre Company, Perth Theatre Company, Black Swan Theatre Company and Company Skylark; in 2001 I also started my own organisation, Steamworks Arts.

I love making work, whether it’s theatre, circus, dance or puppetry. Creating is a kind of dreaming. A lot of my work is around women and women’s stories and it’s amazing to see that translate through the bodies of performers and artists to an audience. Splat! is an incredible work for that.

While I was in Sydney, I met my partner, the dancer and performer Stefan Karlsson, and we had two children together, Yvan and Niklas (17). I remember Yvan was still at John Curtin and I wanted him to have a chance to work with Stefan, so I wrote Rites for them. It was really beautiful to work with them both. But everything Yvan does has always been his own choice. We’ve never pushed. He’s very single-minded and he does do things his own way. Maybe that’s a quality we share.

I have a real admiration for how Yvan carries himself. He’s 19 years old and has a lot to learn but he seems to be tracking really well. He has a confidence that I didn’t have at his age. I think he thinks I am a little bit soft around the edges, that I’m a little bit sentimental. I often come at making work from a very personal frame, whereas he is more detached and objective. And more critical.

Splat! is at Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, Fremantle, July 2-16, see sppt.asn.au.

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