Writer David Burton and director Claire Christian team up for Vena Cava’s latest production, BRISBANE (A DOING WORD). I caught up with David and Claire to find out more.
ZENOBIA FROST: People like to denigrate Brisbane as a place to live or make art, but it sounds like this play identifies the ways in which Brisbane has much to offer. Is that correct? Tell me about the play’s relationship to Brisbane.
DAVID BURTON: The play’s relationship to Brisbane is complex. Every artist I know has a complex relationship with this city. I’m a big Brisbane fan too, and a large part of this play is showing that Brisbane has a lot to offer but that it also has a lot to overcome. Brisbane’s main challenge is the relationship it holds with its artists, many of whom are looking to book a flight to Melbourne or Sydney! I was interested in why that it is — not on a political level, because that’s discussed enough — but on a personal, emotional, creative level. That’s what the play explores.
CLAIRE CHRISTIAN: I like to think that the play metaphorically high-fives Brisbane in a way too. And that by the very making of the work, Brisbane artists are doing their thing in Brisbane and loving on Brisbane.
ZF: Tell me about the play’s protagonist, Matty. What sets his story apart from your average coming-of-age?
DB: We’ve all met Matty. He’s the hopelessly ambitious, idealistic artist who believes theatre can change the world. He’s loved, funny, and imaginative, but he’s sadly lacking some sensitivity. I think he’s an interesting protagonist because he’s recognisable, and not necessarily likeable. Not likeable, but loveable. I’ve been Matty, I’ve been friends with a lot of Mattys, and I’ve watched many grow up, and many stagnate in a Matty-state. It’s funny and interesting to me.
CC: I think those of us in the arts all have an inner Matty at some point of our career: the people in our lives loving us, us hating ourselves, being a wanker about our art — perhaps that’s part of the process.
ZF: Matty explores comedy, slam, theatre, therapy and Jesus. Which part of his adventure is most memorable/resonant for you as writer and director, respectively?
CC: Matty’s overall journey, but the people around him are also on a journey because of him and his impact on their lives. He’s a pretty blissfully unaware of the ripple effect he causes. I hope audiences just wanna give him a hug — and tell him he’s okay. I think all artists need that. Scrap that, I think everyone needs that.
ZF: JWC is a distinctly Brisbane venue (and definitely a doing-wordy place). How does “Brisbane (a doing word)” use the space?
CC: We’re in the shopfront space, which has its challenges and limitations, but is also forcing us to be creative. I’ve done a show in this space before — I love the intimacy it forces, the proximity of the actors to the audience. Plus, I think it’s fantastic that Vena Cava are getting away from their home turf and spreading their wings. I think it makes a great comment about how they see themselves within the Brisbane landscape and about the work they want to make.
ZF: Vena Cava is a student theatre company; have the play’s themes resonated with the cast? In what ways?
C: I think so, yeah. I think it is spinning a few of them into an existential art related crisis. It’s a little confronting in that Matty’s essentially on their path, in their classes, possibly them — even though I think they all hope not. It’s probably inspired a whole lot of reflection about why they do what they do, and how they talk about what they do. I think it’s nice to be reminded not to be a dickhead. I think they get that now.
ZF: Does the play reveal anything unexpected about Brisbane?
DB: I don’t know what people’s expectations are of our city! I think we all have different perspectives on our town, and the play looks at that. None of the characters have the same relationship with this place.
CC: I don’t know, I’d like to think the play speaks more about being a young, confused twenty something — which could be applicable in any town. I think what makes the play speak of Brisbane is the ‘plight’ of artists here and their questions about where to place themselves for success. Maybe it speaks about the perception of success as an artist and how place and space contribute to that.
BRISBANE (A DOING WORD) plays at the Judith Wright Centre from 20 to 22 March.