There’s a new play coming up at The Blue Room Theatre that we think sounds great. The Epic is presented by Finn O’Branagáin and Scott Sandwich, who will take you on a journey through some of the world’s great and epic tales. Born out of their shared joy of myths and legends, The Epic is part of an ancient tradition of retelling these stories, and discussion about how they and we have changed over time. Today we chat to Finn ahead of the show opening next week.
Official job title:
I wear a few hats! I’m Co-Artistic Director for Crack Theatre Festival, Special Ops with pvi collective, and also Freelance Writer and Dramaturg. I like to keep busy with a variety of projects.
Tell us about your career background and how you’ve come to where you are now:
I’m very lucky and have pretty much been able to work in the arts and events my whole career. I grew up with Corrugated Iron Youth Arts in Darwin, first as a student and performer and then as a tutor and coordinator. From there I’ve also worked on youth festivals and special events with City of Darwin, and even events with charity The Smith Family. This is my second year as Co-AD with Crack Theatre Festival. Before this, I was an Associate Producer with them. I’ve learned so much in my time with them!
In terms of my own practice, I’ve been incredibly lucky and have been supported through many opportunities such as the Backbone Ensemble which led to performing at the World Theatre Festival and writing a work for Metro Arts. I’ve been part of ArtStart, the Cultural Leadership Program, JUMP, World Interplay and ATYP National Studio and 4×4. I’ve been able to perform in places as diverse as a Buddhist monastery and the Sydney Opera House. I’m now writing for contemporary theatre as well as interactive and installation type events. I’m excited and inspired by the diversity of works here in Perth, and am pleased to be amongst it!
Your writing has taken you across the country, where’s home?
That’s a tricky one, actually. But because I’ve moved around so much, there is always that moment of hesitation when someone asks me where I’m from.
I was born in Perth, but grew up in Darwin. I’ve also lived in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne – it’s nice to be back here with my family. I’ve been back in Perth for about a year and a half – and it’s starting to feel like home.
What is the best thing about your job?
Working with so many diverse artists. In both of my main jobs, being able to support the work of people who are pushing the boundaries in form and content is a real privilege. Making events that mean something, and that are development opportunities for artists as well as really great memories. I leap out of bed every day, and run to the bus stop. I love my jobs. I am so lucky.
Describe your workspace:
I work on pvi collective and also on Crack Theatre Festival work at the CIA studios in West Perth. It’s a beautiful red brick building that used to be a school. I work in the HQ, which has many desks full of artists. I use a standing desk, and have an ever-increasing amount of pot plants of all sizes on my desk. (And, guiltily, an ever increasing stack of tea-cups.)
You have an upcoming show at The Blue Room called The Epic. Tell us a bit about it:
Scott Sandwich and I retell the most badass stories from around the world.
They’re poetic, story-telling style enactments, with modern links and references, but staying true to the core of the works.
We love the idea that we’re part of a centuries old tradition of retelling these stories – they were made to be told in person, as a way to talk about issues that were current. To give people hope and strength, to teach, to scare, to bring people in. We’re not so different from our ancestors – the graffiti translated from the walls of Pompeii tell us that “Marcus loves Spendusa” and not much else apart from profanities.
Our politics may have changed, our technology certainly has, but we’re still telling the same types of stories in a lot of ways. Isn’t Superman basically Hercules? There’s so many other great stories that have faded away or been all but forgotten. Some of them have made way for better stories, ones with faster cars, and more high-tech space gear, but there’s still relevance in the oldest stories we have told each other. And when it’s starting to feel like the end of the world, when our ice caps are melting and scientists are looking scared – maybe we need to put down our laser guns and tell the stores that talk about our earliest years. Or maybe we need to give a laser gun to our oldest heroes.
There’s also a sense of distance in The Epic. Not only that Tom [the real name of Scott Sandwich] and I live on different sides of the continent and made the show basically via Skype. We also know that we’re cultural outsiders to many of these stories. We don’t own them, and maybe don’t even fully understand them outside of our very real joy and love for them.
We are even distant from the Australian story, which, maybe surprisingly, has been the hardest to do. Scott and I only represent a small slice of the cultural landscape of Australia – we can’t claim an Aboriginal dreamtime story as if it’s ours to tell, and we don’t feel connected to stories like The Man from Snowy River… there has been a lot of identity searching for us, too, seeing how we relate to the stories we’re telling in the show.
The whole show is basically us negotiating who has rights over these stories, and how they are connected to us, but mainly how awesome they are and how much fun they are. It’s not quite a theatre show, not quite a lecture or story telling or performance poetry, but some weird yet good looking hybrid of them all.
It’s just you and Scott on stage, but who else has been involved in the show coming to fruition?
We’re lucky to be working with some of Perth’s most exciting peeps: Desmond Tan of Paper Mountain is making his set design debut, Jamie Breen of Very Serious is working on our Publicity, the inimitable Joe Lui is designing our lighting, and we’ve been mentored by Andrea Gibbs of Barefaced Stories and Jeffrey Jay Fowler of Black Swan Theatre Company and The Last Great Hunt.
We were supported through the MATCH Funding Campaign by Creative Partnerships Australia, which has been amazing.
Also, can I just say that The Blue Room are incredibly supportive. Perth is so lucky to have such a fantastic institution.
What was your process of writing The Epic. Was there a lot of research involved in respect to the tales told?
So much research. All of the research. But that was kind of the point of the project at the start – Scott and I love finding new stories and talking about why they might have been needed then, and if we still need them now. It really was a joy reading so many books, and then articles about the books, and then calling each other up and being like “look what I FOUND! We HAVE to put it in!” and talking about how it still might be relevant to today. We’re really excited to share all these stories with audiences, as they might not have heard of them before, or they might not have thought about how these stories connect to pop culture or modern society.
What’s your favourite myth or epic tale?
It’s actually one that didn’t quite fit into this show – but it’s this Romanian story Fet-Fruners, (more of a fairy tale, really) where a girl wants to be a boy and dresses like one so she can go and work and have a life beyond being someone’s wife (as was often women’s fate during those times.) During her adventures she falls in love with a woman, and accidentally gets turned into a real boy by a witch. No one around them is upset, they get married, and everyone agrees that she is just as good as a woman or a man. It was the earliest story I could find that explored transgendered characters, and was totally cool about the whole thing.
Do you have any opening night superstitions?
It’s not really a superstition, but I like looking at Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot to help calm me down and make me remember that we are tiny and that space is huge and no matter what happens, the world will keep turning in space.
What else have you got coming up?
Crack Theatre Festival is coming up in Newcastle in October, and I’ve just been accepted into the Black Swan Theatre Company’s Emerging Writers Group, with a reading late in the year, and pvi collective are heading to the Waves Festival in Denmark, the Prague Quadrennial and Malmo Festival, Skanes Dansteater, Sweden this year, so I’ll be kept busy writing and producing until the end of the year!
What do you love about Perth?
The feeling of community. It’s big enough that there is lots going on, but small enough that people seem to support each other nicely.
What does Perth need?
A bouncy castle for adults.
Where can we find you enjoying coffee or tea in this town?
Lot 20 in Northbridge has such great cold drip with soda water. It is amazing.
Best place to get pre-show or post-show dinner?
Francoforte Spaghetti Bar has two delicious vegetarian pasta dishes – I can’t get enough of them! Finn
Images: All images are of Finn O’Branagáin and Scott Sandwich, taken by Jamie Breen during rehearsals for The Epic.