conversation, education, Theatre

in conversation: on brick walls, uncertainty, fear and joy

Ingredients: White whine, beer, Monash University students Joe Brown, Anna Burley, Kevin Turner and Tess Chappell at 1400 meters altitude in Falls Creek where we were staying for MUST camp. Myself, Sarah Walker, Roderick Cairns and Jack Beeby were there as guest artists. The photos I’ve used throughout were taken by Sarah as part of the camp. 


Tess: I think it is difficult when you study theatre. You’re being assessed on it. It is part of your academic thought. You’re trying to write essays and it can become hard to step out of that and look at theatre as the recreational thing that you loved so much before you went to study it.

Anna: I find that the more I study a book, the more I love it. Some people feel that if you bash away at it you lose the joy of getting immersed –

Tess: Yes, that the intimate connection between you and the author is broken.

Anna: Education gives you this paranoia: ‘Oh god! Now that I’ve learnt that, there is so much more that I don’t know!’ But would you prefer to be out of the education loop and think ‘I know everything’ or be inside going ‘look at all these ways that I’m insufficient’?

Kevin: When you make art, you have to embrace that you have no fucking idea what you’re doing. That’s where the joy comes from. This course isn’t like an engineering degree where you come out and say ‘I can definitely build a car now’.

SFB: The interesting thing about your degree is that it turns out incredibly diverse grads. Maybe not as many makers as a course like the VCA, WAAPA or NIDA but you have some amazing grads doing really interesting things with their skills.

Joe: Yes, they said that very early on in the course. ‘This is not an acting degree. Not a directing degree. We wish to equip you with the tools.’

Kevin: I know what I want to do. I’m going to make as much fucking work as I can. That is a choice I’ve made.


Jack Beeby

SFB: Can I take this opportunity to steer the conversation away from the degree?

Kevin: That’s what I’m trying to do!

SFB: Yes, thank you! I appreciated the segue! So, taking that as a starting point, what do you want to be doing in five years’ time?

Kevin: Yes! Fucking A. To me Melbourne theatre is a brick wall – any theatre is a brick wall – and I think theatre-makers can break brick walls with their heads by just beating against it over and over again until finally they hit on something good. Jason (Lehane) said in a workshop the other day that the only thing we can do is make work and refine our skills by making work.

Joe: The person who made me think this way was Yana Taylor. Yana is respected and has been working for a long while and she said ‘I don’t know where my next pay cheque is coming from’. I took that very much to heart. I would love to have a family one day. Does anyone else feel this fear that I feel? Anna put up her hand. I don’t want to have kids and not be able to support them. Not be able to give them all the advantages and privileges that I was so fortunate to have. I’m thinking of people who don’t even exist yet. They exist purely in my mind. Should I start to work towards this end game?

Tess: I knew from when I got into the BPA (Bachelor of Performing Arts at Monash) that I wasn’t going to finish my education with that degree. I transferred into the Law/BPA double degree in my second year. I am a very cautious person. I love theatre but I cannot live with the risk of not knowing where my next pay cheque is coming from. But I’m seeing all these people my age who are making works for the Fringe Festival and travelling and taking their work overseas and writing all the time. I’m asking myself ‘why aren’t I doing that?’ I should be making work now when I feel free and passionate! But then I also want to get good marks in law! I don’t want to go to a law firm when I’m twenty-five and have them look at my grades and say ‘you were just getting passes!’ ‘But I made really good theatre! I’m a great stage manager!’

Joe: Jason said yesterday ‘I quit theatre for eight years and then it pulled me back’.

Kevin: Yes, my response was ‘I’d rather not quit theatre for eight years.’

Everyone talks over each other.

Joe: It pulled him back so I say ‘fuck it! I’ll just keep going if it is going to pull me back either way.’

Anna: I don’t have a safety net outside of theatre. My fall back is makeup school, which is hugely over-populated too. That freaks me out. I don’t want to do one thing. But I worry that I’ll find myself just doing people’s wedding makeup or something. I want to be part of something bigger. I like theatre because it is part of this big network and I want to be someone that has lots of different avenues to create work with.

Joe: Maybe it is our generation. We want to define ourselves.

Tess: We’re supposed to have something like six careers in our lives.

SFB: What I’m getting so far is a lot of quite understandable fear and sorrow that this  –

Joe: So much angst! Just say it’s angst!

Anna: Middle-class angst.



SFB: Sure, angst that this thing that you love so much is going to practically sentence you to a life of poverty and struggle and no family and I fucking feel for you. But in all that sorrow, why do you want to do it?

Anna: Because it will leak out of us.

Joe: With the musical (Aesop’s Fables at Monash University) it was four months of agony but then someone laughed and cheered in the first show and it was all okay again. You need that affirmation. Maybe it is some sort of terrible personality flaw.

Tess: I want to make something and see it evolve and know that I’ve been a part of that. I think theatre is a great medium because you can take a message you feel so strongly about and communicate it in a really effective way to other people. Some ideas and emotions you can’t really articulate to people when you’re talking to them but you can create a piece of theatre which immerses the audience in those ideas. Seeing a live performance change someone in an hour and a half is truly amazing.

Anna: I was struggling to get my point across and then in high school I finally realised that the message could be me.

My visual art felt like quite an intellectual pursuit but what I do in theatre seems like it is more directly related to my body, to my personality. It is so inextricably linked to my own self.

Tess: I feel the most alive when I’m onstage. I can feel myself living. I’m more of an observational person. I live in my head and the way that I can get out of there is to be onstage.

Joe: I never sleep, I never see my girlfriend and it is hard, genuinely hard to work with that but I get to go home and sit down at the dinner table and say ‘I did a show. In an actual theatre. And people I didn’t know paid to come and see me performing – ‘

SFB: And took something away from it.

Joe: I don’t know if they took something away from it. I hope they did. I was in a Pink Panther costume so… (He is referring to The Well by Robert Reid.) I get to go home at Christmas and I say ‘let me tell you about what I’ve made’. I’ve gone through months and months of bad diet and cheering and happiness and stress and this array of emotions that nothing else can really compare to.

SFB: Can you just say your name and something about you? So ‘I am Fleur, I am a scruffy red-haired playwright and theatre director and I hope to do this for the rest of my life.’

Anna: I’m Anna. I have blue hair and I’m wondering if this is all a sick joke I’m playing on myself.

Joe: I’m Joe and I’m so horrendously unsure.

Tess: I’m Tess. I trick people into thinking that this is my natural hair colour. My favourite people are my mum, my dad and my three younger brothers and I don’t know where I’m going but I’m pretty excited about it.Image

Thanks again to my amazing proof-readers, Sarah Walker and Roderick Cairns. As a dyslexic writer, it is a bit of a team effort.


One thought on “in conversation: on brick walls, uncertainty, fear and joy

  1. Pingback: in conversation: on where we are going, the inarticulate and what artists can bring to debate | School For Birds

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