After two years as artists in residence at PACT, three emerging theatre-makers are sharing their work at the 3x3x2 Festival for New Works. From climate change to mortality, love to fear, and hope to faith, these productions explore the intricacies of modern living with a vigorous spirit for experimentation.
For many people, the end of the world feels imminent; whether due to a global uprising, a final judgement from a deity, or a catastrophic natural disaster spurred on by climate change, these people are making sure they are prepared. In Bring Your Own Devices in Case You Forget, Christie Woodhouse inhabits the movements of this subculture, called preppers, and their survivalist mentality. Clad in plaid and cargo pants, she hauls a backpack around, tests her hand-charged radio, and generally acts suspicious of her surroundings in a repeated sequence, like practising for the big day.
After a few rounds, Woodhouse is joined on stage by herself, a clone projected overtop the bright white wedge of a stage, who begins the same sequence and is joined by another, and another, and another. These overlapping projections integrate an allusion to the virtual world of preppers’ YouTube videos detailing their preparations and tips for other preppers out there.
Later, Woodhouse overwhelms the production with her individual perspective, projecting herself in real time onto the back wall as she monologues her interest in prepping and motivations for the production. Here the tone shifts away from immersion into didacticism, where Woodhouse meanders through pleas for kindness and genuine connection in the face of irreversible climate change and the human impulse for greed. The content operates at odds with the form, where Woodhouse splits audience attention between her physical, live presence on stage, and her screen self projected digitally and recreates the emotional partition of virtual communication. Combined with the apathetic, impassive expression exhibited throughout her survival sequence, the distance between the performer/production and the audience feels too large for a substantial impact.
In Hydraulic Fucking, Cheryn Frost takes a wildly different approach to interpreting climate change and calling for action. In an elaborate masturbation ritual, a man constructs a miniature oil-drilling site for a part-stop motion, part-porno video he shoots from two angles before drilling a hole in the centre for him to insert his penis into repeatedly. This simultaneously crass and delicate scenario laboriously sets up Frost’s extended metaphor about the coal, gas, and oil industries’ extraction of resources representing rape of “our Mother [Earth]”.
Frost goes on to become the Earth, emphatically imploring humans to control their capitalist urges and listen to First Nations people about how to care for the Earth and her resources. The final scenes cements Frost’s genre-bending performance in a cabaret-cum-activist rallying cry about lack of transparency in climate legislation and corporate agreements between governments and community groups set to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”.
The message of Hydraulic Fucking is incredibly clear and culminates in Frost emotionally turning the cameras to the audience, singling out people for inaction in a crisis. While the metaphor of rape and sexual domination over the Earth is disturbing and a confronting lens through which to voice Earth, the damsel-in-distress narrative is not a productive construction around which to make an appeal against greed and disinterest when the distress is profitable for those in power. Perhaps the shock value will be the spark to light the fires of change.
Taking a break from climate disaster, Freefall by Emily Dash interrogates the complexities of mortality, faith, and love in a relationship drama. Carmen (Emily Dash) and Millie (Alicia Fox) have known each other since childhood and over time their love blossomed. But with the sudden death of a new friend Megan (Laura Hobbs), the two feel the strain of their disparate beliefs and perspectives on life, disagreements that threaten the future of their relationship.
Dash brings her disability advocacy to the stage featuring disabled actors in this production, including two actors using wheelchairs, something rarely seen in Australian theatre. While disability is incorporated into the script through Carmen’s research into disability and sexuality, the narrative branches out into other considerations and conflicts, subtly asserting a stance against pigeon-holing disabled characters into tokenistic perspectives.
Direction from Kip Chapman and design from Chapman and Lisa Mimmocchi gives the production an atmosphere of mystery and suspense from the opening scene of a spooky single lightbulb to threatening innuendos about secrecy and surprise. On the surface, the women are planning a surprise holiday for Megan’s fiancé Shane (Dean Nash) but lighting design from Frankie Clarke, which incorporates shafts of light and refractions off mirrors to create star-scapes, lends an eerie air to proceedings.
Dash’s script is complicated as it weaves through time and place, constructing a narrative out of bits of conversation and shared memories. The dialogue is quick witted and sarcastic, occasionally slipping into cliche but remaining engaging and humorous throughout. Her characters are navigating a painful situation, encountering unanswerable questions about death and human connection including what do you do if your partner becomes someone you don’t recognise? What if your differences are unreconcilable? This emotive and poignant production marks Dash as an Australian dramatist to watch.
The PACT 3x3x2 Festival of New Works ushers in three provocative Australian theatre-makers looking to create waves on the story-telling stage and these new works certainly do make a grand announcement.
Bring Your Own Devices in Case You Forget, Hydraulic Fucking, and Freefall are running at PACT Centre for Emerging Artists from August 14th – 24th as part of the 3x3x2 Festival of New Works