One half of Australia's well-known company Sisters Grimm and an award-winning contemporary playwright, Declan Greene speaks to Australian Stage's Eleanor Howlett about compelling plays, vomit and the upcoming Malthouse season of his play Pompeii. L.A.
Firstly, congratulations on winning the Max Affords Playwright Award for Eight Gigabites of Hardcore Pornography! The judges described it as "compelling and repulsive" – sounds like a slice of heaven. When is it hitting our stages?
Thank you! I have no idea when it's hitting the stage. It's about two fat, ugly, boring people in their mid-forties who try to have an affair, and fail, because they find each other's bodies too repulsive. Surprisingly, no-one's really interested in programming it.
Tell us a bit about Pompeii. L.A. and the catalyst behind writing it?
The show is a sprawling epic about the decline of the Western world, seen through the eyes of a burn-out child star in the wake of a terrible accident. He spends most of the first act trying to reconstruct his identity, wandering around this bizarre, unstable version of Los Angeles, which has a volcano grumbling beneath it. And then in the second act everything is upended. It's a bit of a headf**k.
As for the catalyst – I read celebrity blogs really obsessively, every single day. So it's sort-of been brewing unconsciously at the back of my mind for a long time. I'm really infatuated with ex-child-stars; Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes, etc – this conflation of the sacred and profane, the perverse desire to watch them crash and burn. After a while these ideas and figures started to embody a lot of the more troubling aspects of the Western world over the last few years; The GFC, the London Riots, America's crippled economy... the sense that everything is gradually coming to an end.
What are three words you would use to describe the play?
Funny – ugly – WTF.
What would you say to entice the public to see the play?
Whether they admit it or not I think most people are fascinated with watching child-stars crash and burn. There's such a strong pre-determined trajectory – from the moment they emerge into fame you know where these young people are headed – decline, obscurity, addiction, desperation, death. The question is whether they'll cheat fate or not... whether they'll manage to crawl out of the pit.
What are some of the challenges involved in constructing a piece of work like this?
Because the play doesn't use a conventional narrative form, the director Matthew Lutton and I have had to sort-of invent our own abstract, non-linear methods of telling this story. So this can be challenging because when things get hairy or too confusing it's not like we can just open a book that'll tell us what we should do. But that's been what's so wonderful about making the work too – and one of the things the audience will enjoy about it, I hope – that it's knotty and absurd but ultimately satisfying.
What attracted you to this type of work?
I get really bored seeing the same stories told over and over again on the Australian stage – told in exactly the same way. We're increasingly living in a theatre culture that valorises a director's feats of imagination, but I feel like playwrights aren't similarly encouraged to apply any kind of dreaming or formal play in the telling of their stories. So Pompeii L.A., and a lot of the stuff I write, is about finding a form or theatrical language that emerges from the kind of story I'm writing.
What advice would you give to other young playwrights in this country looking to get exposure for their work and gain experience in the industry?
Get inspiration from forms outside theatre. Go to gigs, go to galleries, go to movies, wrestling matches, cockfights, gay bars, Mogadishu. And don't write boring shit about white, middle-class people who are having some kind of CRISIS. Unless you want to be really successful. In which case – definitely do that.
What is the best thing about the arts in Australia?
What is the worst thing about the arts in Australia?
Not knowing what to spend all your money on.
What is one of your most memorable personal artistic moments?
The time I vomited milk on Ash Flanders' back while he pretended to give me cunnilingus in a wheelchair.
Pompeii. L.A. by Declan Greene plays at the Malthouse Theatre from 16 November to 9 December, 2012. Further details – www.malthousetheatre.com.au