Inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 historical novel The Scarlet Letter, The Danger Ensemble and Theatre Works present the premiere season of Let Men Tremble. Opening later this month, Let Men Tremble is described as a rebellion; a revolt; a clarion call and a battle cry against the patriarchy, the church, and theatre itself. Directed and designed by the Artistic Director of The Danger Ensemble, Steven Mitchell Wright, Let Men Tremble promises to polarise and challenge.
Wright explains that the genesis of the project for him happened around the time that the #metoo movement broke and there was a lot of conversation in his social media circles about how it was the perfect time to be doing Arthur Miller’s The Crucible – an idea which didn’t sit well with Wright because, as he says, in The Crucible the women turn on each other and he didn’t find that super interesting. It did get him thinking about Puritan New England, though, and jamming on stories set there.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s iconic tale about a 17th century puritan romance, is on the surface, says Wright, the story of a strong woman who stays silent, is ostracised and shamed all for a stoic man of the cloth. To protect him from judgment and consequence. For Wright, this seemed strikingly relevant in our current climate. “I wanted to start here and see where we went. Those ideas are still in the work but also much more,” he says.
Let Men Tremble is in no way a telling of Hawthorne’s novel though. Let Men Tremble is a different beast entirely. “I’m not even sure how to describe the work really – it’s hard to articulate that when you are still in rehearsals for a new work,” says Wright
Wright explains that the company isn’t really developing a classical text and they aren’t making a modern version of The Scarlet Letter. “It would be fairer to say that we are responding to it, having a theatrical conversation or argument with The Scarlet Letter and the ideas in it,” he says. Wright goes on to explain that the creatives are interested in making work for the misfits, for those who hate theatre, for those who don’t see themselves in mainstream work, those who are bored by tradition for its own sake – the language, imagery and forms in the work are eclectic and constantly changing.
“I think contemporary audiences are
extremely visually literate multi-taskers that process stories and experiences
in ways that no generations before them have, ” says Wright. “We want
to make theatre for those people. We don’t believe in our works having a
singular message. We believe in creating work that allows for plurality of
meaning and experience.”
Conversation about the work began in 2017, with research beginning last year and casting and work with actors happening early this year. Wright believes the most discussion worthy challenge is wanting to create a work that critiques and throws down at the patriarchy while being a part of it… and benefiting from it.
“I am a cis-gendered man, albeit a
queer man, I am still a man and I am a part of the problem,” says Wright.
“I have unquestionable privilege, power and agency not just in my life but
within the industry, and my company and the rehearsal room as well. So,
actively trying to find ways to not deny that but to minimise that or shift it
and allow it to be called out has been a difficult priority. I can’t say that
I’ve been 100% successful but I think it’s going to take a bit time to
dismantle a millennia of systemic patriarchy.”
As a creative, Wright acknowledges drawing inspiration from so many places. “If I were to articulate one inspiration or motivation that stands out above the others. I would say it’s the pursuit of great theatre itself,” he says. “I know it might sound like a bit of a wank but it’s true.”
“I think theatre – the theatre I love at least can move people to surprising places in unexpected ways. It’s visceral, it bypasses the cerebral and changes you in sometimes overt and sometimes subtle ways. As a company we are chasing that. That pursuit is simultaneously our greatest motivation, the most exciting and challenging part of what we do.”
Award-winning experimental theatre company, The Danger Ensemble was founded to afford space to strive for that – which, posits Mitchell, requires the room to fail. “We must be in danger of failing. That’s the nature of experimentation.”
Wright is thus not attracted to projects which he feels compelled to do, rather, when he is looking for new projects, he’s looking for something that intrigues him – or creates questions for him – something that he doesn’t understand from the outset or at least, he doesn’t understand why he is attracted to it. To Wright, that is the juiciest territory.
Let Men Tremble hurls colonial concepts of sin, sex, and the role of women in society into a modern day crucible and is created by and for those who stand at odds with patriarchal power structures and institutions, including the theatre itself. It is made for the misfits, those traditionally disaffected and disowned by church and state. It is for those who yearn for a theatre bigger than their mobile phone screens.
Wright invites anyone who relates to come along and cry, rage and dance!
August 14 – 25
Info: www.dangerensemble.com and www.theatreworks.org.au