Interview by Zachary Sheridan
Phoebe Sullivan is a graduate from WAAPA’s Bachelor of Performing Arts (Majoring in Performance Making) and has been creating original interdisciplinary work since 2015. Currently she stars in sandpaperplane’s So You Think You’re Charlie Smith at the Blue Room Theatre and will be appearing in Blueprint later this season.
Because Phoebe is a very busy artist, we conversed unusually via social media and voice recordings about what it’s like being a young artist in Perth. Here’s what transpired:
What made you first realise you wanted a career in theatre?
Initially I wanted to be an actor. I was watching That’s So Raven on the Disney channel, and loving it, and I realised that the woman onscreen was pretending – and that pretending was a career; a legitimate thing people do. Then throughout high school I was like, ‘I’m into theatre. I read Shakespeare.’
Through workshops and youth ensembles I began to get the gist of what acting is but it wasn’t until I came to WAAPA and began performance making that I saw there was a different and rewarding approach through making. And that’s when I realised that this is what I wanted to do.
What has been your most rewarding experience to date?
I’d have to say creating Alice is Drowning with what was a very new independent company that I’m apart of called Your Mouth Collective. That was essentially the first full-length work that I had a large part of making. And then to put it up in a venue that wasn’t great, and along with all the obstacles that come with fringe… To put up something we were proud of that is now going on to have a second incarnation at Queensland Theatre… I think that’s definitely one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had to date.
Also, it came from a real place of personal inspiration. Lukas Radovich, Madeleine Lewis, and myself all met working on a show when we were at WAAPA – Philip Ridley’s Tender Napalm – and the writing of that show heavily inspired the text within Alice is Drowning. We are all really passionate about this mode of storytelling, and the fact we were able to create our own version and then let our imaginations run was really fantastic. And it isn’t over yet.
Alice is Drowning
Now you’ve graduated from WAAPA, what are some of the challenges you’re facing in the big, wide world?
Independent artists have this dichotomy of putting work up that it is criticised in a way that is as if it had come from a full-time exploration. When, realistically, a lot of the work that is made here in Perth is created part-time. For instance, I am in rehearsals now for Blueprint, and have also been in rehearsals for Charlie Smith. What’s frustrating is you and your collaborators will come to these rehearsals after a full day of work, and there’s just this sense of, ‘Alright. We have limited time and limited space to make this show as amazing as possible.’ But we won’t be getting paid until a month after the work is concluded, and we still have to go on living 9-5 jobs. The work you make is only going to be as good as the time you put into it.
In terms of sustainability for young artists, that’s proving a real challenge. Because you want to spend three months on just one scene to find its layers and nuances, but you can’t and that’s a huge challenge. To put it in a sophisticated way: trying to interrogate work but knowing your financial capacity to do so is quite limited.
But you find a way.
Blueprint and So You Think You’re Charlie Smith – what excites you about these two works?
They’re quite different and both processes excite me. Blueprint was a collaboration with Jessica Russell and Sean Crofton that began as part of my final year at university over twelve months ago now. We found the work together and there’s a shared language when it comes to collaborating that I really enjoy.
To contrast that, I’m primarily a performer in Charlie Smith. My role in its creation is quite minimal, and as a performer it’s exciting to find how you fit into that world.
Why should people see So You Think You’re Charlie Smith?
It’s a new work by emerging artists – apart from the mentors – and I think it offers something really different in terms of what it’s trying to achieve as a theatre piece. It’s interesting when someone comes up with a work that is very filmic, and you have to find a way to stage it that allows the audience to access intimate moments between characters, as example.
So You Think You’re Charlie Smith
Blueprint is a development of your previous work Rocketman, what’s driven the decision to develop it further?
The work originally spanned 25 minutes as part of TILT last year, and it was really just the surface of this huge idea which essentially asks humanity to face themselves. It questions our code of ethics and how we fit within the natural world. It explores this doomsday-esque world where we as a species are learning that we’ve stuffed up… We want to be good people but sometimes our actions say otherwise… Jess and Sean are much better at articulating the project.
Are there any other projects you’re working on?
Apart from Alice is Drowning with the Queensland Theatre, I am performing as part of PICA and pvi’s Kiss Club event on the 12th of May. It is a development showing where six artists present new ideas for works that are being created in Perth. I am looking at a work that incorporates movement, dance, text, and live sound. I’m collaborating with Dr. Mace Francis, and what we are looking at is a mode of storytelling where the sound informs the world as a character. And that’s been really exciting.
In keeping with the theme, is there any advice you’d give to your peers regarding trying to make work in this field? Or, rather, has there been any good advice you’ve been given that’s helped you?
Don’t be a dick. It’s a small industry, and so don’t go in assuming – especially if you’re a new artist – that you know more than professionals. And that’s not to say don’t have an opinion, just be careful in how you articulate yourself.
Also know why you’re making art. It’s a huge privilege. The politics you speak about in your work is a protest of sorts. And protesting is also a privilege. Be careful about what you’re protesting about, too. If you are going to talk about sexism or white-washing in theatre, as example, be attentive about how you do so and check your privilege in that process. That’s hugely important.
What excites you about Perth?
Everyone is so kind and warm. A huge shout out to the Blue Room Theatre. A community like that which resides in Perth and thrives off supporting independent artists, which also continually backs productions that mightn’t work out – it’s really special.
Finally, favourite song to tear up the d-floor with?
It changes and sometimes I have really bad taste. Right now I’m really into ABBA which five years ago would have mortified me. So, I will go with ‘Lay All Your Love On Me.’ When I’m inebriated it’s my final form.
It’s my favourite song at the moment but it’s yet to come on in public so when that happens you might see flames from a distance and you’ll know that’s where I am. Where the flames of terror are.
You can catch Phoebe in ‘So You Think You’re Charlie Smith’ currently playing at the Blue Room.