GETTING TO KNOW: GEORDIE CRAWLEY

Geordie Crawley is an award-winning writer, director, performer and theatre maker. He is the co-founder and co-artistic director of the independent theatre company Rorschach Beast. He is at his happiest when he’s in the rehearsal room creating new and exciting theatre with the people he loves.

As a performer, Geordie has performed in a number of different forms and styles of theatre. In 2016 he performed in Girl in the Wood, and TANK both at The Blue Room Theatre. He also performs in The Last Great Hunt’s Monroe and Associates, a theatrical role-playing game for one. He regularly improvises with both The Big HOO-HAA! and Pirate Church. 

His directorial debut Bus Boy (Rorschach Beast) won both the 2017 Theatre Award, and Martin Sims Best New WA Work at Perth’s Fringe World Festival. 

As a writer, Geordie’s work includes Girl in the Wood (Rorschach Beast), Fire and Servant of Mercy (The WA Youth Theatre Company), and a number of solo works for The Cutting Room Floor’s Home Open series. Girl in the Wood went on to win both the Emerging Artist Award and the Melbourne Fringe Ready to Tour Award at the Fringe World Awards in 2016.

The Street talked to Geordie Crawley before his Canberra performance in Roald Dahl’s The Twits adapted by Spare Parts Puppet Theatre.

PUPPETRY IS A UNIQUE ARTFORM WITH INTRINSIC DISCIPLINES AND TECHNIQUES. WHAT IS THE PUPPETRY LANGUAGE USED IN THE TWITS?

In our production of Roald Dahl’s The Twits we are lucky enough to have some amazing puppets designed and built by Leon Hendroff. They riff off of cubism and post-structuralism to create this weird and fractured world that reflects The Twit’s own view of the world.

Something we discovered during rehearsal is that the puppets in the space feel really cinematic. The Roly Poly Bird, who I operate, is only made up of a wing and a head. Because his body isn’t seen we’re able to build a variety of shapes and forms that the audience fills out with their own subconscious imagination. There are times when he’s looping through the sky when we understand the image without it being made concrete.

But that’s the magic of puppetry though, right? The true image is that of static objects being manipulated by humans, but the theatrical, magical, and sublime image is that which the audience gets to build around us in their own head.

THE SPARE PARTS PUPPET THEATRE’S ADAPTATION OF THE TWITS IS TAKEN STRAIGHT FROM ROALD DAHL’S CLASSIC STORY TO CREATE A ROBUST PIECE OF THEATRE. PLEASE TELL US MORE ABOUT THE WORLD CREATIED ON STAGE.

The world created on stage is one of pure and utter Twittishness. A world in which you can convince someone that a bowl of worms are actually Squirmy Spaghetti™, that they’ll die of The Shrinks in a matter of minutes, or that keeping a monkey in a cage is in any way a good idea.

But I also think this is a world of justice, where being Twittish in no way pays off. If you are as cruel, and as ignorant, and outright ridiculous as The Twits are, then I wouldn’t be surprised if your story ends in a truly ridiculous way.

WHAT IS YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS IN BRINGING ROALD DAHL’S CHARACTERS TO LIFE?

In a word: Play.

We get into the room with the puppets and we play. Through that play we discover new things.

I would argue that this is the third (AND BEST!!!) version of the show that audiences have seen. And part of that is because with each new iteration of the show Michael Barlow (our amazing director) gives us the opportunity to start from scratch and find new things.

Even in this latest version that we’re touring around we found new and exciting images that can tell the story. New ways for the audiences to see The Twits.

In the rehearsal room there’s nothing quite like the exhilaration that comes from finding something brand new. And the only way that we can get there is to play!

HOW DO YOU FEEL AS A PERFORMER BEING BEHIND DESIGNER LEON HENDROFF’S GROTESQUE PUPPETS INSPIRED BY ART MOVEMENTS SUCH AS CUBISM AND BY BAUHAUS ARTISTS INCLUDING PICASSO?

Leon’s Puppets really do reflect that whole post-structuralist vibe in a big way, and it really influences everything we do in the show. A lot of puppet shows are about quiet moments of slow moving beauty and grace.

But this is The Twits we’re talking about.

And so because of Leon’s beautiful and bold design choices we are given permission, and indeed willed by the very nature of the puppets, to go big or go home! Our body shapes are extended and crazy, our voices are pushed to new ranges, and our characters feel as big as the world that surrounds them.

It’s a lot of work, and can take a lot of meet the standard of play that the puppets demand, but I’m not complaining. I love it!

WHAT MOVEMENTS AND SOUND EFFECTS CAN AUDIENCES EXPECT FROM THE SHOW?

This show is a visual symphony of silly walks, worm eating and suspect shrinking. Just when I think I’ve out-stupid’d myself with how silly my silly walks can get, I find some new way to make it even sillier! I get paid for this!

And what sounds would you expect from The Twits? Toots, Hoots, Boots, and Scoots. Farts, chirps, burps, and slurps!

WHAT HAVE YOU AND OTHER PERFORMERS DISCOVERED IN PLAYING THE ROLES OF THE MOST AWFUL PEOPLE WHO EVER LIVED?

I think the thing I’ve discovered playing those most foul and terrible Twits is that we’re all a bit Twittish. I have a bit of facial hair, and I would be lying if I didn’t say I had from time-to-time discovered a piece of biscuit that had been sitting, nestled within mine own beard, that has been there for a few minutes.

Similarly, like Mr Twit, I make up silly little songs that I sing to myself. Just the other day I was doing some Impro Comedy onstage and I went to go mime spitting on someone’s feet, and I accidentally saw a little bit of phlegm come out of my mouth that I managed to suck back in before I went onto their shoes. Now of course, the entire audience saw this. But that’s improv!

I think what I’m trying to convey is that we all have Twittish tendencies. But we need to recognise them and make sure they never take over and become our defining feature. We loathe The Twits because in some way we see ourselves in them. Or if not in ourselves then in the world around us.

Similarly, I think we see ourselves in Muggle-Wump because we feel trapped by the ignorant Twits that surround us. But I think, like our hero Monkey, we can learn to stand up for what’s good in the world, and grow to become less Twittish.

WHY DO YOU THINK PUPPETS CAN CREATE MEANINGFUL EXPERIENCES AND PLAY AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN TRANSFORMING OUR VIEW OF THE WORLD AND EACH OTHER?

Puppets are literally magic. They are these objects that we, the performers, pick up and suddenly we breathe life into them. How can that not change your world?

Part of the reason animations like WALL•E and Toy Story affect us so emotionally is because they’re not people we allow ourselves to become invested in them. We let our guard down for a second, get lulled into a false sense of security, and suddenly we’re sobbing on the floor.

Puppets do a similar thing. We are fooled into thinking that they are just this silly little toy that theatre people like, and we are fooled into investing in them. We can’t help but anthropomorphize them, and so suddenly we’re cheering for Muggle Wump’s revenge.

I wonder if the opposite is true for The Twits themselves. We de-anthropomorphise them and turn them into these hulking, awful beasts of pure disgustingness. Meanwhile, we give hearts and souls to trapped little Muggle Wump and the kooky Roly-Poly Bird and thus root for their success.

WHAT ARE YOUR GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR WRITING A NEW WORK FOR THEATRE?

This is a question where the answer will change depending on the month, the day, the minute, the second you ask me.

I think my subconscious plays a bigger part in all of this than I would care to realise. Often I’ll write about a given topic just because I think it’s cool or interesting. But only later once I’ve been through this process do I realise that I’m using my writing as a way to better understand the things that have been dwelling in my subconscious.

But I think at the core of it is just writing stuff that I care about, and writing shows that reflect who I am in an authentic way. My anxieties, my ethical dilemmas, my hopes, the things I romanticise. I want the audience to be able to feel things the way I do. Make something that you wish was on stage.

WHAT KIND OF THEATRE DO YOU WANT TO MAKE?

In the words of Cesar A. Cruz, I want my theatre “To Comfort The Disturbed, and to Disturb the Comfortable.”

WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY IN LIVE PERFORMANCE AND CONTEMPORARY THEATRE CURRENTLY?

The Last Great Hunt in Perth are always making amazing work, and I was lucky enough to help out on their most recent production Lé Nør [The Rain]. This was a foreign film made live on stage, in a constructed (aka: fake) language. The level of craft, hard work, and talent that went into that production from every team member was a mind-boggling experience.

The work at The Blue Room Theatre in Perth is always pushing my boundaries and my buttons. I saw Heisenberg and Solaris while I was in Melbourne recently. I can’t help but feel like both of those have inspired me, despite being really different plays in terms of content and structure.

WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?

I’m doing a lot of crosswords at the moment. I love them. I’m a New York Times Crossword boy myself. They keep me occupied. Can I be honest? I spilled a cup of tea on my crossword book and now I need a new one and I’m really annoyed about it! I’m trying not to look at my phone as much at the moment. I feel like I’m addicted and I’m worried by that. So now I have to get a new crossword book.

I think Fleabag is just one of the best written, most emotionally honest shows I’ve seen. I saw the live stage version when it came to Perth, and its interesting to see what made it onto the TV version. The hamster wasn’t so lucky when I saw it on stage.

I think The Leftovers is required viewing. That show really is as close to perfect as a TV show can get. It gets weirder and weirder, and yet as it does so it grows more and more emotionally honest. Please, if you’re only going to follow one thread from this interview, watch The Leftovers.

I’ve actually been really getting into Horror over the past few months. I have this theory that it might be the ultimate cinematic genre. I’m interested in writing a horror for the stage, but it’s difficult cause it’s all about perspective. I just saw Under The Silver Lake which is the newest movie from the guy who write and directed It Follows. It’s a stoner-conspiracy-thriller like The Big Lebowski except instead leaning towards comedy it leans towards horror. I don’t smoke weed, but that idea of being drawn into a web of conspiracy, and the world is against you, and everything is connected… It’s addicting. I loved it.

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