Perth theatre collective public service announcement is debuting an exciting new production at The Blue Room Theatre this month.
I Feel Fine is a show that explores our existence and contradictions. We were intrigued by the way the audience is invited to become congregation members in a church dealing with eco-anxieties, hope and despair, so we had a chat with Zachary Sheridan ahead of the show’s opening.
Gutter Culture: I Feel Fine looks at climate change through a unique lens. Tell us about the way you’ve approached this work as a writer and director.
Zachary Sheridan: The main thing to note is an emphasis on process. My friend, Simone Detourbet (who also acts in the work) has shared a lot of insight regarding this idea. We live in systems where speed trumps time; where the ends justify the means. What does it look like then to really invest in the journey, and have trust in the process you’ve laid out? Through this, we’ve been able to focus on sustainability (both in terms of making the work & also of the artists’ well-being) as well as fulfilment and respect for artists and (hopefully) audiences alike.
GC: Climate change is a significant issue in current national and international discourse. What do you think about how this production is placed within this broader context?
ZS: Alexa Taylor (creator and director of Two Canaries) said to me earlier this year that complex global problems require complex solutions. I have come to believe this, too. For me, it isn’t about one independent theatre show changing the world. Instead, it is about being part a part of a complex solution. With I Feel Fine we are attempting to create a space for healing and grieving. There’s also room for some (abject) laughter.
GC: How have you gone about blending the different artforms in this show?
ZS: I’ve been inspired by mentors like Reneé Newman and writers like Chantal Bilodeau to really open myself up to collaboration in this particular process. Climate change requires people working together, and it felt important that this project emulated that. It required more than one voice in its making. I’ve been really fortunate to have had collaborators like visual artist Elizabeth Bills and the incredibly wise Zal Kanga-Parabia on board to help shape the work. Brothers Jacob and Isaac Diamond have drawn on our shared Catholic upbringings to compose the most wonderful and silly hymns. The enigmatic Jessee Lee Johns has literally made an altar out of grass. We’ve had mentorship at different points from the likes of Shaun Nannup and theatre legend Tim Watts. Jasmine Lifford is making a steeple out of lights. Performers and other collaborators—Simone Detourbet, Kylie Bywaters, Amelia Burke, Elise Wilson, Jackson Peele—are all open and playful, and have really challenged me (in good ways) in the rehearsal room. All up, it has been a highly interdisciplinary team who - I hope - have taken ownership of the work. All of these voices are throughout this piece, and I’m really proud of that.
GC: Where do you feel this show lands on the seesaw of hope and despair?
ZS: It’s a tough one. Reneé—who is the project’s dramaturge—raised the word ambivalence with me about half-way through the year. Sometimes ambivalence is mistaken for apathy. It actually means to sit with two contradictory ideas. We’ve embraced this, and so at the “church” we sit with both. It is possible for hope and despair to exist together. In fact, it could be argued that you can’t really have one without the other.
GC: Using the device of a church experience is an interesting choice – what brought this about?
ZS: Rebecca Solnit wrote an article called “Preaching to the Choir” for Harper’s Magazine. Solnit writes that “the phrase implies that political work should be primarily evangelical, even missionary, that the task is to go out and convert the heathens, that talking to those with whom we agree achieves nothing… [But] is there no purpose in getting preached to, in gathering with your compatriots? Why else do we go to church but to sing, to pray a little, to ease our souls, to see our friends, and to hear the sermon?” We are really riffing off this idea. I’ve sometimes been told that you shouldn’t make a theatre piece about climate change because your audience already agrees with you… but as Solnit says, that assumes that the point of the work is to change people. Why can’t we just come together and give space for an issue that is incredibly overwhelming to think about alone?
The framework of a church has also encouraged us to go beyond the four walls of a theatre space. Just like how many religions have their missions, so too does this church provide services for the eco-anxious beyond the sermon (show). We have dank zines for eco anxious teens (for a more hopeful terror) at Paper Mountain; we have postcards that can be written to the planet at Centre for Stories; we have emblems to help one cope with eco-anxiety. All of this is also available online.
GC: What do you hope to achieve with this piece?
ZS: For the congregation to come and sit with the aforementioned ambivalence. To think about our shared responsibility; the interconnectedness of all things.
GC: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
ZS: The show gets pretty zany. So, come with an open heart. (But it is not nearly as ridiculous as governmental inaction on these issues).
Also, because there’s real grass, take a Zyrtec if you have allergies… I would equate it to sitting in a park.
I Feel Fine runs from 1 to 19 October. Get tickets here.