By Rae Porter
Melbourne based performer and dramaturg Nicola Gunn returns to Victoria after a 10 year hiatus as part of Intrepid Theatre’s 2018 International Presenting Series. Taking over the Metro Studio on January 24, 2018 with her 2015 work Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster; a whirling dervish of a performance, full of wit, provocation, humour and reflection. I had the opportunity to talk to Nicola about inspirations, vulnerabilities and keeping the conversation going.
MM: After watching the trailer for the Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster, I’m in awe of the physicality of the performance. Can you provide more insight into the process of creating a one woman show that fills the room?
NG: I never describe my work as one-woman shows. I’ve never liked gendering it in that way. I also don’t really even like solo theatre performance as a general rule. To have to listen to one person for an hour or more? What if they’re boring or self-absorbed? That’s anxiety inducing stuff. Honestly, it’s more perplexing to me than to anyone else as to why it is I continue to make them. I think it’s because I don’t think of them as solo works. I think of them as conversations; conversations with a group of strangers who only talk back in my imagination and perhaps theirs. So that’s the first thing, which leads me to the second thing: because they’re conversations, they fill the room. And I see the conversation as a separate entity: it neither belongs to me nor the audience; it is being held by the room. I also take up a lot of space, physically I mean. I tend not to stay where I’m supposed to, and you can take that in any way you like.
MM: You’re known for covering a wide range of themes in your performances, as well as linking the surreal and sublime with subversive entertainment. With a couple of pieces currently in development, who and what inspires you in your work?
NG: I’ve been trying to make this new work about SOMETHING IMPORTANT THAT MATTERS for about two years now. A lot of my work plays with this idea of autobiographical fiction as well as reflecting on art and my responsibility as an artist, so I was worried people were getting bored by that. I thought I should be looking towards the serious issues of our day…you know, climate change, the refugee crisis, Australia’s abhorrent detention centres in Nauru and Manus Island, the era of post-truth and so on. So for 18 months, I kept trying to make a work dealing with this stuff, but I just couldn’t. I couldn’t find a way in. It was very difficult to admit that what is preoccupying me right now is Time and Ageing and within that, the time of being a woman who is ageing. Difficult to admit because I fear it comes across as vanity and perhaps I fear it is not relatable to men and perhaps I fear other women would wish I could think about SOMETHING IMPORTANT THAT ACTUALLY MATTERS. I guess I just make work about whatever it is I am interested in at the time. Visibly seeing myself ageing continues to shock me and horrify me. I want to understand where this shock and horror comes from, and why and what can be done about it. And so this is where an idea begins. Where it goes, who can say.
MM: The piece poses a philosophical question about our own social responsibilities. How important do you find it to keep challenging your audience to consider this?
NG: I don’t want to make work that is sermonising and I definitely don’t ever want to take the moral high ground because I am the first person to admit my many flaws and hypocrisies. It’s this very area that Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster navigates. I tend to use myself as an example; I share my moral failings, my human fallibility and my vulnerability to create a space for the audience to consider their own. This is important. I still maintain the idealistic and optimistic view that art can make space for social transformation.
MM: You’ve worked with Intrepid Theatre a number of times in the past – are you looking forward to touching down in Victoria again?
NG: I most certainly am! Canada was a second home for me throughout my 20s. I have so many dear friends I met over that time and it’s in Canada that I started to figure out how to make work. The stuff I make now is very different to those earlier pieces, but you can still see traces if you look close enough. I’ve always appreciated the sense of being on an island when I visit Victoria. For me, it tends to operate in its own time zone and I find that pretty relaxing. I can’t wait to see how it’s changed. My times in Victoria have always been marked by the bulk food section of the supermarket and consequently always getting hit hard at the cash register, Paul’s Motel, Lotus Pond vegetarian restaurant, Rebar and running along the coastline through Beacon Hill Park.