MOTIVE at HWY Festival

La Boite’s 2019 Artists in Residence, Emily Burton and Steve Pirie are joining forces for the first time to create a Very True Crime story for the stage. Tackling the ever-popular true crime genre, MOTIVE investigates notions of truth, ethics, and consumerism, bringing together two of Brisbane’s most exciting theatre-makers as co-writers on this new Australian work.

In its early stages of development, MOTIVE will probe a morally and ethically ambiguous genre to posit some necessary questions around true crime stories and the fine line that podcasts like Serial and This American Life walk in the name of entertainment. Rosie spoke with artist Emily Burton about this exciting new work that blurs the lines of theatre, and what we can expect from HWY Festival 2019.

Emily Burton

You’re an actress, theatre-maker and teaching artist that has worked on exciting works across Brisbane, including La Boite’s Single Asian Female. What brought you to HWY Festival and how has La Boite’s Artist in Residence Program allowed you to develop MOTIVE?

It’s incredibly exciting to be included as an Artist in Residence this year at La Boite. The AiR program is particularly wonderful in that it adapts and evolves to fit the needs of the artists involved and the specific work they are creating. So in mine and Steve’s case, we’ve completed two weeks of development so far. Our second week included having an actor in the room, Ngoc Phan, as well as Composer and Sound Designer, Wil Hughes. To have other artists a part of the development this early in the process is a massive benefit and something we’re immensley grateful for. It’s something that doesn’t happen unless you’re in a program such as this.


What is the inspiration behind MOTIVE? Can you give us an idea of what an audience can expect from this creative new work?

The original pitch idea for ‘Motive’ was presented by Steve to La Boite and looked very different to how it looks now! The common thread is the True Crime theme. It really came about because it feels like True Crime is everywhere. It’s had a massive explosion after the arrival of Netflix and the streaming culture that now exists for entertainment. Originally, I was pitched as a collaborating partner and through multiple discussions and evolutions of the project it evolved into a 12month development for Steve and I to co-write the show as part of the AiR program.


You’ve joined forces with writer, theatre-maker and youth arts worker Steve Pirie, another La Boite Artist in Residence for the 2019 season. What’s your dynamic like? Can you take us through your joint process of devising this new work?

 We’ve discovered that we compliment each other and balance each other incredibly well. Thank god! Otherwise this could have been a long and tricky process! I tend to approach through character very early on (given my predominantly acting background) and Steve tends to look at the overall picture early on (given his predominantly writing background). By approaching the story from different angles we cover a lot of ground very quickly. We both like to move fast and make decisions without too much fuss, following our instinct. So we move at a similar, snappy pace, which is really important in a creative partnership.


This show is turning into a piece that people wouldn’t naturally expect from either Steve or myself so it feels super exciting because we’re working in territory and styles that we both wouldn’t have ventured in by ourselves.


MOTIVE is in its early stages of development. How do you hope to further develop this work, and will its reception at HWY alter future development? Is there anywhere in particular you want to take this work next?

We have another two weeks spread throughout the year set aside for development. They will most likely involve writing days and problem-solving days. Hopefully, there’ll be a table read at some stage. With any project you expect to adapt to whatever the project needs. The wonderful thing about presenting at HWY is that it gives the opportunity to test out the overall “voice” of the work. How it feels, how it sounds and gauge the audiences’ response to those elements.


After the positive reception of podcasts like Serial, My Favourite Murder and Teacher’s Pet, it is clear that a fascination with true crime is taking the world by storm. Why do you think true crime is something that so many people across the world can’t get enough of? Are we commodifying horrific situations for the sake of entertainment?

That’s essentially the question we’re asking in this work. We’re interested in investigating why we love to consume these stories. Do we just love a good plot twist, or is there something more sinister in our desire to watch crimes unfold in, often, explicit ways. Hopefully, the audience leaves this show questioning their own relationship with true crime, and in an even broader sense, their consumption of entertainment overall. Who benefits and suffers from telling certain stories?




Favourite production you’ve ever seen?

Ah! So many different shows for different reasons. I loved 'The Secret River’ by STC, ‘Boy, Girl, Wall’ by the Escapists, ‘Orphans’ at QTC and so many more.


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

Rome, Italy.


Dream show/role to perform in?

I actually never know how to answer this question! I don’t have any that jump out. Mostly I’m just bloody grateful to be involved in any project. I suppose, anything powerful, or funny, or theatrical… that really narrows it down, right?

Plays or musicals?

Nothing against musicals, but plays all the way.

A hobby you have beyond the theatre?

I like to make things and learn new skills - I made our coffee table at home, I also taught myself to crochet and sew. I sew clothes for myself and my daughter. I’ve been known to alter and make my own costumes on occasion!

What’s next for you after this show?

First, I head down to Melbourne Comedy Fest for a fourth season of Single Asian Female. Then, I’m very excited to be performing in Storm Boy at Queensland Theatre and Melbourne Theatre Company later this year. 

MOTIVE opens at HWY Festival on March 29 2019. You can get your tickets here.

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