PLAYWAVE CREATIVE INTERVIEW: MARK ROGERS and SANJA SIMIC (aka. Bodysnatchers)
Playwave Creative Interview: MARK ROGERS & SANJA SIMIC
interviewed by Zack Lewin and Nicole Pingon
Last week we were lucky enough have a chat with the creators of Plastic before seeing the show; writer, Mark Rogers and director, Sanja Simic. Mark and Sanja gave us a taste of the show, insight into their experiences as Australian creators, and tips for young creatives.
Tell us a bit about the show, without spoiling too much!
Mark: Plastic is a play I’ve written, that Sanja and I developed together, written for Sanja to direct. You follow this guy who starts in a place where he really loves science, wants to do well and save the world. Science is this incredible thing that has the ability to do extraordinary things, and he starts really committed to that; wanting to save the world, change things, and benefit everybody. But along the way, something changes within him, and he starts fabricating his results as a way of getting a better position. You watch the making and unmaking of this guy who starts exploiting the people around him and the pressure heaped on him, by the institutions surrounding him, pushing him into it.
How does it feel after all the work that it’s finally being shown?
Sanja: It feels pretty good! We’re producing this work in an independent context, so we’re doing pretty much everything. It’s really hard work, but in a really great way. Plastic has been in development for about 2 years. Mark and I met in Redfern for a beer, and had a conversation about this scientist that this play is inspired by. We started to explore what it might look like as a play, very loosely based on the true story. We worked with the extraordinary dramaturg, Jennifer Medway, where the three of us bashed around ideas and talked about the draft; giving Mark some provocations. Its an extended process, but most plays take a long time to develop. We have been very lucky to have a development of this work earlier this year, and work with some really exciting people. Getting to do it at the Old 505 is great, as it is one of the few independent venues left in Sydney.
Mark: It’s been really exciting to have, and experience audiences for the first time, because from my perspective, the decisions that we made, or things I have written could have been two years ago. Having it happen, and feel audiences click into moments, it’s like ‘oh I’m glad that worked,’ so that’s a really satisfying experience. We’re learning a lot about how the play meets an audience, and adjusting things as we go; changing things today, shifting things tomorrow.
When you put on a show, there’s that feeling where you write it, and it seems subjective, but when you see it, it seems like it’s closer to home than you really realised. Do you get that experience?
Mark: (Laughs) I do, often. There’s a formal element to writing, where ‘this scene has to happen here, followed by this scene, and that’ll make the story work.’ But when you are actually in the moment, doing the creative work of it, it’s very free flowing and responsive to feeling, because essentially - at least in this play that is dialogue driven - you start writing what someone says, and that implicates something that someone else says, and you just keep doing that. I guess I’m not aware in the moment of creation; typing away, how much it might connect personally to some of my stuff. But it was interesting watching it on the first preview with my partner, and she was picking out things that were very obviously things from me, or her. I don’t set out to write anything autobiographical, and this is very far from being autobiographical, but I think that thing you are describing about; little things slip through. It’s also evident in Sanja’s direction, where she shapes the scenes from personal or lived experiences of her own life. You’re not necessarily conscious of it in the moment, but I think things slip through, which is what makes people individual artists and makes people’s work develop over time.
At the points that it gets most stressful, what food do you turn to?
Sanja: I’ll eat anything fried; I love fried chicken so much. If it’s a true crisis point, it’ll be midnight McDonald's. A Sausage and Egg McMuffin at 4am, means things are going terribly wrong. Mostly though, you’re kind of eating whatever you can, when you can. You lose your sense of time. You are sort of trapped in here, and everything kind of merges. We have been eating a lot of Bourke St Bakery goods, because it’s around the corner.
Mark: Whatever is close. The thing that kind of weighs you down during production week is you’re not sleeping, and if you are also eating crap, then sometimes it can be bad. I think to myself, ‘I’ll definitely get something with vegetables,’ but then I get Maccas. So I guess crap is the answer. We eat crap.
How do you guys feel about youth in the arts and the current environment around that?
Sanja: I am the creative producer at La Boite Theatre Company in Brisbane, and we have a youth and participation producer who runs our programs up there, so we use our resources to do what we can. We offer a few programs for young people and spend quite a bit of time reaching and encouraging young people to come see the work, by making it accessible. I had a pretty amazing experience producing Nick Enright’s BlackRock, starring young actors from an acting school in Brisbane. Lots of school groups came through, and seeing the way young people engage with theatre, doing a lot of Q and A’s was pretty amazing. We run workshops, forums, and events as a part of our season to open up the space - so theatre doesn’t seem scary, inaccessible or out of the realm of possibility for someone to step into the industry and make it happen. I was 15 and saw my first show at Griffin, fell in love in theatre and wanted to do it. There are a lot of opportunities out there. Some companies don’t lead with their youth programs, so the other programs are not as apparent to some people. I guess there are opportunities out there, I just don’t know if everyone is aware of them. I suppose everyone could be doing more across every single aspect of theatre practice.
Mark: I think there’s an opportunity for companies to not just treat you as a target market, but involve young people from the ground up. Instead of thinking how can we get people to come and see our show, it’s like how do we get you guys to make the shows you want to see. I think in some weird, utopic, idealistic world, companies would have the resources to include from the ground up, youth ensembles that make their own work, their own decisions, and in the framework of a larger company. I think the more agency we can give to you guys to make the work you want to make, the better the theatre culture in this country is going to be moving forward, because then it’s actually people making work for themselves - not in a self-indulgent way - but in a way that accurately reflects what Australia is and what our population is. I think there are definitely things out there moving in that direction, and I hope and encourage people to keep going in that direction. Playwave is a good example of that.
On the lines of young people making shows, do you have any advice?
Mark: Make more. Start making the work. Don’t wait for the opportunity, or the right opportunity. Just make the work. Those opportunities come from you learning the craft and what you are as an artist, and I think jumping in and trying to do stuff in your lounge rooms or school, and getting the experience of making it work and teaching yourself in that way, listening to the people mentoring you, being inspired by stuff. There are two strands to it - start making the work, see a lot of work.
Sanja: See as much as you can, read as much as you can, learn as much as you can. Surround yourself with like-minded people, who like similar work, and challenge you. Those who make you a better creative and make you think about things in different ways to how you’re programmed to think by society and your education. The onus is on you to be driven, and to seek out opportunities, but you also have to make your own opportunities. That’s what we did. Straight out of uni, we started making our own work, knocked on all the doors - some of them opened, some of them didn’t, but you just work.
Mark: Yeah and if they don’t, that doesn’t mean you don’t find a place for that work. The other thing is finding people who challenge you but you still can have a productive relationship with. You want your artistic crew; the people you make work with, to be people you can argue and be fine with afterwards. Discussion needs to be robust to make the work good, and I think it’s an important part of the creative process, a bit of conflict. Not angry, but a bit of different perspectives, because it leads you to somewhere better. It’s always going to lead you somewhere better if two perspectives listen to each other. Most of the time, the compromise is going to be better than the individual one either way.
If there is one single reason you want people to see the show, what would it be?
Mark: I want people to come and see Michelle Ny be a 65 year old physics professor. Her performance in one scene as the 65 year old physics professor is worth the price of admission I think.
Sanja: That’s pretty good. I think along similar lines, I would like everyone to experience the joy of Harry McGee in a particularly excellent moment that is heightened by the costuming towards the end of the play, but also I think everyone should see as much new Australian writing as possible; in this city and in this country.
Mark: I totally agree. I think individual performances in this play are fantastic and people will enjoy that, but I think people should see this work because it’s an example of a new Australian play; that’s kind of a good enough reason by itself. It’s an example of a new Australian play that is developed collaboratively right from the start, that tries to play with form, and messes with the possibility of what text can be in theatre. It’s not a boring play about a middle age couple breaking up, and I think that’s a really great reason to see this work.
Thanks to Mark and Sanja for speaking with us! Make sure to catch Plastic at the Old 505 Theatre in Newtown before it closes on the 19th November. Read our Playwave Creative Review of Plastic and BOOK NOW.