Canberra based writer/performer, Raoul Craemer has just returned from Adelaide, where he and Adelaide-based director, Paulo Castro (of Stone/Castro Theatre Company) have been undergoing an intensive creative development on Raoul’s upcoming work, Pigman’s Lament.
Scheduled for production in June/July 2016, Pigman’s Lament is a white-knuckle ride through the psyche of a man tormented by a fascist past…or is it the present? Forced to re-live extreme moments from his own life, and with his family threatened, this psychological thriller spirals into a hair raising reckoning between the generations.
Raoul talks to The Street about writing auto-biographical theatre, developing work as a performer/writer, and hours spent perfecting ways to speak to imaginary people.
PIGMAN’S LAMENT HAS BEEN IN THE MAKING SINCE 2012 WHEN YOU ENTERED THE HIVE WRITING PROGRAM TO CREATE A SOLO WORK FOR YOURSELF TO PERFORM. TALK US THROUGH THE GENESIS OF THE CONCEPT.
In late 2011 I was cast as the performer of a solo show (“Kabir”) which went well and I think fundamentally gave me the confidence that I could pull off a one man show. Then, after the show, Caroline Stacey sort of mentioned in passing that I could “of course” write a solo show for myself to perform in future – and thus set a little idea in my head.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR JOURNEY WITH THE WORK UP TO THIS DEVELOPMENT?
My initial interest was to do a piece that explores massacres through history. I started with at least 6 or 7 characters including voices from ancient Mesopotamia, the British Raj and from Hitler’s Germany. One by one, voices fell away as my investigation became more personal, in the end leaving only one voice from history – my German grandfather – and myself, and the piece moved away from the general topic of massacres to become a specific personal struggle between these two characters. What I didn’t know was how my piece could actually be brought alive in a performative context.
HOW DO YOU AND YOUR DIRECTOR, PAULO CASTRO WORK TOGETHER? AND WHAT DOES HE BRING TO YOUR WORK?
I saw Paulo Castro’s work at The Street Theatre (funnily enough entitled “Massacre”) and I just had a very strong feeling that whatever he did to create that piece would work for mine. I attended one of his workshops and liked how he spoke about marrying movement with text. He uses sound, lighting, symbolism and choreography to create very multi-layered pieces. I sent Paulo my script and asked him if he would be interested in working on it with me and he said yes – so I went to Adelaide to spend a week looking at the text first. We just sat in his studio and read the piece over and over, resolving questions as we went along.
WHY A DEVELOPMENT NOW SIX MONTHS PRIOR TO PRODUCTION?
As Paulo is based in Adelaide, we didn’t want to leave things to the last minute when he visits Canberra for rehearsals just before the show. We wanted to have a better idea how the piece would actually be performed and presented, to give us confidence going into the actual rehearsal period. A really key part of this development was to come up with performative solutions to some of the challenges that the text presents, and I am very happy with the amount we discovered that could pretty much be locked in for the production.
DESCRIBE DAY ONE OF YOUR DEVELOPMENT.
We spent this day doing improvisational exercises at a beautiful small church in Adelaide. I think Paulo might have consciously chosen this space for the first day’s rehearsals as he wanted to explore the notion that ‘someone is watching you’ and because in the play I speak to what might appear to be an imaginary character in space. We spent about five hours exploring how I would talk to different imaginary characters, and how I would swap between the characters.
DESCRIBE DAY THREE OF YOUR DEVELOPMENT.
Days 2 and 3 were spent in a light-flooded, open rehearsal space in a semi-industrial suburb of Adelaide. Paulo brought his daughter’s CD player which we were able to attach two microphones to – one for each character. This allowed us to explore the text using an ‘amplified’ mode and also to experiment with different types of ambient music. We continued to improvise the play scene by scene, and by the end of Day 3 we ran the whole play from start to finish including quite a bit of blocking that we will likely use in the final production.
WHAT DID YOU DISCOVER?
We discovered the way or mechanism by which the two characters interact even though there is only one actor on stage. We worked out how sound and lighting will work for the piece. We found solutions for transitions between the scenes. Paulo is very good at accepting and working with any ideas that pop up – he’s quick at putting together choreography. Also, a couple of points in the play had been earmarked for choreographed performance pieces and we discovered the essence of those.
WHAT DID YOU DISCARD?
We discarded some text, including a long poem which was unnecessary for the purposes of the play. Also, I realised that in one of the scenes I had effectively created the presence of a third character, which complicated the story and would be quite unsatisfying for the audience I think. So I re-wrote that scene in a way that removed the third character.
WHAT CAME OUT OF THE CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT? WHAT DID YOU ENTER WITH VS WHERE ARE YOU AT NOW?
Going into this development, I had little idea about how the play could be staged, in particular how such long, sustained duologue could be performed by one actor. I now have a clear idea how we will achieve this, and perhaps more importantly both Paulo and I now have a good idea of what the final piece will look like – the shape of the piece overall. I have felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders as we have resolved so many issues that I would otherwise have continued to worry about until the first week of rehearsal.
THIS SHOW IS INFORMED BY REAL EVENTS IN YOUR OWN LIFE, WHAT SORT OF CHALLENGES IS THAT PRESENTING?
It presents a whole raft of challenges. Dramaturgically, for example, if you work from anecdotes in your own life, how do you weave those into a story when the anecdotes themselves are not actually thematically linked? That’s a question which applies only if you do want to have a story of course, and as I did indeed want to have a story running through the piece, I had to cut anything that did not help the story along. The problem was that I did not know what the story was! Over the last three years, I must have cut and rewritten over 150 pages of material in a process that was almost painfully slow, circuitous and maddening. The challenge really was to find a story that I could “hang” some of those anecdotes on, or inject aspects of my life into. Doing this type of work can also be challenging to friends and family, especially if you talk about things that might be considered taboo in your family. My family will have to suffer a little bit from that, and I will have to wear the fallout.