PROFILE | Gemma Pepper – Independent Producer

Posted by Cecile Lucas, June 7th, 2017

Gemma Pepper is a Sydney-based Independent Producer working with a number of companies on both sides of the country including Erth, Side Pony Productions, and previously for Canberra’s Enlighten Festival 2012-2014 as Creative Producer.

Joining me for a quick interview, Gemma spills the beans about The Irresistible, a co-production between Side Pony and The Last Great Hunt, ahead of its season at PICA, her views on some of the best tech-based performance experiences she’s had recently, and some practical tips for new producers…

 

TREAT TIME | we’ve got a double pass to the preview of The Irresistible on Wednesday 14 June. To enter, email cecile@performinglineswa.org.au with your name and email address by COB Monday 12 June.

The Irresistible, 14-24 June at PICA. Info and booking>>

Cecile Lucas: How do you describe what you do when people ask?

Gemma Pepper: I produce theatre, festivals and events and recently I’m trying my hand at producing tech projects as well.

 

CL: Side Pony Production’s latest show The Irresistible (a co-production with The Last Great Hunt) looks at the assumptions people make about others, particular those based on gender. Can you tell us a bit more about what inspired the work?

GP: The seed for this work was sewn when Zoe, Adriane and Tim (the core creative team) worked together in 2013 on The Wives of Hemingway. They were playing with shifting up which performer played each character, ignoring the gender of the performer, and this led to some fairly interesting revelations about how we (as an audience) expect people to behave. They didn’t really have time to delve into it fully at the time and it’s a point of interest that they have all kept coming back to ever since, so it’s great that they have the opportunity to really dig into the topic in this production.


Side Pony’s production The Wives of Hemingway. Photo by David Collins

 

CL: Technology frequently features in Side Pony work, with sound being manipulated and played around with in this show. Can you tell us how it works and what effect it has for the viewer?

GP: Sound and the manipulation of the voice is a really big element of this show. We have been using voice modulation software triggered by hand-held wii-motes as a way for the performers to jump from one character to another, using the voice as the defining feature of the character. It’s quite amazing how the sound of a performer’s voice can completely shift how you think of them; allowing a small statured woman to very convincingly become a laddish well-built man in a matter of seconds. This play with voice is quite unnerving as an audience member and it lets our two performers play a lot of different characters.

 

The Irresistible, photo by David Collins

 

CL: In a previous interview with The Street you shared that you were interested in all sorts of productions using new technology that enhance audience’s experience. Let’s get nerdy – what have you seen or discovered recently that you’ve been excited about?

GP: There are some really interesting new experiences coming out at the moment that embrace new technologies, some within the arts and some further afield. I really love Roslyn Oades’ work Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday (produced by Performing Lines), which is a verbatim theatre work where the performers are guided by documentary audio. Erth is cooking up a brand new VR experience with its prehistoric marine creatures, which will be amazing when it comes out and I’ve stumbled across this fantastic reading app called Novel Effect which uses voice recognition to track your progress as you read aloud from a children’s book and it overlays sound effects to match the story.

Hello, Goodbye & Happy Birthday. Photo by Sarah Walker

CL: You’ve worked independently as a producer, as well as for companies including Erth. Can you share with us a moment or experience that stands out as formative to you as a producer?

GP: You have moments all the time where you think you are way out of your depth but once you’re in it you can’t back out, so you just knuckle down and get the job done only to look back and realise what a major learning curve it was. “Spectacular by Night” was one of those events for me, which I cooked up when I was Creative Producer of the Enlighten festival in Canberra. I had come up with the idea of hanging trapeze artists under two hot air balloons for a night glow (which is where the hot air balloons glow at dusk), it seemed like a speccy idea at the time but it wasn’t until I was looking over the 15-20,000 people who had come to watch it, hoping like anything the wind wasn’t going to pick up, that I really appreciated the ridiculous ambition of what we were trying to pull off… thankfully everything went smoothly and the crowd were suitably impressed.

 

CL: So you’re based in Sydney, Zoe is based in Perth, and the creative team for The Irresistible are drawn from across Australia. Does that make working collaboratively a challenge? How do you overcome the tyranny of distance?

GP: Zoe and I have worked this way for a long time, so it’s pretty much second nature now. We use a hell of a lot of communication platforms, which can get a bit confusing, but we check in with each other all the time. Bringing others into that space is a little harder and it’s been really important to factor in face to face time, where everyone can get more of a sense of the humour and general aesthetic of what the show is. We now have everyone in the room, which is great, and they are cranking out some pretty amazing content which will make for a really punchy show. I gotta say I’m pretty excited about what it’s becoming.

 

CL: What’s your best advice for aspiring producers?

GP: It’s really important to take on projects that extend your skills, where you learn from others and build your capacity but it’s also important not to say yes to everything. Once you have said yes you don’t have that time available for the next project that comes along that might be amazing… so it’s good to be discerning in the work that you take on.

Side Pony Productions & The Last Great Hunt’s The Irresistible
14 – 24 June | PICA Performance Space | Info and booking>>

Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday is touring nationally from July to September. Catch this multi-award winning production on their only WA dates at the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre from 25-26 August 2017. Info and Booking>>