SAMO IS DEAD at the Seymour Centre

Arts student Luke’s excessive idolatry of the late Basquiat bars him from creating his own original works; yet he maintains that he himself is on the verge of greatness – something that he keeps trying to convince local waitress, Beth. Beth, a university dropout, swears she’s fine waiting tables, but her coworker Holly isn’t so sure. Holly is desperate to get out of the cafe, out of her small-town life, and she’ll do anything to make it happen. And all along, SAMO IS DEAD.

Rosie spoke with actor Sophie Peppernell about the widespread fame of the artist who inspired this work, and the excitement of fresh new work coming onto the scene. Read the full interview below:

Sophie Peppernell

SAMO IS DEAD is inspired by the work of American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who developed the tag SAMO in his graffiti art in the 1970s. Why has this work become such an integral part of this new play? Without giving away too much, why is it that the character Luke is so obsessed with Basquiat’s work?

I think what is really special about Basquiat is that he was a self-taught, rebellious artist who tested the stereotypes of what contemporary art is. Basquiat was bold and unapologetic, and it makes sense why so many people gravitated to his work. It’s also why Luke, a self-professed outcast and aspiring artist, feels such a connection to him. Luke is rebellious in his own sense, he’s against the world, he likes to think he’s anti-establishment and smarter than everyone else in Bathurst and through this he has built up a wall of protection through Basquiat’s art. Luke has this underlying comfort in Basquiats work. He doesn’t need friends because he has Basquiat, and he doesn’t need a relationship because he has Basquiat. Through the play we see how the intoxicating nature of obsession with icons can become very damaging when pushed too far. You’ll see that all the characters are using something to run away from their reality, and in Luke’s case, that is Basquiat.

 

What made SAMO IS DEAD a story that you wanted to be involved in telling? What do you hope to achieve with this production?

I knew I wanted to be part of SAMO IS DEAD the minute I read the audition material. It came across as very clever, quirky and funny. I instantly wanted to read more and was very intrigued by the characters, especially Beth. The big pull for me was that I could instantly see it. I could instantly see Beth right in front of me. I could just imagine what she would be like in real life as a character and as a woman. Honestly, I just felt an instant connection with her and for me that is very important, to feel connected to the characters I’m playing. What I love about this production is that it is authentic and what Jodi is doing is very bold. She’s exploring the mundanity of life; the plays structure follows day after day of life in Bathurst for these characters. I’m aware that it’s harder to pull off than, say, an action-packed play where you immediately have a lot more of the audience’s attention - but this is a lot more sensitive and raw, and I love theatre like that. It’s capturing the real essence of life and that’s what I want to achieve with this production. I want the audience to be able to relate, to be able to sink into it and feel like they are there. To look at the nuances of the characters, to think “oh yeah, I know that feeling,” and just enjoy the naturalistic nature of it.
 

SAMO IS DEAD is a new work by local writer Jodi Rabinowitz. How do you think this new work will resonate with audiences, and what can we expect from Jodi’s fresh voice on the scene?

I think this work will resonate with audiences because I think Jodi has this amazing ability to create characters that are very real and authentic. She does this by creating depth - her writing gives you little clues along the way of what the characters have been through, whether that be family history, personal history, past relationships, etc. She gives little indicators of what the characters has experienced before the play and what they may experience after. Because of this, it opens up so much space and exploration in the rehearsal room, which makes for a very rich and experimental rehearsal experience. Jodi dares to question the traditional and the art world, taking a modernist, almost surreal approach. I think she delivers a genuine voice to the millennial experience and the anxiety of our everyday selves to “be” something or someone.

This production was made possible with the help of a University of Sydney Bright Ideas grant. Can you explain a bit about that grant, and the importance of grants such as this in getting new works onto the stage?

 

Bright Ideas is the USU’s annual grants program for emerging creative talent at USYD. Bright Ideas provide recipients with financial assistance, marketing support, mentoring and access to industry contacts. The climate of the theatre scene in Sydney alone shows a lot more creatives than there are creative opportunities. If there’s no work then you need to create your own work and opportunities. If grants are available it’s just going to make it a lot more accessible and possible to put your work on. Grants are so important, and I feel so grateful that Sydney University acknowledges the importance of the arts and especially fresh theatre. There have been a few other plays and performances that have been able to be staged because of the Bright Ideas grant this year so I feel really proud to be at a University that supports and nourishes the next generation of creatives, performers and storytellers.
 

Lastly, why should people come and see this show?

Jodi’s work is weird, wonderful, truthful and thought-provoking. I guarantee you’ll be able to relate in some way or another. Without this play we remain comfortable with ourselves, complacent to the ordinary. Jodi delivers an experience that is uncanny through her words in alienating our unique experience. Also, come and support independent theatre!

 

RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:

 

Favourite production you have ever seen?

1984 at the Playhouse Theatre London back in 2016.

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

Iceland

Dream role in any show to perform?

Right now, it’s Helena in All’s Well That Ends Well

Plays or musicals?

Plays!

What’s next for you after this show?

A little rest ha! I jumped into SAMO straight after doing Duncan Grahams one woman show, CUT as part of SUDS Summer Season so I’m looking forward to a little recharge and then hopefully just onwards and upwards!

SAMO IS DEAD opens at the Seymour Centre on April 23, 2019. You can get your tickets here.

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