Posted by Thom Smyth, February 24th, 2014
Tasked with gathering the thoughts, fears, opinions, and confessions of 2000 teenagers from across the country, Suzie Miller distilled them down into OneFiveZeroSeven, Barking Gecko Theatre Company’s follow-up to the successful Driving Into Walls which recently showcased at the Australian Performing Arts Market. The new work is on now as part of Perth Festival, and Thom Smyth (TS) discussed the show with Suzie (SM) ahead of its opening. Images courtesy Cameron Etchells and Barking Gecko, and Suzie Miller.
TS | The title OneFiveZeroSeven refers to a few different stats about the lives of teens. How did you go about quantifying all of those? Did the interviewees trawl through everything they own?
SM | Yes – we asked that they count or document every single item in their bedrooms. It was an interesting question because it lead us to a dialogue about so much more than just what they owned.Through the details provided we learnt what was important and precious to them, what was a left over from childhood and what items had special stories attached to them.
TS | Driving Into Walls focussed on the stories and experiences of WA teens, while OneFiveZeroSeven draws from all corners of the Australian teen experience. Do WA teens have a different experience growing up here, or are there common challenges that emerge?
SM | Interestingly there are many commonalities amongst Australian teenagers, but also quite distinct variations. I found that WA teens were possibly more in touch with the environment and landscape. There was a real sense of appreciation for the space and beauty of WA, and a certain sense of belonging to WA first rather than to Australia.
TS | There was some controversy about some of the revelations in Driving. Are there any uncomfortable home truths revealed in the new work?
SM | I think there many truths revealed but nothing sensational or disrespectful, indeed one of the guiding principles that John Sheedy and I have applied (and one that is fully supported by the fabulous Barking Gecko team) is that we want to be true to the trust placed in us by way of bringing the teen voice to the stage – not to censor or manipulate it to suit demands. The feedback we received after Driving Into Walls was that the material rang true with young people and that their lives were reflected accurately in the piece, and to be honest that was our aim. To let the lives of young people speak to the rest of the nation.
TS | When dealing with these intensely personal stories and reflections, are there any areas you won’t go? Is everything open for discussion?
SM | Everything is open for discussion. Of course in a group setting, if there was anything that was disrespectful of others in the room that would have been different – however we never had an issue with the participants. Even tricky areas were discussed frankly and amongst the personal stories, the sometime tears and the really honest dialogue were some extremely humbling moments.
TS | No two teens would have the same experiences growing up. How do you go about creating a script from such diverse and potentially contradictory content?
SM | No two people would even have the same experience of the same event so yes this was a fundamental area to discuss in the experience. The amount of information collected, the notes I have in my writing studio and the sheer volume of data is overwhelming – and often one story or experience was a play in itself. How, as a writer do you condense all of this, select the stories and the experiences that are most reflective without leaving out some of the more poignant moments? I wont lie, it’s a challenge, however it becomes obvious at a certain point which themes and ideas are emerging from the whole, and so I begin by weaving those bits together, and then trying to cut it down to a mere 60 minutes. Of course John and I would love to have the 9 hour version but without that amount of stage time we must make decisions about what is most resonant and what form this takes on stage to give the audience a definite ‘feel’ of the lives we are documenting.
TS | You are working with the same creative team as Driving. Did you approach the new show in the same way, or was this an entirely new experience?
SM | Same team, entirely different process and show! Although I have to say working with the same team meant we already had the most amazing working relationships leading to easy communication and wonderful collaboration. It wasn’t even just the same director, writer, choreographer but also the same sound, lighting and other designers – this allowed for an even more creative room that could build upon each others ideas in a dynamic and fluid manner.
TS | You’re working with Danielle Micich on this project and on Overexposed which is coming out later this year. How do you approach the relationship between text and movement as a writer?
SM | It’s different every time. The works with Gecko are working with young performers on a work that is based on a verbatim content and style. With Overexposed the text is a psychological thriller that explores something quite layered and adult in a manner that is not about high energy movement but about the notion of expressing an internal dialogue within the self onto the very body of the character. There are areas of Overexposed that are strongly text based and others that are much less reliant on text. The creative team is an astonishing array of artists with Danielle at the helm. Having already worked so closely with Danielle it is such a pleasure to be closely involved with this project – and indeed it is a different structure to previous works with this piece being written after much consultation amongst the entire creative team. A three-week creative development has allowed these creative relationships to grow together and to devise a show that is completely unique.