Emily: How should audiences prepare themselves to see this show?
Jim: That’s an interesting question. It’s something I’ve tangentially been thinking about, how an audience’s expectation of something affects their performance of it. It started when I was thinking about the possibility of having programs for the show – if you write a director’s statement then that changes how people see the show. I don’t want to tell people too much about the show because I want them to experience it as it goes along, which is true of any theatre show I suppose. Audiences should expect a really fun night out.
Emily: From the work that I’ve seen by Jetpack Theatre Collective – which I love, I can’t say it enough –
Jim: Thank you very much.
Emily: You’re into innovative theatre-making, clearly, [see my previous reviews for shows by Jetpack Theatre Collective here, here and here.] are there quirky or innovative things that you are doing with this play?
Jim: Yes there are. It’s an interesting challenge for me personally because it’s not the first scripted show I’ve done, but it’s the first time I’ve done a play from the canon. There are new elements to it, but it’s a piece where everything has to be adding to the set script. Pieces we’ve done in the past, for instance Pea Green Boat, we’ve been able to work with that script because it was so malleable – the script was one long monologue, but Rhinoceros has very specific stage directions, which really constrains what we can do in terms of innovating the performance.
Emily: How do you strike up that balance between staying true to the text, for example these prescriptive stage directions, and finding something new?
Jim: Everything has to make the boat go faster. I have to throw away my ego, the performers have to throw away their egos, and we have to draw that fine line of what is “this is cool!” and what is constructive to the show. What will excite audiences, and what will be memorable for them, that isn’t a gimmick? We can’t just keep pushing to do quirky stuff because we have a reputation for producing quirky things.
Emily: Could you explain for someone who doesn’t know the play, what is Rhinoceros about?
Jim: At a very basic level, the play is about a sleepy French town where everyone starts turning into Rhinoceroses. The play was written in the 1950s by Ionesco as an allegory for the Nazi occupation of France, and the French people’s complicity in that. What happens when everyone around you starts turning into ugly, angry, passionate monsters – what’s the response to that? It is very funny as well (laughs). Being able to ask very serious questions in a very dumb way is something that I love. We chose to do this play in September last year-
Emily: -it’s only become more relevant.
Jim: As much as a destruction of the world is awful, it’s very convenient for marketing purposes (laughs). The increasing radicalisation of both the left and the right in Australia and overseas, Brexit, the rise of Trump…all these things make it very timely.
Emily: Pauline Hanson’s back, just yesterday, right in time for you!
Jim: Thank God for Pauline Hanson (laughs). It’s very timely to be doing a play that asks questions like, who gets to decide who’s an outsider in a society, about populist uprising and moral panics? How do you respond to that?
Emily: If we use this metaphor of turning into a rhinoceros for conformity, at the simplest level, do you think that’s inherently a bad thing?
Jim: It depends how transparent you want to make the allegory. This show becomes a lot less interesting if the message is, the rhinoceroses are Nazis, and once you’re a rhinoceros you’re a bad person. We don’t get a solid answer on that. We don’t get that Berenger is the main hero who fights against them, and wins because he is the better person. He does shitty things just like everyone else.
Emily: Do you think it’s possible to truly be an individual in our society? I think we really like the idea of individuality, but are we just conforming as ‘individuals’?
Jim: I miss the 19th century where someone could be an eccentric and have a shed where they tinker with newts – I think a lot of eccentricity becomes performative in an image-driven society. Of course we’re all individuals because everyone has a unique outlook on life and everyone’s life experience is different. I love that you can talk to 10 different people about a topic, ask a simple question like, tell me about the time you broke your arm, your imaginary friend as a kid – and everyone will have interesting, different answers. I’m more interested in authenticity than individuality. I’m ok with copying someone else if it feels right to me.
Emily: Talking about populist uprisings, do you think that in the wake of some terrifying prevailing political opinions and ideologies, there is a way that we can stop people from turning into these types of rhinoceroses?
Jim: In the show at least, we don’t see it being a reversible procedure. We don’t see anyone who is human, becomes a rhinoceros, and then becomes human again. Once you turn, you turn. That’s a dramatic choice I think, as well as maybe a thematic one. Empathy and listening is the way to stop people from turning into rhinoceroses in the real world. We need to find out why people hold certain opinions – rather than saying, you’ve said something racist, you’re a racist dickwad, I’m just going to insult you and ignore you-
Emily: -The brick wall goes up.
Jim: Yeah the brick wall goes up! Deep listening, with people who are different from you is key. I think the reason that a lot of the arts community often lean to the left is because an artist has a huge tendency for empathy. As an actor, you’re continually trying to imagine what it’s like to be someone else, however different they are from you. But I’m not sure if that translates to all audiences. It can depend on how you’re asking the audience to interact with your work. Part of theatre is necessarily that people who are placed in a room together have a common experience, but the theatre seats are all facing forward toward the stage. Something that I’m interested in, and that Jetpack has explored, is investigating what happens when people talk to each other? What happens when you put three complete strangers in a boat? If people are talking to each other and finding out about each other through the mechanism of theatre, how does that change people? A guy called Seb Chan who’s the Chief Experience Officer down at ACME in Melbourne, is asking what does it mean for the arts when everyone can access every piece of culture on their device? What does that mean for theatre? You have to think about it, because otherwise theatre won’t be able to stay relevant. You have to replicate what theatre does, not what theatre looks like.
Check out more information about Jetpack Theatre Collective's upcoming production of Rhinoceros here, directed by Jim Fishwick.