The Fringe Festival is full of up-and-coming producers standing up alongside experienced professionals. As part of our exploration of the wonderful experiences on offer, Tulpa’s own Simone Corletto sat down with star sibling co-creators Dana and Matthew Cropley of Cropley Productions to discuss their latest production.
So, tell us about your new play, Shivered:
Matt: It’s a play about a young person, in year 12, on the cusp of trying to decide which life path to take in their life. I think it’s pretty universal theme for a lot of young people, especially artistic young people, wondering if they should pursue their passion or go for a more stable career or something in between. This is something our younger brother, who stars in the play, is struggling with that himself as a year 12 student; he wants to be an actor and take it seriously but he doesn’t know if that’s a realistic thing, and he’s been struggling with that. And we wanted to explore this idea in a way that still entertaining.
Dana: And as people who are putting on a play in the Fringe, it’s something we’ve personally experienced as well. Matthew went the more creative path, studying film-making and now doing writing, and I’m doing Psychology, so I went the more stable career path, but I’m trying to balance doing acting and Fringe stuff with that, so it’s definitely still a very relevant issue for us so hopefully we can portray it very realistically.
Matt: It’s easy to agonise over what to do with your life in any respect, and to wonder if you made the right decision or if you screwed everything up, and I think what we’re trying to do is explore the possibility without really offering a straight answer, we’re just opening the conversation a bit. But also it’s an entertaining play about a stalker, so you know, it’s thrilling and suspenseful, and it’s still an entertaining story in and of itself.
Considering your backgrounds aren’t strictly theatre based, what made you decide to use a play to explore these ideas?
Dana: Our whole family has always enjoyed acting and have done it as a hobby since we were little kids. When I was in year 12 we performed Blackrock by Nick Enwright as our year 12 play, and everyone in the cast really wanted to do it again, so we were decided to perform it in the Fringe. I ended up directing that show and I got Matthew and our brother Daniel to be in it, and we really enjoyed it. We’d developed a relationship with Tandanya Theatre, where we performed that show, and so we decided to put on another show the next year. I asked Matt to write a script, and that became Linger, which we performed last year. Now we’re really just in the pattern of doing one every year and we really enjoy it so we just want to keep it going for as long as we can.
Matt: I think, in terms of why a play, there’s the blend of psychology and the arts. Linger was about teenage depression and suicide and looking at that in a realistic way, which we were able to do with Dana and her psychology studies, having learned a lot about that which I think gave us some gravitas behind the story. I think this is a similar thing in that it’s issues pertaining to the mental health of young people which we can look at with my artistic background and Dana’s psychology background, in a well-rounded way. Also through my perspective, I did a film degree and worked as corporate filmmaker for a while, and have come into doing more writing things and I’ve always done acting. A play is a good blend of that literary and psychology, so they’re useful skills.
After your first original play, Linger, last year, is there anything you learned about that experience which you’ve taken on board this time?
Dana: Definitely. We really have a good idea of how to direct and produce now, and we have taken a lot of feedback from reviews last year and we tried to include that this year. I think even partially, subconsciously, we got a lot of praise for presenting these ideas in a realistic way, so this year we placed more emphasis on trying to realistically connect with people this indecision, and it’s a lot easier to do that because we are that age, and so it’s not like we’re older people trying assume this is how young people feel, we can just say how we feel and how it applies to everyone.
Matt: For me, with my film background, Linger last year it was kind of written, staged in a more filmic way, and this year I’ve really learned what works best on stage compared to film, and I think that the stagecraft and the script and the directorial stuff has really been fine-tuned.
Is this play aimed at younger audiences or will older people get something out of it as well?
Dana: We figure that everyone in their life, no matter what career you go into, has experienced having to make a choice about what path to take, so it’s applicable to young people currently going through that, but also older audiences will be able to relate to it because they may have already gone through it at some point. Plus, it’s just a thrilling play in and of itself.
Matt: And we tried to show a young person who is agonising over what choices to make, and an older person who has made those choices, agonising over whether they were the right ones, so we do cover it from both perspectives. And even if you have no connections to the themes, the story could be taken at face value.
How long has taken to develop this play?
Matt: This story and these themes are something I’ve thought about for a long time and wanted to express in some way, but the expression of it in this play started last year as soon as Linger wrapped up. We got together and brainstormed what to do next. And this has gone through quite a few drafts of this play, which we started basically since the last show, and we started rehearsals in August. It’s been quite an intensive script development period, with about a year in actual development.
What are some of the challenges you found putting this show together?
Dana: I found that in terms of actually putting on the play, funding is always a big issue. This is obviously a very expensive process to do. Getting sponsors like that is always hopeful – I would say that’s the main challenge. It’s hard work to reach out to the media and the venue and get props and stuff, but if you just do it you’ll get it done. You have to force yourself to do it.
Matt: I think with this one it’s – the struggle I found creatively is working this sort of theme and story without sounding really preachy or didactic. I suppose, and just finding where the actual conflict is. Wanting to tell this story about choosing what to do in your life and with a skilled approach and it’s been a struggle finding the right way to tell that story so that its still entertaining and realistic. It’s been an interesting drill down into those layers and layers of story. The last play I think the story was quite obviously there and this one was more of a creative struggle, but I think this play is a lot better. Also the last play we had a substantially larger cast and it was a bigger undertaking but this time we’ve minimised the cast and various other things, having less stuff but being higher quality.
Why did you decide launch your play here at the Fringe?
Matt: The Fringe is great as there’s no real gatekeepers and if you can put on a play, you are allowed to. You’re judged on the quality of your work rather than who you are and what you’ve done, so for young people trying to break into the industry it’s the perfect opportunity to do that. And I think that’s especially great for the sort of message we’re trying to explore, finding the artistic life path.
Dana: Also, with the fringe, basically all of Adelaide wants to get involved and see stuff compared to just a random time of year putting on a play yourself where you don’t get the sort of advertising the Fringe provides or a guaranteed audience to plug your show to, so that comes in handy.
Are you looking to tour the show elsewhere?
Matt: I think that’s something we’d love to do. We’ve explored that idea with the last play but it didn’t really pan out. But depending on the response with this one, it’s definitely something we’d look into seriously.
Dana: I think it would definitely be easier with a smaller cast, as there’s five of us, so in terms of scheduling and stuff to be able to take it elsewhere, this year would be much more viable than last year.
Any advice for budding scriptwriters wanting to get their start with the Fringe?
Matt: It’s easy to be paralysed by self-doubt, wondering if you’re going to be able to do it properly, but just write the script, get some people together and make something. Especially with the Fringe, you can just sign up and do it. Don’t wait for someone else to give you the opportunity; just make your own opportunity and do something.
Dana: And that’s really why we wanted to start doing shows with the Fringe. Adelaide’s not really a hub of the acting world so if we can just create those roles for ourselves and create something we know can do every year, then why not do that? It’s just such a good opportunity. And for advice, I’d say in terms of actually putting on the show, it can seem very daunting, with so many different steps to put on a Fringe show, and it’s a lot of work, but if you just make yourself do the work and get everything done in time then it’s not really as intimidating as it seems.
Shivered is being performed at Tandanya Theatre at Live from Tandanya this weekend on the 16th, 17th and 18th of February. Tickets available here.