This is an incredibly unique take on the experience of being a teenager. Where did the idea come from?
Chris [director Chris Kohn] came to me with this initial crumb of an idea, which was of this teenage boy having an ecstatic religious vision. Then we kind of decided that the two protagonists, the school kids, were going to be kind of ‘losers’, or even über-losers, not the kind who are easily romanticised, who are twee or funny or cute. We were thinking of that kid at school who even the teachers would bully, the one who could never get it right.
I read that the script was workshopped with a group of students at a secondary college. What was the object there?
When we were developing it in the school, it was really just about getting the language right and making sure that these were characters and scenarios and provocations that teenagers actually found interesting. So when we went in there it was really great, it was just, um, getting kids to read scenes and to let us know if we’d got the language right, whether it registered with them.
Tell me about ‘getting the language right’. What does authenticity mean to you as a playwright?
Authenticity is a tricky question. There is a kind of fetishisation of naturalism at the moment . I feel like I’ve seen a lot of theatre recently where authenticity is the only desired effect that the theatre makers are going for, as though authenticity is enough, like if you’ve managed to truly render a particular speech pattern then you’ve succeeded at your job.
But we didn’t want the kids to switch off. We didn’t want them to say, “Well that’s bullshit and I don’t believe this.” We just wanted to make sure we got certain things right, like what the kids call each other. Apparently the kids call each other “tool” a lot. Well at this high school anyway. So, authenticity is an entry point into the heart of the play, to get them to engage with everything else that we were trying to do.
What is at the heart of this play?
The play addresses something that was pretty common when we wrote it, which is perhaps not so common now, the idea of “emo bashing”. I think at the time, which was around mid-2010, there was, even in the Australian mainstream media, these media identities, like Rove McManus or Peter Hellier, throwing shade and saying stuff about emo kids cutting themselves. And you’d see jocks walking down Swanston Street with t-shirts saying “emos die”. It’s really terrible, because you’re talking about children here.
You know, high school is actually a really, really, really rough time, and I think people forget how fucked up and difficult high school can be for some people. And you know, if you want to dye your hair black and wear crazy clothes and write bad poetry, well that’s fine. Do whatever you need to do to get through it.
I’m starting to sound very polemic. I don’t mean to be. There was never any opportunity to sit down and think, well, what are we making this play about? There was never really the opportunity to make this a didactic exercise. Everything was just so up in the air all the time.
So what we’ve ended up creating is what I hope is an interesting tapestry of ideas, a network of ideas, that interrelate and feed off each other in a free associative kind of way.
And I think it’s good that it doesn’t have a hard-hitting message; young people get hit with that sort of thing a lot.
One of the most impressive things about this show is the way it deals with communications technology and effectively coveys how kids are completely immersed in that world.
That was something we thought about a lot. I think a lot of writers struggle with how to represent that stuff on stage. I was kind thinking about the relationship that young people have with text itself, how Facebook and Facebook Chat and MSM and SMS is essentially just live text. You articulate and it gets sent immediately.
But there’s an interesting corollary here with mental illness, with states of psychosis, where you are filtering some voices and letting others in. And that is something we were conscious of doing with this play, providing an undefined wash of voices that the audience have to make their own way through.
What are you working on now?
I’m doing a show with Daniel Schlusser called Pompei LA. It’s been in development for a really long time. But Daniel’s been working on it for about a year now.
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