The Theatrical Inventors from Perth Theatre Company share their process
WORDS: SAMUEL FRY
Continued from Part One…
The play itself, although described as a Western is actually full of wonder. Why did you choose to tell this particular story?
T: The elements in the show are inspired by Westerns. It’s not really a Western in terms of the plot structure. The story only actually came about in the last stages. The experiments with tech are the earlier stages of the development. For example, where we get a tent and decide, “Yeah, we want a tent that comes to life.” So we then experiment with that and decide that there is probably a scene somewhere in the show where that happens. Or other things floating around the space like the fluff, for instance, was something that was just lying in the space. We started bringing them out of the old man’s head and we said, “Ah, maybe they’re thoughts.” We don’t try and label it too much, we just keep experimenting. Then we get to the point where we have, maybe, forty minutes worth of themes that don’t necessarily correlate. Then we present them to people and get feedback on what’s good, or what kind of narrative there seems to be in it. Inevitable, there is a through-line between all of the experiments. It’s not always like this, but this is what it was like for It’s Dark Outside. The last stage is about breading those scenes into a very basic story. Through doing that, finding out that the core drive is this tracker being hunted. So, then we find ways of strengthening that. Usually that can be done through animation.
A: The Western side of things came from our initial exploration of “The Wild”. That fed into that, the Western’s rough landscape and watching a lot of showdowns – a lot of Spaghetti Westerns. We were experimenting a lot with the shadows.
You play with shadows increasingly as the tracker meets the hunter.
A: A lot of that was inspired by those Spaghetti Western films. In a showdown, two or three people are standing exactly still and the camera is panning around, up, down and through the scene. We wanted to be able to capture that and show the power of the camera in a theatre.
T: We actually tried a bunch of different ways to show a showdown. We tried scale, live action, creating a circle on the ground, tableaus – all sorts. In the end it came down to a very simple device – one torch.
A: The Western theme filters through the whole play. At the beginning he is watching a Western film and all the Western elements appear in the adventure that he goes through.
The play seems to be heavily influenced by animation. Is that fair to say?
T: For both this [It’s Dark Outside] and Alvin [Alvin Sputnik] the animation is quite integral to the storytelling. That’s because we bring it in to the dividing process.
C: We also make the decision that there will be animation in the show. So, we look at ways of incorporating them in and we try to play with them while we are devising scenes.
A: More than anything, the animation adds a visual landscape and an atmosphere to the show. This would be much more difficult to capture with live sets. It is also a good way to explore story while we’re taking off a mask or whatever.
T: It’s useful for transitions. For Alvin, I call it a visual narrator. We are very much “show, don’t tell”. So it is very useful to have a visual media to change location or change scale. This keeps those certain plot threads going.
What did you hope the audience would leave thinking?
C: We never want to be didactic to an audience. We have a ball park for the story, or where the story goes. But we never want to prescribe to the audience and say that they can’t make up their own minds about it. That would take away from the show. That is also putting too much pressure on us, as artists, to do that.
A: I think that having it loose enough that people can make their own interpretations, but strong enough that people don’t get lost. It’s a very fine line.
T: First and foremost we want people to enjoy themselves. We hope there is a deeper sense of enjoyment as well. That it is satisfying in some way, or touches people in some way. That is our real goal, that it will affect them. A whole sense of enjoyment. Not just smiling for an hour, but something deeper.