Angus Cerini is a writer and performer whose award-winning solo works have been performed throughout Australia and in Germany, Ireland and England.

He is currently touring in the multi-award winning production of Wretch, which he also wrote and co-directed. On the eve of the Brisbane season, he spoke to Australian Stage's Paul Andrew.

Angus CeriniWhat is your seven word pitch for Wretch?
The things we do for love, the things we do despite it.

What inspired you to become an actor?
I did ballet as a kid. My sister went along, then my brother, then the eldest brother and at age six I was kind of dragged along.  Did that for ten years and that’s where I always seemed to be – on stage.

Wretch won the Patrick White Playwright's Award in 2007, what does this award mean for you and for the play?
It gave the play a big lift in exposure. This has been used as marketing collateral (to be cutthroat about it). It also gave me some cash – which was nice. (I like cash ☺) It also gave the play a leg up in getting on…

Tell me about your involvement in the Risky Business arts project?
There were a number of arts projects throughout Victoria asking in quite simple terms ‘do creative projects help young people at risk?’ I was part of a project that worked with young men within the juvenile justice and we were to make a show with them. This show the young men wrote and performed had three performances in Melbourne. Inspiring!

How so?
It inspired me in many ways. Most striking was that overall these young men don’t like what they have done – their feelings of shame, guilt and remorse are so very powerful. To a large extent (at least with those young men I worked with) they had ‘fucked up’ and hated themselves for it. The crimes they had committed were right off the scale – hence their incarceration – yet most of them really never imagined the consequences would be so severe. To grievously injure someone when you throw a punch is not something you expect for example.

The father figures in these guys lives were either the aggressor (i.e. rapist or abuser of them or a family member, their mentor in criminality (showed them everything they know), or the person (or persons) they had never “met” or met countless times in guises different to the last one they met. 

So, the absence of healthy male role models seemed in most cases to be the tipping point, while the mothers were the ones that loved them still, forgave them despite what they had done, and who judged them more harshly than any court or tabloid paper.

The other thing that spun me right out about that project was meeting and working with young men whose crimes I had read about. Having their personality right before me, as any other young bloke (and much like any I would have grown up with really, or any young bloke anywhere in Australia) showed me these things and this intimacy allowed me to empathise enormously with them – once I got over my fear of being in a prison and/or their ability to do real bad stuff to me (as I fallaciously presupposed given their incarceration). Ridiculous fears as it turned out. 

Amazing stuff really. Human beings and the things we all possess. Amazing what each of us has, an original personality that no media article or cliché will illuminate. Amazing, heartbreaking and inspiring.

And with this “At Risk” arts project and with Wretch you drew from your own challenging experiences as a young man too?
Yeah, those guys could have been any one of us growing up as teenagers. Indeed, I had mates that did wrong stuff and they got busted. We all did crazy shit – what teenage boy doesn’t. But it was amazing to look back and seriously shake me nut and wonder how close we/I came to seriously fucking up. I mean, the saying goes ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ or something like that, but its true (though I dispute the GOD bit).

I mean, we did all sorts of shit – wasted, surfing on cars doing eighty clicks on a winding country road, stealing parents cars, eight of us squeezed in, growing dope, getting into fights, pinching stuff…the lot. As times change, as suburbs and demographics change; then so do specific activities of teenagers. But the thing that doesn’t change is the inherent nature and physiological make up of adolescents - risk. The teenage boy and his cock throbbing with newfound hormones, he is wild like an animal. 

So yeah, I see those guys in those places and I can identify with them. Oh, and I see some of the stuff I did and loathe myself for it. 

It is sometimes said that criminality and creativity come from the same place, the first the shadow/dark side of the second, what are your thoughts?
I haven’t heard that before, but I like it. I spent my teenage-hood being a bit of a knob. I didn’t know who or what I was. This had a lot to do with the environment around me, the suburbs I spent my time in and the people I was exposed to. It also had a lot to do with boredom as well. I suppose for me, that wellspring of creativity got channeled into getting drunk and smoking drugs and vandalising. The avenues for creative self expression – of the non criminal, non destructive type – are few and far between for teenagers. 

We may dispute this as there are libraries and school and the footy club (!). But if you look at what is taught in schools then you get the picture. This entire education system seems to me to be geared around the lowest common denominator of ‘do not offend anyone’. Schools are so very safe. Yes they should be safe, but they should be safe places to explore who we are as humans. 

I am finding it increasingly problematic that real life skills are not taught in schools. The skills of budgeting, eating well, growing things, making things and of doing stuff with a practical nature. How about the skill of self-awareness? The skill of respect, self-care and leadership? The entire learning thing seems to be geared around getting a job. That is the most ridiculous use of preparing for a life that I have ever heard. Spend your teenage years being given limited options, so that when you leave you can contribute to the limited options. 

Young men and prison, have they become increasingly synonymous or is this a myth?
Not increasingly synonymous apart from the howls from the great unwashed that is. The cheapest, best way to change our society is to avoid incarceration at all costs. It is cheaper to buy a car-thief a car, teach those guys to drive, and then give him a racetrack for him and his mates to do stuff on, than to lock these guys up in prison. Simple.

It is cheaper and easier to mentor young people and work with them, than to lock them up.

Social justice means different things to different people, what insight do you hope Wretch provides for audiences about social justice issues?
In using the term ‘social justice’ and describing my work as being engaged with those matters, the term speaks about ‘we’ as members of a community, a society. It also says that justice is an integral part of that society. It says to me that if we don’t have a just society, then we don’t have a community and we may as well just frikn blow the place up.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of taking Wretch on a regional tour?
Counter meals.

Wretch plays at the Brisbane Powerhouse Sept 14 – 18, 2010. Details»

Image - top right: Angus Cerini and Susie Dee. Photo - Vikk Shayen Wong

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