PLAYWAVE EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: IMPENDING EVERYONE
Exclusive interview by Nicole Pingon
Michael Andrew Collins’, Impending Everyone, is a new-Australian work commissioned by ATYP, speaking directly to our social and political climate, amid the rise of technology, and the erosion of our rights to privacy. Set in a NSW public high school with the secrets of a bunch of high school kids on the line, you already know things are going to go down.
I was lucky enough to speak to two actors from the show, Alexandra Jensen (Elia) and Adam Stepfner (Jack), and the director of the show, Fraser Corfield. Check out our conversations below!
Alexandra Jensen (Elia) and Adam Stepfner (Jack):
Tell me about the show without spoiling too much!
Adam: It’s a story about a group of school kids, and all their online data, messages, things they’ve looked up and said are all on the line. Someone is threatening to release all that stuff. Throughout the show, there’s this tension where everyone is like: ‘what’s going to happen’, ‘what are people going to see’, ‘what’s going to happen with my future.’ It’s all about secrets, betrayal and how that can affect people, as well as the online world versus reality, and how they link.
Alex: Yeah, Adam’s pretty much said it. It’s at a normal NSW public school, with high school kids already under a lot of pressure from school, just about to step into life. We see them freak out and question ‘what happens if I don’t finish’, and ‘what happens next.’ It’s all those normal questions, just in a heightened circumstance.
That actually feeds nicely into my next question which is, what’s it like playing characters who are actually your age, and at a such a similar point in life to yourself?
Adam: I think it makes the characters a lot easier to play. Jack, the character I play is in Year 12, and I just went through all that last year. So I can sort of relate in that way, and it makes it a whole lot easier playing people you can relate to, or people you can look at and think, ‘oh I have a friend like that.’ And it’s in the environment of a school, and everyone knows what school’s like.
Alex: Yeah, the character I play, Elia, is in Year 12 and she’s about to finish, and I’m in Year 12 and about to finish, [blah, yuck!]. But I think it’s also interesting seeing how other people would react instead of you. We look at the choices our characters make, and think ‘oh my goodness, what are you doing!’, or ‘yeah I totally get that, I wish I did that’. It sort of justifying and understanding people’s choices, and I think it’s really interesting being in that position. So yeah, it’s been cool!
Has it made you more aware of our social and technological world?
Adam: Yeah, it gives you such an awareness about what you do online, and how it really can affect you. I look back and I think of things I’ve done online and I’m like, ‘oh my god why did I do that, as if I didn’t get in trouble!’ It really makes you think, and because technology and social media are such a big part of youth culture nowadays, I think highlighting that is really important.
Alex: I think it’s quite scary, even though it’s a situation that wouldn’t normally happen. It’s looking and going, ‘what happens if I did send a message to someone about someone else and that got out?’ It’s such a butterfly effect. You lose friends, your reputation, and self-respect. Social media is so inhumane, and it’s sad to think humans are controlling something that’s so not needed. It’s become such a bubble of what people rely on and thrive on, and it’s kind of gross. But then there’s good things about it too, but it’s just understanding how to wibble through it.
How has it been working with a cast of exclusively made up of young people?
Adam: It’s good. I think ATYP has a really good way of connecting young people, and it’s great to associate with people who are your age. Curtis is fourteen or thirteen-
Alex: Yeah, he’s the young one, but he doesn’t look it! It’s so weird! [laughs]
Adam: And then there’s us two and Callum, and we’re eighteen. So everyone is within that age group, and it’s just a lot easier to associate with people who are your age.
Alex: We’re all friends, it’s fun, and it’s funny seeing where everyone is from as well. Everyone’s from all around, and at different schools. It’s cool when we all come in uniform, and someone says ‘oh I got in trouble because my tie was too short,’ and I’m just like ‘what!’ It’s interesting seeing how everyone is coming from their own perspective of school and class.
For you Alex, actually being in Year 12 this year, how has it been juggling Year 12, this show and whatever else you have going on in life!
Alex: Well I’m a crazy idiot! [laughs] No, it’s been good. I think as you do Year 12, you need a creative outlet. If you have a sport, a passion, or even something simple like reading a book to get away. Doing stuff like that just to break your mind up, because yeah it’s a big year, but there’s also many big years after it.
Adam: I did a play last year with ATYP while I was in Year 12, and honestly I completely forgot about school. For me, I never really cared about school, because I knew in the end it didn’t really matter.
Alex: But then the thing about this production is it reminds you of school. You walk out and you’re like I just came out of English - English shit! [laughs], but in a good way. [laughs] It’s good.
What’s the number one reason people should come and see Impending Everyone?
Adam: I think just because it’s relevant. It raises really important questions, it makes you think, it has characters you can connect to and really root for. It’s just such a relevant topic to talk about, especially with youth culture. I think sometimes youth theatre is a bit - not overlooked - but people look at it and think, ‘oh it’s just youth theatre, whatever.’ But yeah, I think it’s time to bring it up. We are here. [laughs] We are young. [laughs]
Alex: We are here, and we are young. [laughs] I think it’s also really good for families and schools to come, and if you come from a private school, you may think, ‘oh yeah, that’s a bit different.’ But people are going to come from everywhere, and hopefully everyone can see something within themselves and think, ‘did I really need to post that’, ‘did I need to share that’, or ‘did I need to say that about someone’. Hopefully everyone walks away just questioning. With adults as well, I think it’s super important for them to see it and be like, ‘so this is what kids are feeling,’ and understand how different things are now, where everyone is so much more open.
Adam: Which is what I think theatre is all about. The whole idea of walking away and just thinking about how the show affects you, and what it really does for your own wellbeing.
Fraser Corfield (Director):
I know you’ve directed a lot of shows with young people, but what’s the process been like with this cast in particular?
I haven’t directed a show with an all teenage cast for ages. Most of the shows I’ve done in the past few years have been a mix of some younger and some older, so it’s been great fun getting a big group of teenagers together. I’ve forgotten how much fun it is actually - that joyous process of getting to know each other and the importance of building trust and confidence in the room, as much as working on people’s acting skills, and what’s demanded of the character. So it’s a lot of fun, much more fun than what I was expecting it to be.
As Artistic Director of ATYP, obviously you’re very involved with young people and the future of the arts, so how do you feel about youth in the arts and the current environment around that?
I think it’s a really interesting time at the moment, and to be honest, I think it’s a little bit worrying for a couple of reasons. On the one hand, statistically we’re seeing young people struggling with the distresses of growing up in this society we’re in at the moment, more than what we have measured in the past. We’ve seen increasing rates of mental illness presenting in young people. The indication is that a lot of this is the result of young people feeling less connected, from each other and their broader peers.
So ironically you’d think it should be a time when theatre and performing arts in particular should be flourishing, because their greatest strength is the way they bring people together, get people working together and see the world through each other’s eyes. But we’re in an environment where there’s less and less focus within schools and outside of schools supporting young people’s engagement in the performing arts.
So I think it’s an interesting time. It’s a time where the arts are needed more than they ever have been, and I think they are struggling to get support, certainly more than they have been in the twenty years I’ve been involved in youth arts.
Yeah, with funding cuts.
Funding cuts, and schools are less available as a rule. They’re less flexible, the theatre, drama and performing arts departments within schools really struggle to get the kind of support they need to engage organisations like ATYP to run programs with their kids, or to bring their kids to see shows that aren’t specifically on the curriculum. So yeah, it’s an interesting time.
It’s funny, because I feel like I’m a young person interested in the arts, but I don’t know what’s going to happen or even what I’m seeking. I’m just going with the flow.
Yeah, well it’s the need for opportunities. I mean there’s always been more need for opportunities than there have been opportunities, but you know it’s really tough at the moment. You look at companies like Shopfront, PACT and ATYP - we’re some of the most successful and we’re all really struggling to keep our doors open. It’s always been tough.
On the other hand, there’s still extraordinary work being created, extraordinary young artists coming through, and there will always be a real base of really vibrant creative activity that you can look to. So that still exists, I’m not saying there’s not great stuff, it’s just a tough environment.
For young people wanting to pursue the arts, what advice do you have and what opportunities should we be seeking?
I think there’s two elements to it. One of them is everyone absolutely should be participating in the arts as a part of your life, in the same way you should be doing exercise as a part of your life. Then you get these two groups – people who love it, but also love something else, in which case focus on doing that other thing and keep their involvement in the arts going.
But for those that have had that epiphany of going this is what I need to do, this is my calling, I have to say my attitude is go for it. You have some amazing experiences, you meet some fantastic people and yeah it’s tough, but I think it’s not fair to suggest to people they shouldn’t try. I think you can carve a space for yourself.
My attitude has changed over the past decade, I use to strongly suggest people shouldn’t do it, but now I’ve seen enough young people get through and start to establish themselves and having a really fulfilling time doing it. If it’s absolutely what you feel you should do, then go for it.
Hearing that actually solidifies a lot for me. Recently I’ve been lucky enough to do more arty things, and realised ‘oh wow I really enjoy this, more than I thought’. I feel like everything went into place at the right time, and perhaps it is my calling, telling me I should just try and do it.
I think it’s a hypocrisy for me to suggest to people that you shouldn’t. I spent three and a half years unemployed just focused on arts stuff when I was in my early twenties, and then I got a lucky break, and essentially I’ve been employed as an artist for twenty years ever since. So I think you can do it. The path that you go down may not be the path you initially think you want, but if you can support yourself being an artist, it’s a pretty fulfilling thing to do.
Now tying it back to the show, what is the number one reason people should see Impending Everyone?
The thing that’s really cool about this production is the concepts behind it. It’s got a lot of really interesting ‘what if’s’. They are very pertinent ‘what if’s’ to now. The dilemmas in it are not just around marrying online persona to real life, and questions of why should you behave differently online than you do in real life. It’s got a lot of interesting things in it, like ‘is it healthy to watch a significant amount of porn if you’re trying to sustain a relationship,’ and ‘if you love someone is that justification to do something that may not bring them happiness, because you adore them’. There’s a range of really interesting ethical questions within the play that I think audiences will want to sit down, have a coffee and chat about it after.
That’s always the best, when people say, ‘I thought this’, and others are like ‘well I thought this’, and they’re like ‘hmmm let’s talk about it!’
Yeah! I think that is this play’s strength!
Sounds groovy right?! If you’re as excited for Impending Everyone as I am, get your tickets on Playwave now!