I’m currently working on a production called Welcome to Nowhere Monash University and the Coopers Malthouse: I am one of five playwrights commissioned to write this new work and I am also the artistic coordinator of the Monash Academy of Performing Arts. It is such a pleasure to be a part of this process and to be supporting artists who are such inspiring and integral parts of our community: director Emma Valente, designer Eugyeene Teh and playwrights Angus Cerini, Zoey Dawson, Daniel Keene and Morgan Rose. The five writers were given the concept ‘Welcome to Nowhere’ and asked to explore the concept of liminality. Emma Valente deliberately left the topic very open and the resulting writing tells of aliens, terrorism, celebrity, grief and a disappearing township.
As part of the lead up to the show, I had students interview the artists involved for the Monash website. The resulting interviews were long, beautiful and full of fucks. (Fucking playwrights.) I created shortened, clean versions for Monash but they are too good not to share with you longform. So enjoy. Part One is Claire MacAllister and Jordan Broadway’s interview with Angus Cerini.
If we go back to the start of it all, how did you respond to the brief for Welcome to Nowhere? Was there anything that drove you towards writing in regards to the Sydney Siege?
I heard about the inquests and that idea of being told to sit – being in the moment you know you’re about to die, or the moment the bullet literally explodes your head. That tiny instant of time as ‘Welcome to fucking heaven, hell, purgatory, nothing’. Welcome to nowhere. Nowhere and everywhere. What would it feel like? You can’t do that to an audience so what about love? Elongate that fraction of time where love gets in. Beating the fuck out of terrorism, beating the fuck out of that with love. It’s saying, “it’s terrorism and evil” and then saying, “you’ll never destroy love”. Just try your luck, Satan. Go fuck yourself.
When you’re creating a piece of writing, do you find it easy to then hand it over to a director for the process of mounting the work?
You can’t ever completely trust a director. In this process, I’ve walked out of the room entirely. To me, it’s liberating to go, “Emma, I give you full permission to make whatever the fuck you want” because it’s more about you guys. I like the idea that my piece is challenging, but that Emma’s not going to be absolutely petrified of what the playwright’s gonna make. You’re gonna want to do justice to it. It’s a performance text, there are characters, and to me, there’s a story about two men, two lovers. To me, the idea of romance meeting terror – that’s a kind of ‘everything’. That feels like a drama. Maybe it’s like a bit of love.
What made you realise that you wanted to pursue making theatre?
I got trapped. I just want to say some shit about the world. It is generally easy to put on a show when you think about it. A film you need a lot but a piece of theatre – I think storytelling is quite primary to it too. And I’ve been trying to do that when I write more and more, create a story, because if there’s a story, there’s a narrative. I think an audience will go to really horrible places but you’ve gotta give them a bit of a breather. Neighbours does that. The dog gets hit by a car, then they’re at Lassiter’s and someone’s on a date. Then there’s a kidnapping, and then we’re at the beach having a fucking sing-a-long. It’s the classic sort of ‘you follow every bad scene with a happy one’.
So how did your company, Doubletap come about, both the group and the name? How did you start working with those collaborators?
Susie Dee was a lecturer of mine. She came to one of my shows and I was like “I need you to help me, I want to work with you”. I also went to university with Marg [Horwell]. The term ‘Doubletap’ denotes two rounds, two bullets firing in quick succession and it’s considered the most effective way to kill someone. So the first bullet kills them, the second shot makes sure they’re dead. It’s about being ruthlessly efficient. So I imagined theatre like the first bullet wakes you up, the second bullet kind of makes sure you fucking feel something.
Based on the work you do that examines masculinity in modern culture, do you think you’re a feminist?
I don’t know. I remember I wrote a play and put a show on and the two lots of feedback were – “why don’t you write plays about women?” and “it’s good you’re writing about men because you can’t write about women because you’re not a woman”. I’m always trying to figure out what it is to be a man. I think women can communicate with each other, which men do but in a different way. Back when I was growing up, it was such a redneck thing. Now, there are boys dancing. You would not have got that when I was in school. Maybe theatre can change things. Even if it’s just these tiny little voices, a few of them. It’s not that suddenly we’re going to change the world but maybe we can be part of change in the world. I think that’s why I’m so cynical. I’ve found it interesting that I’ve been expecting someone to assume I’m gay for writing about two gay characters, based on those people in the café. It didn’t need to sit there but it did. I felt it there. Two people love each other, one is thinking of the other one as he’s getting killed. That’s just about treating people with respect.
In terms of implementing change, is there anything that you think that young theatre makers should be keeping in their minds?
I’d love to write the kinds of plays that get a massive audience. But every time I try, it’s just shit. I think you should just find your voice. In this country, we don’t have the population, the funding, the philanthropy, the respect for art that you’ve got in Europe. You can either really make a lot of money in this country by either going completely commercial or completely Marina Abramovic. Your lot in life is to have good and bad periods. It’s not a meritocracy. It’s obvious to me that I’m doing this because I can’t help it. I’ve tried to think about what else I might do, but I’m still doing this shit, which suggests that I don’t really have a choice. You’ve got to just do what you do and work at it. You never know where the person sweeping the floor will end up so be nice to everyone.
Is it strange to think about getting better when you’ve been doing this for years?
It gets harder and harder. When you first make a show, it’s the best thing. But with each show, you’re already whittling things away before you get to the next show. Craft is absolutely crucial. Fall back on your craft. I love getting old, you can just look back on your past work and say, “Yeah, that was terrible”.
Do you still get stage fright?
Yeah! Have you ever had that thing on stage where you’re looking at yourself and the audience, you’re outside yourself, watching yourself perform? That’s just part of the game isn’t it? No wonder everyone just gets pissed and fucks everyone else in the green room. I started writing to be seen as an actor. I wrote a play thinking people will see me as an actor and they’ll cast me. Now I’m a fucking writer. What the fuck’s that about? I’m more of a playwright than a performer now. Wait, am I giving you guys a pep talk? Am I an elder statesman right now? Am I like a mentor? Have you got any more questions or can I go back to my gardening?
Of course you can.