Interview: Declan Greene (The Feather in the Web)
"There’s a rat in your brain in stilettos, pacing back and forth called Miles. There is no delineation between you and the cosmos! No barrier! No skin! No safety! Any more.”
Kimberly is a force of nature. Cruel and unpredictable, she cuts a trail of destruction through our bland world – leaving no corporate wellness seminar or improv class unscathed. But then Kimberly meets Miles, and smashes face-first into a love that’s even more violent than her.
From cult comic sensation, Nick Coyle (The Queen of Wolves, ABC’s Sarah’s Channel), The Feather in the Web is a lacerating satire of mainstream culture that revels in all the magnificent, awful parts of ourselves we’ve learned to squash right down.
To kick off, what show are you currently working on and what is your role in the production?
Nick Coyle’s The Feather in the Web - I’m directing it.
What drew you to this show and why do you think now is the right time to be bringing this story to the stage?
When I read this play I fell in love with it instantly. It’s about Kimberly - a living embodiment of pure chaos, who loves to destroy the world around her... But then she falls has to squash down all the special, demented parts of herself to make a very boring man love her. Nick is amazing comic writer so it’s quite an experience: completely anarchic and hilarious, but then it blindsides you with gut-wrenching sadness.
What has the experience been like working on this show? What has been unique about this show and your process in comparison to other shows you have worked on?
It’s been a dream. I’m working with the most amazing cast... Belinda McClory, George Lingard, Emily Milledge, Georgina Naidu, Patrick Durnan Silva, with Michelle Brasier in the lead as Kimberly. Michelle is one of my favourite funny people in this country and I’ve wanted to work with her forever, so it was wild when she agreed to do the show.
What can audiences look forward to in this show or why do you feel it is a story that they need to hear?
As a satire on contemporary mainstream culture it’s so precise and wonderfully cruel. Nick totally nails the absurd contradictions at the core of middle-class lifestyle fetishism... The obsession with cultivating an identity that makes you special and individual and unique, while harvesting all your interests from the same pool of Netflix shows and fashion Instagram accounts and baking Pinterests as everyone else you know. It’s really funny and painfully relatable.
What has been the most rewarding part of this show to create for you?
It’s the first time I’ve ever directed a play that isn’t a first-time production, so it’s been really fun having a script that was locked down and not changing every 3 seconds.
Why is this a production that a 2020 audience cannot miss?
It’s funny, it’s ridiculous, it’s sad, and it’s happening in Red Stitch’s beautiful, tiny little theatre where these phenomenal actors are so close you can really see them work their craft in detail.
When first beginning a new project, what is the first part of your process in approaching a new role?
On my first read of the script I have to have a really clear image in my head of how I would stage it - a little bolt of inspiration right at the outset, or the script doesn’t stick in my brain. For Feather In The Web I knew I wanted to stage it in a world that looked on-trend in terms of mainstream hipster interior design but was really, really uncomfortable and unpleasant to inhabit... And that’s pretty much what our amazing designer Brynna Lowen has done. She’s designed (and built!) a space where all the seats are impossible to get comfy in, and all the doorways are way too low, so the actors have to crouch to enter the space... And there’s barely enough room for them all the move around each other... It’s dumb but it really makes me laugh.
What is a common misconception that people have about your role in the production?
Does anyone really know what a theatre director does?! I’m not sure that I do.
What has the rehearsal process been like in bringing this story to life? By the time audiences see this show on stage, what has gone into making it happen?
We’ve rehearsed for weeks and weeks in a lovely church hall in South Yarra, under the watchful eye of Michelle Brasier’s adorable and ancient Staffordshire terrier Bruce.
Do you have any opening night rituals? If so, what are they?
I drink a lot of red wine, take Xanax, and crush my boyfriend’s hand into a bag of bone-gravel.
What is something that you take away from each show that you work on? Do you feel like you take a piece of the production with you each time?
It really depends on the show. Immediately after it opens all I can normally think about is all the things I would have done differently if I could have started again, but then after a few weeks I can relax and start to see the show for its successes.
When was the turning point for you when you realised that theatre was not just a hobby but a passion? How did you go about making it your career and is there any one show that you can attribute this to?
It was always both for me - I always hoped I’d be able to make a living off theatre one day, and I’m incredibly lucky that this happened.
Across your work, is there one story, thought or theme that keeps you interested in continuing to create? What stories do you find yourself drawn to the most?
I love playing with audiences. I’m really driven by the desire to share something unusual and surprising and wonderful with them, so I’m always looking for that thing.
What has been the highlight of your career so far and what is still on your performance bucket list?
I think the production I’m the proudest of so far was Nakkiah Lui’s Blackie Blackie Brown, which I directed in 2018. It was a really special one. Such hard work, coordinating an hour and a half of animation to run with live actors, but so rewarding when it all came off well.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given that you would like to pass on to aspiring theatre makers?
Have a life outside theatre, socially and culturally.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS
What is your favourite production you have ever seen?
Vegard Vinge & Ida Muller’s production of John Gabriel Borkman at the Volksbuhne Prater Theatre in 2012.
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world - where do you go?
Port au Prince in Haiti. I’m obsessed with reading about the Haitian revolution.
What is your dream show to work on?
Mine and Ash Flanders’ dream Sisters Grimm project - a manor house murder mystery that goes for 24 hours.
What is a hobby you have beyond the theatre?
I’m a very enthusiastic and very mediocre amateur cook.
What’s next for you after this show?
On the 11th of February I open my adaption of Wake In Fright at the Sydney Opera House, and then I move up to Sydney permanently to start as Artistic Director of Griffin Theatre - wild!
The Feather in the Web is running at the Red Stitch Actors' Theatre until March 1, 2020. You can get your tickets here.