• Theatre Travels

Interview: Jessica Tanner (Slut)

'We’d all by then experienced the touch. From some old mate of your father who hugged too close… From an uncle who put his arms around you and placed his fingertips on the edge of your breast... We’d all by then experienced a kiss from an adult that was way too wet.'


Slut is a powerful indictment of misogyny from one of Australia’s most celebrated playwrights. It follows the rise and fall of Melbourne schoolgirl Lolita, chronicling her fraught journey from girlhood to womanhood.


Inspired by true events and interviews with young women about their sexuality and the ‘slut’ label, Slut is a searing exploration of the female experience that is horribly, undeniably Australian.



Jessica Tanner - Performer

THE SHOW


To kick-off, what show are you currently working on and what is your role in the production?


I'm currently co-producing and performing in Slut by Patricia Cornelius at the Burrow in Fitzroy.


What drew you to this show and why do you think now is the right time to be bringing this story to the stage?


I saw Slut performed at the Dog Theatre in Footscray many years ago when I was in my mid-twenties, and it really shook my world view. I remember the show being an amazing ensemble piece that required incredibly skilful listening and teamwork. But most importantly, it made me aware of the simplistic narratives and unhelpful media rhetoric surrounding violence towards women. Sadly, this is still so very present in 2020.


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 really unique experience as I have never been so closely involved with producing before, so I've had to learn to wear multiple hats and keep these roles separate from each other. It's helped to have such a positive team involved, especially my co-producer and performer Michaela Bedel, who has been there at every step of the way. I have also worked with Rachel Baring previously and love her process, it's extremely specific and perfect for this script.


What can audiences look forward to in this show or why do you feel it is a story that they need to hear?


I think the questions raised in Slut need to be asked again and again until our culture drastically changes. I think if the story can reach one person and awaken questions within them about the way things are, we can feel proud of what we've made.


What has been the most rewarding part of this show to create for you?


It can be really tough slog working as an actor in Australia, but I feel really empowered that instead of waiting for a project to come along, we have created something ourselves that we really believe in.


Why is this a production that a 2020 audience cannot miss?


Patricia Cornelius is a true genius and her writing needs to be heard and celebrated on our stages for years to come. We hope this production does justice to her words and is a powerful wake-up call that addresses some really toxic realities in Australia today.





THE PROCESS


When first beginning a new project, what is the first part of your process in approaching a new role?


This really varies from project to project, and Slut is a unique example is it is ensemble-driven and, as such, most characters aren't immediately distinguishable on the page. Usually, I like to just sit with the text and absorb and awaken the parts that I relate to, after which I can start to bridge that with the parts that are less familiar to my own experience.


What is a common misconception that people have about your role in the production?


I think most people aren't aware of the huge amount of work that goes into producing a show. I definitely didn't, and will again never take for granted anyone who takes on this role.


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?


Our director, Rachel Baring, has a very specific dramaturgical process for breaking down the script, from which the actors then explore various subtextual layers using a specific step-by-step process. Throughout this explorative process, we note down any images, gestures, shapes, dynamics or emotions that were found, which will eventually be drawn upon to form the final product.


Do you have any opening night rituals? If so, what are they?


I like walking to the theatre with headphones in and a power-anthem playlist running. And having one too many Beroccas.


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?


I always like to feel like I learn something new or stretch my skills in every show I do. I try to avoid shows that don't make me feel curious and joyous - if it isn't fun, there's no point in doing it.



YOU


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 anyone show that you can attribute this to?


There are a couple of working actors in my family, and I remember being around that scene when I was growing up and am sure that really influenced me. I actually really loved musical theatre as a child and thought this was what I wanted to pursue, but my interests changed as I got a bit older. I went to the National Theatre Drama School and studied postgrad Voice at VCA, which gave me the networks and confidence to start working in independent theatre in Melbourne.


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 really love new writing, and try to choose stories that speak to the times we're living in (or at least my specific experience of them). I try to only choose things that really excite me or make my heart beat faster when I read the script.


What has been the highlight of your career so far and what is still on your performance bucket list?


I performed in a show called the City They Burned by an amazing writer called Fleur Kilpatrick and directed by Danny Delahunty in 2013, which was selected to tour to the Brisbane Festival in 2014. That was a really special show, and I was so proud of it. I don't really have a bucket list role, I try to be open-minded about what comes my way. Sometimes I find myself falling in love with something that realistically I would never be cast in.


What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given that you would like to pass on to aspiring theatre-makers?


Every single person in this industry has moments of major insecurity: even people you admire and think are working constantly. So take everything you see on social media with a huge pinch of salt, remember it really is a marathon and not a sprint, and don't be afraid to say no to a project if you don't think it will make you happy. Your time is important and if it doesn't bring you joy, you're better off waiting for something that does or creating something yourself.





RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS


What is your favourite production you have ever seen?


Such a tricky question! My partner was in Warhorse in 2013 and I was a bit obsessed with it.


You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world - where do you go?


Somewhere with a beach, a hammock and no WiFi.


What is your dream show to work on?


I love working on new writing so I have an open mind about what might come along: maybe my dream show is still being written.


What is a hobby you have beyond the theatre?


I’m an obsessive true-crime podcast listener.


What’s next for you after this show?


A trip to Europe for work, which will be fun, but I'm looking forward to collapsing for at least a week when I get back.


Slut opens on March 6, 2020 at The Burrow. You can get your tickets here.

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