The fourth installment of this year’s Poppy Seed Festival’s impressive line up of independent works is F. by Riot Stage which investigates the modern way that teenagers learn about sex in a post-internet world. So, today, when a 16 year old wants to know something about sex – they just Google it. It’s open slather for information as they Google things like: average dick size, clopping, scissoring, what’s squirt and does sex hurt?
Co- founder of Riot Stage and Writer of F., Morgan Rose explains how the concept evolved: “We started this project thinking we were going to adapt Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening–a play that has interested me for years. However, we had a 1-month development with a group of young people in 2015 and when we read the play the feedback we got from the young people in the group was that, not only was the play ethically problematic (which is very true,) but it is no longer relevant. This was a play about young people having no information about sex due to the hesitancy of the adults in their life to have open conversations about the topic. Today, while that hesitancy still exists in many places, information about any topic in the world is easily accessible to any young person with a smartphone. The way young people are learning about sex and sexuality today is unfathomable to anyone who grew up without the internet. We simply cannot relate. So we decided to throw out our adaptation idea and instead focus on the way kids are learning about sex and sexuality in 2016. Teenagers are going through something completely new–something no one has been through before and they have a lot to say about it.”
Rose states that the work is a panorama of what young people have to deal with today. “Rather than zooming in on any one character or issue, we stuffed as much into 80 minutes as we could. We look at everything from consent to suicide to sexting to porn to school pressure to body image to teen romance to kinks and plenty I’m forgetting too. The play, much like my Facebook feed, is an information overload. It’s quick, it’s layered, it’s too much to take in. The internet is an amazing resource. I love the internet. But it makes everything messier. There is a proliferation of voices on every issue. Small moments suddenly have permanence, and everyone in the world can weigh in. Any issue in the light of the internet becomes complicated. I tend to think, when I post a stupid photo of my dinner on Facebook, that it’s similar to a conversation between friends. But when you put something online you are making it public. You are your own paparazzi. You are saying “This is what I’m doing right now. Have a look, world.” and then the world gets to weigh in. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but it means that something simple, like telling a group of friends about the pizza you had last night, is suddenly a bigger decision. This is just the way the world is now. We can’t change it. But I don’t know if we, as a society, have fully realized exactly what’s happened yet. It’s changing everything. Do you think Trump would have been elected without Facebook? I doubt it. The internet has got us by the balls at the moment, and I don’t know that we are in control of it just yet, because it’s new–we are still figuring it out. How amazing that I can read a million opinions from all over the world. And how terrifying that I can read a million opinions from all over the world. You know?”
Theatre makers Rose and Kat Cornwell began Riot Stage in 2010. “For years it was just me and Kat doing everything because we had no money, ” explains Rose. “We would produce, write, direct, design, and stage manage with the help of the young people involved and their communities. We only make devised work. We have never staged a script. Together, we all work our asses off to turn an idea into a full production. Because of this the young people we work with get an insight into making independent theatre in Australia today. Our work is made in the room, with the cast. The script is directly influenced by the performers–if any cast member were different, the play would change entirely. The productions I have done with Riot Stage are actually the most joyous, exhausting, fulfilling theatre experiences I’ve ever had. Young people aren’t concerned with theatrical traditions or rules and therefore we are able to take giant stylistic risks. Teenagers make for good theatre. I mean 50% of television is about teenagers right? The only difference with Riot Stage is that we cast actual teenagers instead of 30 year olds in those roles.”
Being involved with the Poppy Seed Festival is an amazing experience for both Rose and the company. “I think it’s amazing, brave and progressive that Poppy Seed programmed us alongside work made for and with adult performers. I think independent theatre audiences often believe that work made with teenage performers is only for teenage audiences, but for us this is not the case. Our work is aimed at an adult indie theatre crowd (that’s the background Kat and I both have, and where we work when we aren’t making shows with Riot Stage.). Poppy Seed is a chance to change that perception. It’s a chance for adults to come and listen to what these kids have to say, and to see it performed in a really wild, post-dramatic way. I can guarantee you won’t be bored.”
With F. the creatives are attempting to make a show that speaks about issues that adults can’t really understand because they haven’t been through them. “You couldn’t possibly have been through them unless you are a teenager in 2016 (although there are also plenty of issues in the play that you WILL relate to as an adult),” opines Rose. “We hope it starts some conversations about the themes of the work. We hope it’s entertaining. We hope it makes you feel some things. We hope it stays with you long after you leave the theatre. Come to the show and support the future of Melbourne theatre. Come to the show and hear it from the horses’ mouths. Come to the show and find out why this guy is in it:
30 November – 11 December