Emerging local arts collective Undercurrent Theatre Company will debut their original production My Shout at The Blue Room Theatre from Tuesday, August 31, until Saturday, September 18 (get more info and tickets here). Described as “an ode to our inherent desire for connection through alcohol,” My Shout brings stories of boozy nights and anxiety-ridden hangovers, told through poetic conversation, and compelling physicality to the stage – all in the comfort of a local pub. BRAYDEN EDWARDS caught up with director Samuel Gordon Bruce to find out how the show was both a critique and a celebration of Australia’s love affair with drinking.
What do you think someone’s choice of drink says about their personality?
I feel a person’s favourite drink speaks to the connection they have to various aspects of their life. Whether that is people; their friends, work colleagues, family; or perhaps the drink connects them to memories of a certain period of their life or even a stage of life they are travelling through right now.
With that in mind, what kind of drink are you and why?
The kind of drink I am has definitely changed throughout the years, whether it was cheap alcohol in my early twenties, vodka drinks and shots when I was into nightclubs and festivals or even various mixtures of soda water when I wasn’t drinking for a time. Right now I’m a jug of beer at the end of a long week in that sublime golden hour filled with the chatter of friends.
Where did the idea for this show come from and how did it grow to what it is today?
My Shout was an idea I pitched to Undercurrent Theatre Company (Claire Appleby, Scarlet Davis, David Stewart and myself) in January to explore Australia’s connection to drinking and the positive and negative effects of this. Alcohol has been a presence throughout most of my life and my relationship to it has changed throughout the years.
The four of us researched and developed this idea for a twenty minute showing in April, all of us performing in that iteration. We then applied for the Blue Room Theatre’s Season which we were thrilled to be accepted into as we all feel they are such an integral part of Perth’s cultural landscape and such a champion of new independent theatre. We love The Blue Room, they’ve been so supportive and it’s a real honour to be performing our debut show there.
Following this I stepped out of performing to direct the work and David took less of a performative role to focus on sound (though he is still performing the sound live every night!). We then recruited an incredible team to collaborate on the work: Shaun Johnston and Christopher Moro as performers and devisers; Amber Kitney, producer; Adelaide Harney, lighting designer; Matthew Raven, set designer; Hayden Mumby, publicist; Andrew Sutherland, text dramaturg; Emma Fishwick, Movement consultant, and Catherine O’Donoghue as Stage Manager.
The ensemble then set into creating the work as we needed to build almost a completely new show to incorporate the two new performer/devisers. The material was created through a period of research and a series of improvisational exercises, choreographic tasks and writing prompts. The entire show from the movement to the text is completely created by the four performer devisers. We also integrated the design from an early stage, inviting the designers into the room so the design could grow with the work. My Shout has been an incredibly collaborative process.
The show now doesn’t look anything like the initial showing we did in April but that’s the wonderful thing about devised theatre that during the process you sometimes have to follow what excites you the most about the work you’re making and let moments go which can be difficult at times. To quote the ever inspirational Anne Bogart, you really do have to “hold on tightly, let go lightly.”
Why do you think drinking is so central to Aussie culture? And is it such a bad thing?
I think in many Australian towns, the pub was and still is the meeting place for many members of society, it was a place where you could get jobs, form relationships with friends and partners, celebrate anniversaries and victories or conversely, forget losses and defeats. For better or worse I feel drinking is part of Australia’s contemporary mythology.
The stereotype of the hard drinking Aussie has been ingrained into our culture through modern folk tales like Prime Minister Bob Hawke once having the world record for downing a yard glass or sport stars such as David Boon drinking 52 beers on a flight from Sydney to London. However, there is an incredibly damaging side to the misuse of alcohol. One just needs to spend a Saturday night in any major Australian city outside nightclubs or in emergency rooms to see some of the more extreme consequences of drinking still persist.
It was a tricky balance we had to find when making the work, not to celebrate drinking, as many of us in the work have been affected by the negative repercussions of alcohol. But also not to condemn drinking, as we all can also see the positive aspects of drinking such as connecting with new people. We hope the work can speak for itself and allow the audience to consider their own stance on drinking and that of society more broadly.
And did you learn anything interesting about the subject matter while researching this show?
The most interesting thing that we learnt from the research was that up to the 1500s women originally dominated the brewing industry. They would sell their wares in the marketplace; using big cauldrons to brew the beer, wearing tall pointy hats so their customers could see them, and as they had grain stores, they would have cats to scare the mice off.
The male brewers saw an opportunity to reduce their competition, they accused the women of being witches, using the cauldrons to brew potions, not beer. These rumours stuck around and it became too dangerous for women to sell beer with accusations of witchcraft being often punished by death. The traditional iconography related to witches: pointy hats, cauldrons and cats, is believed to have emerged from this point in time.
This didn’t make it into the show, but is definitely interesting. Maybe something to look at for a future work…
Who are Undercurrent Theatre Company and is this show a good reflection of the kind of work we can expect from the group going forward?
Undercurrent Theatre Company consists of Claire Appleby, Scarlet Davis, David Stewart and myself. We all graduated from WAAPA’s Bachelor of Performing Arts program and formed the company earlier this year. We have a shared passion and focus on creating devised performance with strong physicality and imagery. The roles within the company are shared and flexible, for example our next project development will be directed by Scarlet, Claire is doing AV design, David will be performing and I will be doing Dramaturgy and Producing. In the future we hope to collaborate with various local and international artists, a mix of new and familiar faces to allow us to engage with a variety of voices, stories and perspectives.
I feel My Shout is a good indication of what to expect from us as a company, ensemble based theatre with strong physicality and integrated design. My Shout is our debut show as a company and we have learnt many lessons and gained valuable experience throughout the process which will only strengthen our future works.
To keep up to date with Undercurrent, be sure to follow our Facebook and Instagram as we have many exciting projects that we’re working towards.
What drink are you going to reward yourself with once the show finishes?
I’m going to sit smiling in the sunshine surrounded by the many incredible people who contributed to this amazing show. We’ll reflect on the months of tremendous work that went into making this show; navigating lockdowns, quarantines and unforeseen challenges; the moments of joy, the frustrations and the little victories; and the great privilege we have to be making art at all, when right now so many of our fellow artists in Australia and worldwide are unable to do so.
All of that will be reward enough. Although if there’s a jug of beer on the table, I’ll smile just that little bit more…