Q: Welcome back Mish! Last time we saw you here at PICA, you were directing the controversial art parade, Howl. Could it be said you have developed a love affair with Perth?
Absolutely. I’ve been to Perth roughly every year for the last five years – and every time I love pretending I’m an early riser (because of the three hour time difference), watching the sun set over the ocean (because romance/novelty) and take a day trip to The Pinnacles (because aliens made them).
Q: Let’s talk about The Talk. It’s inspired by your family, both actual events and then a period (how long?) where you interviewed them about their sex lives. What was the conversation with your brother that re-opened “the talk” for your family?
My brother contracted something through having sex with someone and he told the whole family. It got me thinking about intimacy, about how and when and where sex had (or hadn’t) been a part of our lives as a family. It just stuck with me, a kind of fascination of being so common, so ordinary, yet so awkward and weird and difficult to talk about.
Q: The Talk is candid and confessional about sex, which has been historically taboo for a myriad of cultural, social and political reasons. What frightens us about sex in 2019?
Well, everything. And nothing, depending on who you speak to. Sex is one of those subjects that make us all giggle – like farts and eating focaccia. We don’t know how to talk about any of them – even though they happen every day (if its a good day).
Q: Have your family seen the show? What have their responses been?
My family have not seen the show. Their response – you want to ask us all these questions, sure… but don’t expect us to sit through it and clap at the end.
Q: You developed this work through programs such as Site as Set and Proximity Festival that have a focus on site-specific making and audience interactivity. What did you learn along the way about engaging a live audience through the taboo, the uncomfortable, the unspeakable?
The more I do this show (I’ve been touring it for about five years now), the more I realise that every audience is totally different. A simple example – if want someone to read something out loud, its my job to be really clear about what the request is. Its also my job to listen to what the response is – sometimes people say no, and thats totally fine, I’ll ask someone else. I think performers consider themselves pretty tuned in to how an audience is responding, what they need, if they are still with you… but you can never fully predict what is going to happen, and you have to be open to the unforeseeable.
Q: Your work straddles the boundaries between the experimental and the popular. How do you find a meeting ground for these seemingly opposing interests?
I approach everything in life by making fun of it – whether it’s Shakespeare or Tay Tay (two of The Greats), there are things to make fun of. Its weird to put on shows, to say ‘Ok, sit down in the dark, I’m going to talk for an hour while the lights are on me and hopefully at the end you’ll like it so much that you all stand up together and cheer!’ That is a strange cultural tradition, so it should be looked at critically and satirically. And I don’t believe that traditional art forms should have more of our respect or adoration than pop culture or TV or trash, that’s just cultural elitism and it’s boring.
Q: The Talk creates a community by casting the whole audience as your family. Do you think we’re living in a time, despite a wealth of information and instantaneous access, we’re starved of human exchange? Perhaps we’re seeing a return to the importance of community; a place for people to come together? How does theatre and community intersect for you?
I remember growing up, when the internet and social media were gaining popularity, and people were scared, “If we spend too long in cyberspace we’ll end up lonely, human contact will be historical, and we’ll never seeing another person again!” And yes, the fear mongers were right, to a certain degree. Im writing this from my apartment/home office in Brunswick, and I’m yet to put pants on today. But this is one of the activities I’m happy to do alone. But also, the internet means that Bronies in Noosa can get in touch with Bronies in Seattle – and that I now know what Bronies are! Community has changed and the world has shrunk and grown and changed irrevocably. And most of the time theatre requires that you’re in the same room as other people – but so do cafes, train stations, and tantric yoga classes. Or so I hear.
I think good theatre always engages us, and whether that means you’re pretending to be my brother or crying with laughter at a Sarah Ruhl play, you’re part of a very special community for that one night, sharing something together. Its magical and weird and I love it, but I don’t privilege it over my online communities, because I’m greedy and I want them both.
Q: Congratulations on your recent appointment as a co-director of Aphids with Eugenia Lim and Lara Thoms. Can you share some of the vision behind the new direction of the company?
Thank you! We are excited to be leading together – to work outside of the idea of one vision, to find a a more democratic process. I think its been a big few years for the arts in Australia, so our first aim as directors is really to listen to where people are at now, what the arts community feels we need now, and consider how we can help and challenge each other in those aims.
Q: You’re also doing a 1 day workshop on 24 January. What will you be sharing with local artists?
I think we’ll be talking about process – about how you build an idea from scratch and start to make a new piece, particularly when the material is personal.
Q: What was your last memorable art moment that shocked, surprised or inspired you?
Last night I saw the film ‘The Favourite’ – so good! Hilarious and absurd and sexy and ludicrous. I like the dance scene in particular – total anachronistic indulgence. It’s like the characters are basically winking at you the whole time, saying ‘How ridiculous are period dramas?”.
Q: It’s a new year. What needs to be said in 2019?
It needs to be said that 2018 is over. I’m still processing that – what happened?