Gruesome Playground Injuries at the Actor's Pulse
Gruesome Playground Injuries is a hilariously horrifying dark comedy by Rajiv Joseph (Broadway’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo) that follows the lives of two anti-romantic women over the course of thirty years. After meeting in the school nurses office at the age of eight, their damage immediately forms a spell-binding bond that keep them magnetised together for the rest of their destructive lives - no matter how far they try and run.
Emerging fresh faced into the Sydney theatre scene, Queerspace’s primary mission is the inclusion and representation of LGBTIA+ lives in the Sydney theatre scape. And what better way to do that than by confidently reimagining a queer perspective onto an originally heteronormative script.
Carly spoke to Director Mackinnley Bowden about this new queer take on the popular work, and what we can expect from Queerspace. Read the full interview below:
Gruesome Playground Injuries is a show that has been widely produced around the world. When were you first introduced to this piece and what attracted you to the show initially? Why do you think it is a story relevant to 2019 audiences?
I was first introduced to this show in college, where I read it for class. I was deeply affected by Rajiv Joseph's writing and the story really stuck with me. I think what attracted me originally and attracts me still are these characters and their love for each other. Although I'd always wanted to see this production live- it was definitely an advantage for me going into this with no prior judgement of how this text would be performed or interpreted. Its really allowed my perspective and world experience to inform decisions in a way that's felt very organic. Which I also think is part of what makes this story relevant in 2019 for Queerspace audiences. This story really desensitizes intimacy and leaves you with the raw humanity what it means to be in love.
A modern tale of star-crossed lovers, the two initially meet in the school yard and the play tracks their developing feelings are they are brought together sporadically over the next 30 years. How has this production tackled the challenge of passing time and how as a director do you approach an important aspect like this?
We're incredibly blessed with a mastered script that does so much of the work for us. The actors, Rizcel Gagawanan and Laura Morris, have also taken a lot of the burden off me with their nuincanced performances. We've definitely given the audience visual cues to follow the non-chronological 30 year relationship- not that they'll be needing it.
This production is brought to the stage by Queerspace and will be performed with an all female cast. Why did you feel this was the story that you wanted to tackle with an all female cast and what unique perspective can this bring to the story? Perhaps even more importantly, can you speak about the importance of this particular casting in the greater discussion of LGBTQI+ representation in the theatre.
Well I have such a personal relationship to this show my world experience played a huge role in my interpretation of the text. Being a non-binary gay person, I spent a huge part of my life running from feelings I didn't know how to deal with. For the 30 minutes I sat and read this play my pain was alleviated by these characters, I was able to share my fear with them. I wanted to pass that sense of relatability to my LQBTQIA+ family without them having to do the work. Taking a story written for a hetero-normative couple and playing it with two women exposes the futility of gender assignation and includes the sexually and gender non-conforming communities in a story they may have never realised could be so personally relatable to them- and in turn moving.
In saying this, maintaining the integrity of the script and the heart of the show was always my priority. We've taken good care of this show to ensure casting two women has in know way confused this story- in fact it's added layers of deeper meaning, and made these two characters and their relationship so purely individual the energy has become electric.
Playwright Rajiv Joseph (Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo) has written a story that exposes human flaws and in many ways celebrates those little moments of fate that often occur around times of trouble. In beginning the rehearsal process, did you discuss this aspect at all? What has been your process in working with this cast and bringing this much loved story to the stage?
At the beginning of the process we discussed the show and these characters in great detail. The fact that the only time they’re able to connect is at moments of tragedy or injury we definitely talked about. What we found more telling about these characters though, was they would spend such long periods of time without seeing each other. What we've been learning is that though these characters are deeply afraid of losing each other, they are more afraid of being together.
Our process has been a lot of exploration of these characters at their different ages, getting to the bottom of where these characters mounds of damage come from, and building a framework (or playground) of the production so by opening they can smoothly travel the 30 years of these characters complex lives.
Why do you believe this story is important for 2019 audiences and what do you hope audiences of this production will walk away with?
This story is important for audiences because it forces you to look at your own self-destruction and how much its been keeping you from. Myself and too many queer friends have spent too long justifying the unhealthy way we express our sexuality. We're entitled to feel love and to be loved, we deserve to know what it's like to love outside the shadows. Directing this show has helped me take ownership of how I treat my sexual partners and how I allow them to treat me. To be okay with expecting more than secrecy and emotional detachment. So I hope the audience leaves with same thing I have been- the power to admit what I really want and take responsibility for the things that keep me from getting it.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
Favourite production you have ever seen?
Musical: The Colour Purple
Play: The Other Mozart
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
Dream show to direct?
Musical: Fun Home
Play: Dog Sees God
Plays or musicals?
A hobby you have beyond the theatre?
What’s next for you after this show?
Queerspace's next show will be Spring this year, so I'll be jumping straight into production!
Gruesome Playground Injuries opens at the Actor's Pulse in Redfern on April 12. You can get your tickets here.