What is it when four unemployed scribes named Matthew, Luke, John and Mark walk into a bar? Well, it's the bible, right?…Ah, right…but not as we know it…

Don't Take it as Gospel is a cheeky and irreverent celebration of how the greatest book ever written came to be. Exploring the role that publishing, editing and Dan Brown all had on the final edition of the Bible that we know today. Penned by Matt Caton, it is Dandenong Theatre Company's entry into the 2011 Melbourne Fringe festival.

You are, of course, a theatre 'all-rounder'  – director, actor, producer, lighting and sound designer and writer for both stage and screen. Do you feel that your other theatrical pursuits inform your writing. How and why?

Yes, Jack of all trades, master of none. Which I guess makes me a Producer… There is no doubt that having some knowledge of all aspects of theatre makes you, well, better at all aspects of theatre. This is why I always encourage actors to do production roles. The more thorough understanding you have for the whole theatre process, the better you become at your chosen field. I also encourage Lighting designers to get on stage, but they seem less receptive. From a writing perspective, being able to visualise what a director may do with a script, and knowing what may cause issues with set / staging, lighting and sound effects, gives you a good head start. 

Writing plays for performance could, I imagine, cause some form anxiety and self doubt. Do you undergo these feelings and how do you manage these?

It's terrifying. Like, all the blood drains from your body and you go faint type of terrifying. It's scary enough when you email a draft to a close friend who is going to be kind to you no matter what, but the first time at a read through, or worse, opening night, you don't breath at all for about the first 3 minutes. I don't know if it's any more or less than the anxiety you get as a Director or Actor, but it's certainly a very different feeling. The last show I had performed, I also acted in it and was in the first scene. From memory, I had a monologue on page 2. Bad idea that one.  

Your newest venture is Don't Take it as Gospel for the Melbourne Fringe. Can you tell as a little about the story as well as identify the major influences that prompted you to pen it?

It's the tale of four unemployed writers… who happened to be disciples…. who walked into a bar. It's actually a difficult one to explain. It's a satire on the process of how the Bible went from a bunch of stories, to a finished publication. It's taken from the perspective of four unemployed writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. While some of the themes and jokes could seem a bit, um, blasphemous, it's more silly than it is provocative.

I got the idea from some experiences in my day job dealing with editors and publishers. It was interesting to see how different a story could be after the editor had a bit of a tweak, and the publisher changed some things to suit the agenda of the advertisers. I started thinking about how this process would have effected the writing of the bible, and it sort of went from there.

How was the decision made to enter this play into the Melbourne Fringe?

I just happened to email a copy to Colin Morley (DTC President) to see if: a) he liked it and b) if they would be interested in doing it as a play reading or something. An opportunity came up for DTC to be involved with a couple of other companies at the Fringe Festival, and Colin asked if I wanted to submit this script. It was just good timing really.  

Generally speaking, where do your writing prompts come from? For instance would you consider yourself to be a watcher of people or something else?

A watcher of people sounds seedy 🙂 Probably more of a story teller than a people watcher. Most of the things I've written have come from a little idea, a silly premise or a story from real life. They are more like 'yarns' than they are character studies.

As a writer, do you find yourself exploring similar themes in your work, and if so, can you identify why that  may be?

Not really, although I seem to use very similar archetypes in all my work, and it's not really intentional. Most of my female characters seem to be strong women in positions of power. I shudder to think of what a psychologist would say about that… Also, my protagonist always seem to be a male character, roughly my age.  Funny that.

What is your involvement with your piece now that it is in the hands of the actors?

Stupidly, I offered to Produce it 🙂 

What sort of role do you believe a playwright should take once their work is in the hands of the artists that will give it life?

I think for a first production it's silly for a writer to just hand over their script and then wipe their hands of it. I think they should have something to do with the production. Directing your own script can be tough as you lose a bit of objectiveness, but at the very least, a writer should be on hand occasionally to give and take feedback, answer questions and modify where required. 

As an actor and director you seem to favour neither drama or comedy as your preferred choice of story telling. In recent times, you have directed Get Smart, Noises Off and, in a complete shift, King Oedipus. Your most recent stage performance at DTC was Speaking in Tongues. How do the demands, satisfactions or challenges differ for each genre and, at the end of the day, do you have a preference for ether genre?

I wish I could do comedies all the time. I'm certainly far more comfortable with them and I enjoy them more. The last thing I had done before Speaking in Tongues was being Assistant Director for the Laramie Project, so I reckon I'm done with drama for quite a while. But all that being said, I do find Drama much more challenging and you have to challenge yourself every so often. Speaking In Tongues was a show where I felt very out of my depth, which I guess is why I chose to audition for it. Life can't be all dick and fart jokes, no matter how much I want it to be.

What is next for Matt Caton?

A break. I love theatre, but I also love being able to pay the rent, so I need to focus on the paid stuff for a while.

Dandenong Theatre Company Inc (DTC), by arrangement with jacksontrainfence, are proud to present Don’t Take it as Gospel as their entry in the 2011 Melbourne Fringe Festival. September 22 – October 8 at Old Council Chambers, Trade Hall Carlton. Bookings 9660 9666 www.melbournefringe.com.au