Interview By: Mandy Moe Pwint Tu
When I was asked to come along to the Blue Room Theatre and interview four of the biggest names in the Perth theatre scene today, my first instinct was to hide under the covers on my bed and have the world forget me. However, after I read up on what Between Solar Systems, the new play presented by the Blue Room Theatre and Second Chance Theatre was about and what it was offering, I was admittedly more than intrigued. So I agreed to the interview, heart in my mouth, and on the 7th of September, I made my way to the Blue Room Theatre.
I was running late, which didn’t bode well for me, I knew. But I made it on time, and was promptly led upstairs where the cast of Between Solar Systems had rehearsals. A chorus of friendly voices greeted me, which eased my nervousness a thousandfold. Scott McArdle, director and writer, recent Murdoch University graduate, founder of Second Chance Theatre, approached and introduced himself; before I shook hands with talented actors Nick Maclaine , Jo Morris and Emily David in turn.
I had not met any of the actors before; although I had seen Nick Maclaine in a 2013 production of Macbeth at the Subiaco Arts Centre on my eighteenth birthday, so I was fairly excited to be sitting next to him. Scott sat in front of me; I had Nick to my left, Jo to my right, and Emily further right, beside Jo.
Starstruck, I clicked record on my phone and we began the interview.
So, Scott, could you walk us through what this play is about?
Scott: Between Solar Systems is a science fiction play about the last survivor of Earth, he’s hurdling away five years away from a new planet. He’s never known anyone else, he’s never known a human’s touch, he doesn’t even know how he was put on the ship as a baby; there’s just a very fleeting footage of two people running across the ship’s hanger. But he’s been raised by the ship’s virtual intelligence, he’s been raised in a very routine based environment, very strict. But as he grows and as the ship begins to break down around him inexplicably, he begins to find out that everything he knows isn’t quite right, there’s been a lot of secrets hidden from him, so he begins this search for truth, no matter where that will lead him.
What was the inspiration behind this play?
Scott: I had this idea loosely, a very, very loose idea of doing a science fiction show on a spaceship a couple years ago. And it wasn’t until I went to Sydney, at the start of the year, to study, that I developed it more, and I started writing about a man on his own, in isolation, feeling very lonely because I was on my own, without my family or friends over there. And then it really came to fruition when I left those studies after a while and came back, and I wrote a lot of it on the plane, on the way back, in that metal capsule, all on my own.
Jo: Hurtling through space.
Scott: Yeah, at nighttime, kind of looking out the window, that I wrote the first half and plotted out the rest of it, and it really came from there. It came from a really purposeful, kind of lonely space.
So, Nick, Jo, Emily – what can each of you tell me about your individual characters?
Nick: So I’m Vincent, as Scott’s already said. He’s a rather unique human in that he has never had contact with another human. He does have one companion on the ship, which is Vi, which stands for Virtual Intelligence, onboard AI, who’s the closest thing he has to a mother or father or friend. He’s fairly tightly wound in his own way, he has his routines, likes to stick to his routines, and I suppose the play is about his getting more in touch with his human side, his previous existence, and his unravelling what his destiny is, and what his origins were, where he’s come from, where he’s going to.
Jo: I’m Jo, I play the Virtual Intelligence, Vi, the voice of. And yes, it’s been an amazing challenge because I only really have my voice to rely on, but I think this play is so much about humanity, you know, in its very simplistic, purist form, and I guess the challenge with playing a machine is also finding the accessibility of this person and the humanness so that an audience can invest, in a way, in her, as well as in Vincent, and Emily’s role as well, so that’s been a real challenge, and it’s also been really fun, because even though, I’m a voice in the production, in rehearsals we’ve been able to do it in the space, and I think especially in the last week, with Nick, I think the relationship between Vi and Vincent has become really playful and quite familiar and it is a friendship and it’s fun to explore the lighter moments of it as well, which will hopefully carry on into production.
Emily: So part of the ship’s research database, there’s this footage of two people running through the hanger, like Scott said, and my character is the female version of that research, and so when Vincent is exploring what humanity was like before he left Earth, I’m the ‘Everywoman’ in that footage and in his research. And then my character kind of develops into something that haunts Vincent throughout the rest of his journey.
Scott: We keep her a little secret.
Yes, I realize that, because I noticed that her character was just ‘The Woman’.
Scott: She gets a name at the end.
Jo: There are a lot of secrets in this play.
How did you enjoy directing this show?
Scott: Thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve directed a lot of university shows, so this is my first time kind of leaving university to direct, and my first time working with non-students, with professional actors who are in the industry, so going in, I was actually quite nervous, but Nick and Jo–we just had fun with it, we got to know each other, we became friends really quickly, and it was a very casual, but productive rehearsal period. We worked on it since around April or May, since we found out, so it’s been a long time. And it was just once or twice a week, and it really allowed us to really think and grow, to throw ideas around, really had a lot of input. I’ve worked with Emily about a year and a half, about two years now, pretty much every show I did in those two years, so Emily knows how I work, Emily knows to throw things out there, and how to work with that, but it’s been very stressful, but the most rewarding production I’ve ever been in.
So I’m guessing you guys enjoyed working with each other as well?
Jo: God, it was awful.
Nick: No comment.
Jo: I’ll speak to my lawyers. No, it’s been amazing, it’s been such a lovely, organic process. I think all of us are first timers working with one another, except for Emily and Scott, so it’s been really great to collaborate with a new team of really excellent artists, which is what the Blue Room is all about, it’s that collaboration amongst creative people and coming together of generations of artists.
Nick: Older generations, younger generations. [laughter] I’m on the list now. It has felt like going on a journey, on an adventure, really, much like the play. We haven’t gone into space, but we’ve gone to a lot of really fun places in rehearsals, it’s been really cool, and it’s been great fun.
Jo: I think something that makes it far less stressful when you’re making a new work is when you have a leader who has a very clear vision of what they want; and in this particular instance, which is actually quite rare, based on my experiences working with the Blue Room, with new work, is to have a script already written before rehearsals begin. That’s a real privilege, and for the script to be so developed and for Scott to have written that script with such a clear vision, and that clear vision has continued through the entirety of the rehearsal period, so it makes it such a warm and enjoyable experience because you have complete faith in what is happening around you.
So, Emily, I understand that this is your debut season at the Blue Room Theatre. How are you finding all this?
Emily: Oh, it’s exciting. Especially working with Jo and Nick, they’ve been good mentors.
Scott, what would you say sets this show apart from your other shows?
Scott: There is a lot more pressure riding on this. At a university show you’re encouraged to really experiment, and really even fail, really fail tremendously, so you learn from that, but coming out of university and finishing my undergraduate, and coming here, there’s a lot more industry eyes on you, people are looking at you a lot more, you get a lot more attention here. Rather than doing three days at university, you’re doing fifteen days here, and the stakes are a little higher, so everything’s got to be better, your script’s got to be tight, you’ve got to have the best actors on board, which I do, your designers have to be good, you’ve just got to be prepared and really be onto it, and luckily, failing a lot at university prepared me, helped me learn how to be organized more.
Did any of you (the cast) have to audition for your roles?
Scott: Only Emily did!
Jo: Well I think that in a way in that Scott’s seen us in previous work, so I guess it’s not an audition, but it certainly kind of gives him a sense of what we’re capable of, and what flavour we bring to the stage.
Scott: Actually, we auditioned Emily’s role, in a closed audition of six people. What was that like, Emily?
Emily: It was pretty interesting. So I knew where Scott was heading with the show, and what it was about, and I really, really wanted to be in it. So I came into the audition knowing that I really wanted it, and I attempted my hardest, and came out on top, so I’m pretty happy.
What is the message you’d like the audience to take away from the show?
Scott: Science fiction is never done on stage, or rarely done on stage, and the reasoning behind that is because of the effects that everyone expects to come from science fiction. I really want people to see what we’ve done, see how we’ve staged this. We’ve used a massive amount of projection, and sound and lighting, really to the nth, so that we can create these effects on stage, we can really try to blow people away, they can watch this and really go, ‘Wow, I haven’t seen that done before,’ even taking their breath away. But at the same time, really be moved by Vincent’s story and his plight, and come away with some unexpected things, feeling for Vi as well, who is just a computer, but Jo brings so much to that, that they can’t help but connect to her.
Nick: Same as what Scott said. I’d like them to feel for Vincent, come along on his journey, and just for them to go away thinking, ‘Yeah, sci-fi can be done on stage, in a really technically accomplished and dramatically compelling way, which is what I think this production does, and that’s what makes it so unique.
Jo: I think, because I’ve watched a lot of the show, from the side, something that really strikes me about this show is that I see it as a kind of cautionary piece, and I think the term sci-fi is interesting now, because we are hurtling towards a futuristic reality very, very quickly. And so, my personal experience when I watch this show is one of … I feel very moved, because I think even though it happens in this futuristic world it is very, very close to the dangers that we face, it’s very much based in a reality, so I hope people will see it as a cautionary tale with heart.
Emily: I suppose people might come in expecting something that they’re not going to get, so they’ll come in with this massive idea of sci-fi, and not expect to have this really big story underneath it, which I hope will catch people unawares, and so then it will impact them in a greater way, and make all these feelings of loneliness and humanity be seen in a new light.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Jo: You should totally come and see it.
Scott: Definitely. Definitely come see it, we’ve got fifteen shows. Please do, please do come and see it.
Jo: It’s already selling out first week, so get your tickets.
Scott: Yeah, and be open. Be open to something new, and seeing something new with new eyes.
Get tickets to Between Solar Systems here