Festival Blogger Gemma Hirst talks to the creator and performer of THIS IS HOW WE DIE about what the attraction is to dark theatre.
The show is a lightning speed monologue, equal parts story, poem, and comedy rant. It’s pulpy and beat-ish in style, talks about violence, sex, death, apocalypse, paranoia and taboo amongst other lusty topics. A more introspective riff in the show is about language itself. I’m not entirely sure where this part comes from but I’ll give it a stab…
My Aunt Thelma is a very verbal woman but not in any high falutin’ way. It ain’t diamond when she opens her mouth. It’s plain speaking, homely wit and a joy in the simple pleasures of language: pun, alliteration, the pull back and reveal. She is also the Scrabble champion of Canada. I realised only recently that my interest in words must come, in part, from my childhood affection for her. I remember how she was a hoot to hear talk and how an afternoon together her vocab would rub off on me… Opening my ears to the peculiarities of how we communicate and the absurdity that we do it at all… why do I say this or that instead of this or that? Why do I say this or that at all? Am I actually trying to communicate something or am I just making noise because god carved a hole in the front of my face?
As a teenager I moved around a lot and in one school particularly did not fit in. There was a violent element present in the school and being small, new and long-haired, I found myself at the mercy of the school bullies. Being no use at fisticuffs then or now, I fast developed a skill for talking my way out of a duel: mostly using humour to throw them off their guard. All comedy is about knowing your audience and needless to say the tough kids in my school had the toughest sense of humour. If you’re about to get your head dunked in a toilet, toilet humour is your only lifeline.
Your performance has been described as pitch-black humour and nightmarish prose, what is it about this style of dark theatre that you like?
It wasn’t a conscious effort to invoke a certain style to have a particular effect… it grew organically out of the topics I wanted to write about and the things I grew up loving. Those two tags are kind of marketing buzzwords designed to signal to a potential audience whether or not the show is for them (and act as a warning to deter people who would hate it!). Live theatre is one of the least genre lead art forms we have: people often turn up solely because a show is on in their town. And while I’d love as many people to come to the show, you can’t make a show with “whoever might turn up” in mind. If you do it will be boring and nobody will like it. So… this show is steeped in all the things I grew up in love with, and will appeal most to people who like those things too. A non-exhaustive list would include: beat poetry and American underground lit, rock music, punk and metal, rap, pop art, x rated humour, horror and b movies, etc. etc. etc.
Is there enough theatre like this in the industry?
I don’t really think of what I do as existing in an industry. Of course I know it does, but I find that a depressing way to look at it. I think all creative artists (whether they make theatre shows or plates) should make exactly the thing they have in their hearts to the best of their ability. The best shows are the ones that feel completely personal to the artist performing it. Like, ONLY that person could have done that thing. So long as every show stays completely true to itself, each artist true to her or his influences, and we all work hard to make every show as good as it can be, then most shows will be good and most of them will not be too much alike.
As an audience member I don’t crave shows exactly like mine, I crave shows that are as good as they can be at whatever it is they are doing!
You have written and are going to perform in How We Die, how have you found this process creatively as an artist? Did you experience any obstacles?
It was a total thrill to write it and is an absolute rush to perform. I had never written anything very substantial before but I had been dreaming up a monologue for myself for a few years. The process of getting it on paper was sometimes hard work and there was plenty of writer’s block and belly aching along the way, (oh and I sure had doubts: is this any good? are people going to hate it? why am i doing this again?) A lot of time went into redrafting and reformatting – probably more time than a more experienced writer would need! But it was a fun obstacle because I really wanted to do it, to prove to myself that I could. And night by night there’s a challenge to perform the show well – some nights it’s good chemistry, some nights it’s not – but that’s present in every theatre show and this is by far the most fun I’ve had onstage… plus is the only gig where I get to say “fingered” in the first 10 seconds!
What can the audience expect from your show?
There will be gore, silliness and pretentiousness in almost equal measure. There will also be noise, sweat and veins popping in my forehead. I will probably drink a glass of water when my throat is itchy. After the show I’ll have at least one beer in the bar and it’d be a pleasure to meet you, should you choose to say hi. We will also need a recommendation of a good (cheap) restaurant open late that would ideally cater for vegans. I’m just saying what’s on my mind now… Does that answer the question?
You have quite an impressive curriculum vitae when it comes to theatre, for any young artist out there who wants to have a career in the arts, do you have any advice for them?
Well that’s an awful nice thing to say! *blushes*
To be real with you, I feel I’m still very much figuring it out as I’m only recently making exactly the kind of thing I want to make and am still struggling to make the rent each month… So, I’m not sure that I feel I have enough authority to give good advice. But if I was forced, for example at gun point (or at the point of any life threatening weapon) to deliver a “Wear Sunscreen” style speech to a crowd of young creative’s it might go something like this…
Do exactly what YOU want to do and do it as well and as often as you can.
You will suck most days. That’s okay.
One day you will come across something you could get good at. Do it again tomorrow
And the day after that.
Until you rule at it.
When you think you rule at it: you don’t.
So do it again tomorrow.
So long as it makes you happy.
Don’t pander to an audience
or your teachers
or your friends.
Especially not your teachers.
Don’t rip off your peers.
Or resent them when they are better than you.
Art is not a science… quality is in the mind of the audience.
Do you love what you do? What you made? Is it perfect to you?
If yes, you’re done.
If not, keep tinkering.
Take that thing you love and send it out into the world
as often as you can.
Learn which parts of it need to be presented “perfect”
and which can be presented “however the fuck it happens on the day”
Be prepared for people to hate it
Be prepared for it not to pay
Is it still beautiful to you?
If so, make the parts people hate about it LOUDER and see if they don’t hate it LESS
Make it the extreme version of itself and see if it isn’t BETTER
Start asking everyone your meet how they make their money
(nobody really knows how this happens cause there’s no formula for it)
and take the good advice.
If somebody is reticent to tell you how they make their money they probably get it from their parents.
If you are getting money from your parents be honest about that and be the first to buy the beers.
Some will have bar jobs forever, some will live off their parents, some will figure out how to make their artwork pay.
Are you prepared to sacrifice your Time, your Pride or your Comfort?
Make piece with that
and stop worrying about the money part.
Return to the top and repeat.
If somebody tells you something useful take it as good advice.
If somebody tells you something not useful tell them to pound sand,
me and this advice included…!
This Is How We Die is on Saturday 3rd October at 7pm