By Zachary Sheridan
Jeffrey Jay Fowler is a playwright, actor and director. Some of his notable works include FAG/STAG, Elephents and The One. This year Jeffrey is directing The Eisteddfod by Lally Katz in the Studio Underground from June 22 – July 9. Jeffrey and I had a chat about Lally Katz, what makes Perth exciting and Bali.
Why do you think this is a work that needs to be put on now?
It’s an excellent work that WA has never seen and it has incredible comic but also eternally important ideas underneath it – it’s not set in any time or place. It’s very bizarre and it’s about the imagination, and the corruption of the imagination, and cycles of violence and familial violence… It was a big success for Lally early in her career and you can see she really found her voice with this work.
Why are you attracted to the way Lally Katz writes?
Lally Katz does it her own way. There’s a big sense of ‘fuck what I’m meant to do’ … A lot of people who auditioned for The Eisteddfod were really confused by it, they’d ask ‘what is this play?’ And that’s because she doesn’t try to fall into line with tradition. The swerves of the storyline are incredibly unpredictable and it takes a lot of confidence to do that.
Playwright Lally Katz
My friend Amelia loves Lally Katz. I asked her why, and she said that Katz ‘makes white-haired folk watch something other than Chekhov and love it.’ Can you speak to that?
Sure. The first work of hers I saw was the Apocalypse Bear Trilogy and I remember having a few ‘what the fuck?’ moments watching it. At the same time Lally Katz is regularly programmed on the main stages around Australia. She’s someone who knows how to charm both sides of the audience – which is not an easy thing to do.
At The Last Great Hunt you make a lot of original work – can you tell me about the process of directing someone else’s work?
Every project I approach completely differently no matter what I do – whether I’m working as a director, actor, writer or dramaturg. When I approach someone else’s work it really depends on that someone – is it Shakespeare? Noel Coward? There’s no set of rules when approaching a play but you have to consider what you’re trying to get to the audience, what experience you’re creating, and what people will leave the theatre with.
The Eisteddfod is a play I’ve wanted to do for years since first reading it and laughing out loud. From here, it’s about reading it with the actors and getting on the same page with what we want to manifest. And you also want a shining star – this one thought – to follow throughout the process. I think this play will get the audience laughing but also challenge them with ideas about what we inherit from our parents, and I don’t mean financially but emotionally. What happens if you come from a problematic background, how do you as a person become a healthy adult? The play is an opportunity for people to build empathy – I know that sounds super wanky – but this play goes, ‘Ok. We all grow up with shit, we all grow up with damage to the imagination, with dreams that get crushed.’ And then meditating on that is a great offer to help people empathise with each other.
I should say I haven’t made the play. At this point it’s a cloud of ideas and hopes.
What else have you got planned for 2017?
The Last Great Hunt has a few shows coming up – there’s The Irresistible with Side Pony Productions, and another piece I’m acting in, The Advisors, being directed by Gita Bezard. Chris Isaacs and I are also going to Edinburgh with FAG/STAG, and then when we come back we’re doing a piece called Bali about how Australians act on holiday and how privilege works. It’s with the same characters from FAG/STAG – it picks up with their life three years on.
What excites you about theatre and arts in Perth?
In a time when so much culture is produced overseas or digitally, I think there is something that is so great about work that is made in and special to Perth with a Perth audience. Theatre is about the live-ness of turning up and, rather than watching something on the couch, you’re watching this amongst 20 or 200 people at the same time – and that communal event is really important. Especially afterwards when you can talk about it in the bar – you have a conversation starter with every single person in that room. The focus and thought that theatre demands allows it to be more powerful than something on YouTube you might watch half of and then switch off.
Finally, your favourite song to tear up the d-floor with?
‘Dancing On My Own’ by Robyn. I love something that you can sing along to, feel a little bit sad about, and also break your body to.