Union House Theatre’s upcoming production, Mirror’s Edge, is a new work by Kim Ho, which has been revised in collaboration with the cast and creative team throughout the rehearsal process. I sat down with three of the cast members, Jo Chen, Eden Gonfond and Rebecca Poynton, to talk about the show.
What drew you to this play or this role?
Eden: I was part of an earlier production just to test out the script and I kind of fell in love with it. I was like – fuck, this is a really important play in Australia in Melbourne at this time. It was just so culturally and contextually perfect. And it’s something that as an Aboriginal, and as someone who came from a strong Aboriginal community, resonates really strongly… the challenges are real, the concerns are real, and the issues are very real and it’s just great to see that on stage I guess. And then as well as that there’s European culture thrown in and broadly Asian culture thrown in and it’s just exactly what’s happening in Australia right now.
Rebecca: It’s probably the first time I’ve actually been able to play myself very largely. Like we were saying, it’s such a cultural show with huge mixes of everything, but then there’s this Kai character who doesn’t really do anything, isn’t really from anywhere, just kind of is. And it’s really cool to live that on stage and have it be something that people focus on rather than just background information.
Jo: It’s just really interesting to see how [Sea Lake] connects people from different times, different cultural backgrounds together. It’s just above human understanding. I feel like it’s really spiritual; it tells the story in a really spiritual intellectual way. And I think that everyone – international students, Australians, Aboriginal people, they should all know what happened in the past because that’s what makes us, that’s what shapes us.
What research did you have to do for Mirror’s Edge?
Eden: The beginning of the process was really fluid; there were no characters, there was very rarely a script. We would just work with the team really tightly doing all sorts of ensemble work, discussing stuff. Then we took it to the next level when we went to Sea Lake. Sea Lake is the location around which Mirror’s Edge is structured.
Rebecca: It was like déjà vu… like of the script.
Jo: Everything that we read in the script was actually happening in real life.
Eden: It’s so startling that the first time I saw these things was on a page and the second time I saw them was when they were real. And it’s just so perfectly represented in the play.
Rebecca: I think, character wise as well, it’s been quite beneficial to have been cast racially or culturally or ethnically accurately because it takes a lot of pressure off of us to have to try and fit into those shoes … so on a research level that was very refreshing.
As the play has been written alongside production, has it felt different than other shows you’ve been in?
Eden: Yeah definitely… one of the biggest things is coming to rehearsal and everyone’s got a new script and it’s like – what where did this page go?
Rebecca: Yes! Why are we two drafts ahead? I was here yesterday!
Eden: So that’s challenging. But on the flipside of that same coin it’s exciting that you can turn up and know that lines can be different, whole scenes can be gone, it’s just this sort of stretchy malleable play that we’re working with actively.
Rebecca: I feel like it puts a lot more pressure on us to know our characters really well, but at the same time it actively enables us to know our characters really well. Because we’ve worked with so many different versions, changed things, cut things, and it gives you a lot more data than just a set script that you work with from start to finish that you have to extrapolate from.
Jo: And that kind of influenced our performance with the newest draft because we know what would have happened or what already happened that’s not in the script but it’s a part of the character. And then when we get onstage and perform we kind of keep that in mind. So it does influence how we as characters behave.
What’s the most satisfying part of being in the show as an actor?
Rebecca: The fact that it can be so much of ourselves and our own lived experience [means] it’s enabled me to focus on the actual acting technique behind it. Doing a lot of impulse acting has been really great, really paying attention to every single word in the script individually and how each one is different and has a different purpose.
Eden: Without being tokenistic, it’s really important to me to be able to represent some Aboriginal culture on stage because it’s something that I grew up with, something that I moved to Melbourne with and it’s always been so deeply embedded within me. I’ve never been able to put it out there anywhere or even identify with it so it’s almost a process of self-identification for me. To identify as a character and then have that character reflect back on me… that’s satisfying.
Jo: This is my first proper involvement in a theatre production so basically everything is just cool. And like Eden said, you actually play someone who is just like you, culturally. And I play an international student and I am an international student. It’s like there’s this kind of pride when you’re representing a lot of people… And how the character is inspired and how the character inspires others – it’s just this stuff you couldn’t have done in your real life but you can through the play.
Union House Theatre’s Mirror’s Edge runs from July 27th – August 5th in the Union Theatre