conversation, interview, Politics, Theatre

in conversation: riot stage on adolescence, global warming, frozen yoghurt and the end of the world

I saw Forever City mid-Comedy Festival, when the only time I could make it was during the school matinee. Every time I laughed, the four students sitting in front of me turned to stare, bemused at my reaction. The show was beautiful, complex, subtle, cynical and witty. With a cast of fifteen to nineteen-year-olds, Forever City told of the last days of our species, when planes fall out of the sky, survivors wash up on islands of rubbish, teenagers sell frozen yoghurt at malls and a dinosaur politely waits to be asked what extinction feels like.

Afterwards, I spoke to the cast about the creation of their work. I was very sick during this show so I must own that it was not the best interviewing I’ve ever done, but the artists said beautiful things. I think it is wonderful to hear passionate, intelligent young people talk about making theatre and the world around them so it was a delight to capture these words. Thank you to the cast and to their director and writer, Katrina Cornwell and Morgan Rose.

FOREVER CITY, promo image by Sarah Walker

FOREVER CITY, promo image by Sarah Walker

Fleur: How can I do this? I’m going to have no idea who is talking.

Mieke: Do you want us to say our names before we say something?

Fleur: Yes. Say your names before you say something and then we can hopefully drop it and I’ll just… randomly attribute stuff.

How does it feel to perform something like this?

Mieke: Not all of it is improvised but it is from improvised scenes that we’ve done in rehearsals and stuff. It’s really nice to feel like you are the characters. Well… except for Daisy and Marie. Daisy’s doesn’t copy me all the time and Marie’s not actually a dinosaur.

Fleur: No?

Yash: Really?

Mieke: Believe it or not.

Alanna: For some of us it has been a year basically since we’ve done the first workshop and it’s like “oh we really helped create this.” We were there for the beginning bit and now we’re here for the end. And even the people who weren’t there for the very, VERY beginning bit, we saw it through. That’s really nice. We created the script.

Fleur: And what do you want people to understand from it?

Mieke: I guess that, like, teenagers have thoughts too. I think a lot of people seem to assume that because we’re kids we don’t care about anything but ourselves and it’s actually that we do care about things. Yeah. If that makes sense. We are actually conscious of things and we do care.

Yash: Yeah and our obsession with the end of the world in our age.

Daisy: There are so many zombie movies. So many alien movies. As a culture, we think about this stuff all the time but we tend to think about it in very abstract ways that aren’t actually likely to happen. We tend to ignore things like Global Warming and the giant plastic island in the middle of the sea, the rubbish that we created, all that sort of stuff that could actually cause the world to heat up and… die.

FOREVER CITY, image by Sarah Walker

FOREVER CITY, image by Sarah Walker

Amelia: Yeah. It’s kind of like, as young people, we have to face adulthood and we have to face the global problems that have been put upon us. We are growning up and now we’re in a world where global warming is pressing and there are all these wars happening and the world is in a place of strife and we’re expected to be the next generation. We’re expected to be the future

Someone: “We’ve fucked everything up. Now fix it.”

Amelia: Yeah! We inherited these problems and we do feel a responsibility to have to change things but no one has taught us how to because no one knows how. I’ve always sort of seen it (the play) as a coming of age and who can handle coming of age into a world where we aren’t really prepared for.

Fleur: There is a sense of this epic scale to it all. Like, “yes, we’re working at McDonalds and we’re on the verge of extinction”. This isn’t going to be a question. I think I’m just making a statement that won’t lead to anything but that scale is beautiful. That you’ve got both these sort of tiny little moments and also this whole epic stuff and this sense of doom throughout. I loved the alarm going off the first time: a test for the alarm that signals the end of the world and everyone goes “oh no, it’s fine. It’s a drill. Now we can just go back to work. Have some more fro-yo.”

Where to next for you guys? If this was an introduction to making theatre from scratch, what do you want to do with those skills now that you have them?

Another someone: Do more of it.

A third someone: Work in Melbourne’s theatre scene. That would be great.

Yash: I’ll just grab any opportunity after this. Riot Stage gave us an opportunity but I don’t think others will. I think others will stick to a playwright. I don’t know but I think other plays are just “script” and “say it” and “emotion”.

Fleur: What do you want to make theatre about? What do you think is important to make theatre about?

Mieke: Something I would really like to write a play about is gender identity. Gender identity is something that (because I’m gender queer) is quite an important thing for me. It is something that I think a lot of people don’t understand. So that’s something that I’d really want to work on one day maybe when I’m a little bit older: writing a play about gender identity.

FOREVER CITY was made by Riot Stage youth theatre and performed at La Mama. 

conversation, My own plays, Politics, Theatre

in conversation: on where we are going, the inarticulate and what artists can bring to debate

Programming note: This conversation with David Finnigan is different enough in mood that I feel I need to set the scene a little. Everyone I’ve spoken to for this series so far has been someone I know very well. I have assistant directed for John Kachoyan and Suzanne Chaundy and next up will be Sayraphim Lothian and Rob Reid who is directing one of my plays in the new year. The Monash students I had only known for a few days but we were all very drunk and this accelerates things. This was only the second conversation I had ever had with David but I’d been admiring his brain from afar for some time and knew I had to get in a conversation before he disappeared overseas for some months. So imagine us sitting in a tiny, very noisy cafe, preparing to get to know each other with an audio recorder on the table between us. We talked for more than an hour and it was beautiful and personal and revealing and almost entirely too intimate to share. This is from the only twenty minutes of it that I actually recorded. Usually I try to edit myself out of the conversation as much as possible but it felt wrong to let David reveal this alone so there’s a whole lot of me rambling at the end of this. Enjoy. And David, thank you once again, for a beautiful conversation.

Ingredients: Window seats in a cafe over-looking Brunswick street, two cups of peppermint tea and two shy, nervous and excited humans, David Finnigan, writer, producer and pharmacy assistant and myself.


Promo shot for MKA by Sarah Walker

SFB: So why theatre?

David: It helped with social phobias and imposes deadlines. I don’t know how I would have gone writing anything if I hadn’t had theatres booked and casts waiting for scripts. That gives focus. There is something really lovely about sitting in a room and writing for people who are talking back to you. Writing for a group of other people to do stuff with is really liberating. Then there is the selfish factor: when it works, other people take your words and take them further than you ever could. That is great. Then you can slap your name on it again and get the credit.

SFB: Part of the conversation with John and Lou that I didn’t use was John saying (something along the lines of) ‘I find playwrights so fascinating because it is like they’ve decided to be a recluse and then chickened out.’ We’ve chosen the most social form of writing. We aren’t novelists who can lock themselves away in a cabin in a mountain and emerge with a masterpiece. It is about talking to and working with people.

David: Yes. For what I do, perhaps more so than for what you do. I don’t know how you wrote yours the face but I’m guessing that was primarily in isolation. What I usually do is stuff that has some sort of interactivity component and also a science bent. For the last eight or nine years I’ve been working with research scientists, usually from CSIRO – climate scientists, system theorists, game theorists, resilience theorists – building shows that are interactive plays or live games around science concepts. That’s closer to the heart of my practice.

SFB: And what do the arts have to add to that conversation?

David: I feel like I’m doing it because of that lock-in. I presented a table at the Independent Theatre Forum back in ’09 I think. The topic was ‘Why the fuck do you keep going?’ We invited people up to talk about why they persisted in the industry with so little pay and very little respect and no long-term career options in a lot of cases. People had lots of different answers. Some said that it was their responsibility to be the shamans of the tribe or to keep up story-telling practices or variations and some people said that they do it for that moment of transcendence or flow; that beautiful moment that happen every few month or years. But the majority of people said that they did it because they had over-trained in that area and under-trained anywhere else. People have post-grad qualifications in theatre and have spent ten years working in it and they feel they can’t start from scratch. That was by far the most common reason people had for doing theatre. That is a factor for me. I do performance around these topics because that’s what I’m best at.

Image by Adam Thomas

In the early 90s there was this general consensus on the idea of changing climate. There were the beginnings of an understanding of what might be done. Then the science community got hit sideways by this incredibly sophisticated propaganda assault from the carbon lobby that none of them were prepared for. They were meteorologists who, up until that point, had had no reason to be in the spotlight, being assaulted by these incredibly clever, incredibly well-paid hacks and propagandarists. Twenty-years later they are just beginning to push back against that. As far as I’m concerned, artists have the requisite skills to be able to slide in the gap there; to be able to talk about the future in a way that is meaningful and resonant. So everything I do – the majority of what I do and what I’m interested in – is stuff around the future and what is going to happen to us in the next fifty – a hundred years. I feel like that is a thing worth talking about but I’m still trying to figure out the best way to communicate it. If there is a single theme in everything I’ve done, that’s probably as close as I can come to describing it.

What about you? Do you have an area of interest that you find yourself returning to?

SFB: I don’t know. It has changed. Most recently… I love good words but I sort of struggle to make myself inarticulate. I am very articulate, obviously, but I’m also dyslexic and I get really frustrated when people dismiss others for spelling something wrong and it is particularly lefties on the internet who do it. It drives me nuts to see them – my people, the people I identify with – saying ‘you used the wrong form of ‘your’ and therefore you are a terrible person and the contents of your brain is worthless!’ I love creating characters that an audience will dismiss as dumb or obnoxious. I want people to jump to decisions about them; to form conclusions and then, maybe, come around to see the value of them. Or, like the photographer in yours the face, people will judge him by page two, then get drawn into his mind but by the end they are saying ‘oh no, he is actually a cunt’.

I’m still working on all this. When I started writing that play I wrote the character of Emmy phonetically or – how someone might spell if they were quite illiterate and just sounding out their words. But I didn’t know the accent well enough. It was meant to be Detroit but I started writing her in England and Raimondo (Cortese) said it was like reading Ali G: a Londoner trying to be gangster. That wasn’t what I was going for so I went back to writing her with correct spelling and left it to the actor and director to create the voice. But I am fascinated by playwrights who can do that; who can write beautifully in that colloquial voice in a really unashamed way. In Australia, we get very anxious about appropriating someone else’s voice – the white privilege fear. The danger is that we are all so scared of telling someone else’s story wrong that we only write white, middle class stories.

Please go and have a read of David’s blog. I would particularly suggest you have a look at his entry on the responses to Kids Killing KidsIt is a fascinating look at just how disparate reviewer’s opinions can be. And here he is doing some outstanding poetry. 

Thanks to my proof-reader for today, Cat Commander.


David with Jordan Prosser in ‘Kids Killing Kids’, image by Sarah Walker