There’s a collective of enterprising theatre makers called The Cutting Room Floor that have been making huge strides and cutting a unique path for themselves in Perth’s arts scene. Company founders Zoe Hollyoak and Scott Corbett began collaborating with other young indie theatre artists on various projects like Poly, All the Single Ladies, F**k Decaf, and their quarterly curated short performance showcase called Home Open. They’re now producing a new work called I Can Breathe Underwater, written by Hollyoak and directed by Corbett for The Blue Room Theatre’s Summer Nights program as part of Fringe World 2015.
This will be TCRF’s Blue Room debut, and Hollyoak remarks on the fact that it’s a rarity that the company gets to present their work in a dedicated theatre space. They’re known for putting on shows in unorthodox or makeshift locations like private residences, coffee shops, and festival tents, so the chance to do a show in a black box, complete with lights, sound and seats is an exciting prospect for them.
They’ve seized on the opportunity to bring set designer Ruth Mongey in to create a pool on stage that can be reassembled each night. And not just a blow-up kiddie pool either, apparently, but Hollyoak won’t reveal any more than that. In fact, TCRF likes to keep little secrets from its audience; for instance, their Home Open events are usually held in a secret location revealed to attendees on the day via text. Much of their publicity imagery has featured people with their heads obscured in various ways. So naturally, Hollyoak keeps her cards close to her chest when speaking about her Sophomore effort as playwright.
“The best way to describe it is that it’s a show that explores grief, and quite simply, how do you deal with grief when you’ve never been taught?” says Hollyoak. “We’ve been playing around with this idea for a while. It was in development last year with six actors. We put it to rest and started up again this year and continued to devise it with four actors and a dancer. It’s now my part of the journey to go away and write it based on the experiences that we had in the rehearsal room.”
“Because it’s a play that explores young people dealing with grief, I feel like it’s a really relevant thing for me to be writing about as a young person. Hopefully that will give it an authentic voice, but that’s also part of the challenge, because it’s so personal too.” Unfortunately and somewhat coincidentally, her kitten died halfway through the writing process, and she says “to face something like that is really changing this experience.”
But it goes deeper than grief over lost pets, though this would have been a potent reminder of the feelings we experience when we lose a loved one. Hollyoak tells us that at the beginning of development, “people shared some really personal stories, about deaths they’ve experienced. But when we got up to devise and play around on the floor, it was much more based on the ideas those stories raised because we didn’t want to do anything inappropriate. But that conversation helped to create backstory.”
I Can Breathe Underwater runs at The Blue Room Theatre from Friday, January 23, until Saturday, January 31. For tickets and session times, go to blueroom.org.au.