Steven Mitchell Wright (Interview 31)
This week marks the second time I’ve spoken with Steven Mitchell Wright for Greenroom. The first was in June last year for the Free Range Project – Interview 21 – 10 interviews ago as it turns out. Steven is the AD of The Danger Ensemble which has also featured here on Greenroom via last August’s Hamlet Apocalypse. This work, another of Steven’s creations, appeared in La Boite’s 2011 Indie season. It was one of the more dangerous, ‘in yer face and be damned if you don’t like it’ productions I’d seen in ages. But it was more than just dangerous for its own sake; it was risky, sure but courageous, thrilling and accomplished – and it got my heart racing. That doesn’t happen to me very often in the theatre. The ideas and their theatricalisation did it for me with Hamlet Apocalypse. You can read the review here. This time around we talked about the latest work Loco Maricon Amor (‘Crazy Queer Love’ trans in case you wondered) which opens its world premiere season this week at Metro Arts in Edward Street Brisbane.
You’ve probably already seen this wildly coloured, staring figure – the production image for Loco Maricon Amor. It’s Salvador Dali, of course – the crazy, trademark moustache gives it away. The image, one of the more successful theatre posters I’ve seen for ages, hints at and suggests so much, teasing the viewer to engage with the real eyes in a painted face set against an exploding universe. It’s a new work but I’m actually less interested in what the play is about – the plot to be terribly old-fashioned – than in the realisation of the work. I’ve already read in the media release that ‘Loco Maricon Amor isn’t about any one thing. But it is about love and death and their interconnectedness.’ Big call.
To that end I steer the conversation around to how Steven and the Danger Ensemble work. I want to know where these ideas come from and how they do it – the nuts and bolts of their working process. How did Loco Maricon Amor take shape, for example? I know before I ask that it’s not going to be a simple response, and that’s the way it turns out.
The form of a work becomes its delivery method.
As Steven puts it, ‘Each project is different, and I’m adamant that each work has to find its own process.’ Another side to the good design axiom of form following function. ‘Finding this is important to me. But, at the start, the story has to be important. Why would you invest so much time and energy without a sense of its being important? And I need a sense of the “heart” of a work.’ So, that’s the way our discussion proceeds – about how this play found its authentic heart and external shape.
Loco Maricon Amor – a work about ‘love and death and their interconnectedness’ is also about the relationship between the early 20th century avant garde Spanish artists Salvador Dali and writer Federico Lorca. The work ‘my most experimental so far in form,’ occurs, as Steven puts it, ‘at the intersection of tragedy and Surrealism. Whilst it pays homage to the Surrealist movement of the 20s and 30s, it’s been refigured for now.’ Part of the process involved the ensemble’s investigating contemporary ‘Surrealist views’ – reactionary approaches to creating art. Steven notes that ‘It’s been an exhilarating experience, and has forced us to abandon much of what we think we know about making theatre.’ I don’t pursue what he means by this; it’s one of the big conversations – the never ending story of art making. For now, I think I know that it’s best left to the telling and the experience of the play. Steven admits the difficulty of explanation but the clarity in the telling. And that, I think, is what a good work of theatre is about, at least in part – understood and completed in the moment of performance. If it’s really good, it can spill beyond, nagging at the edges of your consciousness, maybe even messing with your dreams – about right for a work that tackles the ways and means of Surrealism.
Why Lorca and Dali and Surrealism though? Where did that come from? ‘It’s up to the director – it begins with me – my interests, and I have to be inspired.’ That investment of time and energy and passion again. As far as Loco Maricon Amor is concerned, Steven’s interest in Lorca’s life and writing began in 2009 when he was working at Harvard’s American Repertory Theatre in a reading of The House of Bernarda Alba. The cast of characters is predominantly female and he ‘toyed with the idea of flipping gender – of making the female characters boys rather than girls.’ Steven believes that Lorca’s homosexuality – if not repressed, then at least silenced publicly in conservative, Fascist Spain – found a voice through female characters in his writing. Then there is the intrigue of the relationship between Lorca and Salvador Dali – were they lovers?
In Loco Maricon Amor Lorca and Dali are imagined and figured in a homosexual relationship. There is no doubt Lorca was a passionate admirer of Dali and, whatever the nature of their association, it was bound to be unconventional. ‘We know Dali himself admitted trying sex with men and women and to not enjoying it,’ Steven tells me. Dali also denied that the relationship with Lorca had ever been sexual, and was quite open about the fact that Lorca had tried to seduce him but that he had rejected him outright. In 1934 Dali married the woman he came to call his muse, the Russian intellectual Elena Ivanovna Diakonova – Gala.
It’s been an exhilarating experience and has forced us to abandon much of what we think we know about making theatre.
Steven tells me that the first day of development of this work was the anniversary of Gala’s death in 1982. From that time onwards Dali more or less took himself into solitary confinement. Another thread in the play’s shaping emerges – Dali’s life from this point on. Lonely and at the mercy of the elements of time and memory, which can be ‘odd and warped and not objective’, Dali moves towards his death.
The play is an exploration by Dali of time and memory as he moves towards his death.
Knowing the kind of work the group engages with I’m curious about the actors who are engaged in a lengthy and what, at times, must have been a physically exhausting and perhaps emotionally draining task. As the media release has it, the work is a fusion of ‘dance, image and song cycle’ and ‘a queer-as-fuck head- trip into forbidden love and fantasy.’ Steven is very clear about the artists he seeks out. ‘I want actors who are not afraid of experimentation, who are hungry and brave.’ I wonder how he is able to tell all this in an audition. ‘I very rarely audition,’ he tells me, ‘but when I see actors at work – acting or waiting on the sidelines or at rest or questioning – I recognise the kind of energy and attitude I want for this work.’
DIRECTOR & DESIGNER Steven Mitchell Wright
PRODUCER & PROD. MANAGER Katherine Quigley
LIGHTING DESIGNER Ben Hughes
DRAMATURG & LITERARY ADVISOR Chris Beckey
STAGE MANAGER Candice Diana
ASSOCIATE PRODUCER Tom Noble
SET REALISER & CO-DESIGNER Xani Kennedy
PERFORMERS & CO-DEVISERS Chris Beckey, Caroline Dunphy, Thomas Hutchins, Lucy-Ann Langkilde, Polly Sara, Peta Ward & Bianca Zouppas
Loco Maricon Amor plays from Friday 17 August to Saturday 1 September at Metro Arts, Sue Benner Theatre, 109 Edward Street, Brisbane. For bookings and further details see Metro Arts website.