This is part two of the Welcome to Nowhere Playwright interviews: Chris Edwards and Mark Pagauio interviewing Zoey Dawson. I am one of five playwrights commissioned by Monash University to write this new work along with Zoey, Angus Cerini (whose interview is up here), Daniel Keene and Morgan Rose. As part of the process, I’ve had student actors interview the creatives. Enjoy this beautiful contribution from Zoey, Chris and Mark.
First of all, what made you want to pursue theatre?
I guess I started as an actor and I always wanted to act and perform. When I was a kid I loved singing and dancing. I was an only child so I watched a lot of movie musicals and so it really started with that.
The first piece of theatre I saw was a production of The Wizard of Oz in a supermarket. I was very little and was probably like a school holiday entertainment thing. It was ridiculous. It was sort of like a family IGA and the witch was hiding behind this huge toilet roll display at the end of the aisle. They put down some yellow wrapping paper or something on the floor to make a yellow brick road. It was, you know, totally ridiculous but it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen as a 5 year old. I just couldn’t even handle how exciting that was to see characters I knew from a movie. Like, just the liveness of it! To see people in real life! It was a really transformative experience.
I became really interested in writing and directing because when you’re in the rehearsal room you start to realise how little power you have as a performer. I was just like, ‘Why have they written this line?’ Or like, ‘Oh that was a terrible direction.’ I’m just a terrible control freak I was like, ‘I can do better than that. I’m going to do all of the things!’
I think theatre is such a ridiculous job, and when it’s great when it’s really fun. With Calamity for example, putting my face in a cake everyday and dressing up in wigs? I think that show was pretty indicative of when you start to make your own work you get to write yourself the kind of stuff you love to perform. I loved the ludicrousness of it. And I love the opportunity to for it to happen in real life in front of people and how important it is for the audience to be there. It kind of can’t happen without people there in that very moment.
I think I’m rambling.
No, that’s amazing! How’d you get into the industry? Oh I guess that’s basically the same question. But like, more like – Sorry. This is an excellently phrased question. But like, how did you get into the actual industry I guess?
I did a creative arts degree at La Trobe. I also did the performance ensemble and creative ensemble at St Martins Youth Theatre. That was a really good introduction to just a kind of community around theatre. Through there I wrote my first one act play.
My friends and I worked with for quite a few years under the collective I’m trying to kiss you. We did a show upstairs at a bar in 2009 and that was our first foray into the world of theatre outside university or youth theatre. And we just did it. We just put it on ourselves. We really didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. We just went ‘Alright, we need to find a venue’ and we walked into bars and said ‘What’s upstairs? Can we do a show there?’ And we knew some musicians and we were like ‘Can you play some music during our show?’
And then, yeah, it was just through a slow process of starting in the Fringes and working inwards. Meeting people and realising there was a community out there. Seeing shows! I think that’s how you become engaged in the community: you see people in shows, you ask them to be in yours, they might say yes, they might say no but then you kind of slowly just work your way into the circle I guess.
So the next question is, what kind of work are you interested in? What do you enjoy and what do you not enjoy?
Hm… That s a good question. The other day I went to see Birdland at MTC and someone asked me if I liked it and I was like ‘Yeah, for what it was it was great.’ I thought they did a really great job but I guess you like to cook what you like to eat. For me I’m really interested in things that are formally experimental or that doesn’t necessarily stick to a path that’s been carved out; that don’t follow a formula.
As an audience member I just want to be surprised. I just want my expectations to be confounded somehow. And I love when something starts in one place and ends in another. I think the worst thing to feel in the theatre is boredom. Like when you sit down and go ‘Oh I know exactly what’s going to happen for the next hour.’ In the first few minutes of most shows I can realistically deduce how it will end and I just hate when I’m correct. I just want to be totally surprised.
So then I guess what made you want to be involved in this project, Welcome to Nowhere? Like what kind of attracted you to it?
It was kind of pitched to me by Jane (Montgomery Griffith) and it sounded very daunting. It felt like a real challenge. As an artist I think it’s always really great to be challenging and difficult.
And I love all the writers that are involved. As a writer you don’t often get the chance to collaborate with people. It can be a very solitary life. Which isn’t the aspect I like so much. I like theatre because it’s collaborative. You get to play with other people so the idea of getting to play with all these writers was very exciting. And I love the idea of it having a theme that ties it together.
And I was really excited to work with Monash students because the contact I’ve had with Monash students over the past few years have been so positive. It is such an amazing course. I’m devastated that it’s ending because I think it’s incredible. I was just really flattered to be asked to work on something as part of that course because I think it’s excellent.
Cool. So how did you approach your section? What approach did you take to the theme? The instigating concept that you were given was ‘liminal’. How did you respond to that?
Well, I kind of just went very instinctually. Emma Valente (the director and dramaturge of the project) sent some great things through and I read them. I kind of just let the word, ‘liminality’, sit with me personally. What did that nowhere space mean to me?
I think it was just after the Oscars or the Golden Globes or something. I think that day, I’d been watching a bunch of acceptance speeches and stuff, which I’ve always been particularly fascinated by. I’m quite interested in celebrity culture and I think I watched Michael Keaton’s acceptance speech for Birdman…. Just the way he had these 2 minutes to kind of sum up everything that got him to this place… I’m also very interested in the notion of success. What it means, how we define it as a society and what we all agree success is or isn’t. I like the idea of arriving at a space we call ‘success’ and finding it empty, finding it lacking, finding a void as opposed to something concrete. That’s where my mind went when I thought of that phrase, ‘Welcome to Nowhere.’
I’m really just so excited to read the other writers’ pieces to see how different they are.
It was really fascinating during the readings just seeing how varied all of the approaches were.
To close, what would your advice be to young theatre makers trying to make it in this crazy world?
When I was trying to put on my first show and I sat down with a friend of mine who’d been making theatre for quite a few years and was doing really well. I was like, ‘Do you think you’d do this? Would we be allowed to do a show above a shop? Would we be allowed to do a play in a park? Or in a tram stop?’ He was like ‘Just do whatever you want until they tell you not to.’
Particularly in this cultural climate of Australia right now, I think it’s more important than ever to be bold and to follow your most ridiculous impulses and instincts. And I think usually when I talk to other artists, I find, if someone says something like ‘Omg I’ve got the worst idea for a show!’ that’s usually something I’m really excited about.
Whatever your idea is, make the most dangerous version of it. Because I think that’s how art can actually create change and can have impact. It’s not a place to be nice and timid and polite.
And you just need to trust. I think, trusting your instincts is the hardest and the best piece of advice. It sounds so simple but be in touch with your primary instincts around why you want to make work, what’s important to you and what you value as an artist.
Yeah cool that’s really amazing, thanks!
I was rambling but.
A little ramble never hurt anyone
Give me soapbox and I’ll just start preaching.
Yes, beautiful. Well yeah that’s kind of all we had I guess. Thank you so much.
Great, I hope you can turn it into something concise. I’m a little bit exhausted and flustered.
That’s the best mindset to do an interview in.
Yeah, totally! Well I’m so excited to see what it turns into, and I’m so excited to see you guys when I get back!