Described as a bracingly clever, bleakly funny and deeply angry new theatre work, Exit Strategies , makes its highly anticipated debut at Arts House next month. A collaboration between indie theatre maker Mish Grigor and APHIDS co-directors Lara Thoms and Eugenia Lim, Exit Strategies, offers an ingenious and thought provoking night at the theatre.
Read on as Mish Grigor discusses her work, her voice, her passion and more.
What was the genesis of this work for you – its inspiration
I started writing the work whilst in residency in the UK. I was deep in the daily onslaught of the Brexit news saturation – suddenly all anyone was talking about was Brexit, every news channel focused on it, every cafe had a ‘BREXIT’ croissant special – ‘Get ‘em while we’re can still boat them over the Channel!’. Working out what it actually meant was a shitfight, and it is still a total mess. It got me thinking about how nations create change, and what a nation really is, or what unions like the European one (made in the wake of the horrors of war, with allegiances sworn in order to keep peace and prosper) mean in this globalised era. How can someone just leave an arrangement like that, I wondered.
At the same time, I wasn’t long out of a break up, and I’m sure we’ve all experienced the deluge in diarising that occurs when someone is healing broken heart – suddenly I had page after page about farewells, with different sub sections for endings, completions, conclusions and resolutions.
What personal significance does the work have for you and why – why was it something you felt compelled to create
Around the time that I turned thirty, my elders in the arts starting telling me it was ‘my time to leave’. I heard, again and again, that if I wanted to succeed in the arts, and to reach my full potential, I should go and live elsewhere. That I had ‘done all I could’ in Australia, and if I wasn’t careful I’d end up with an office job, at best. I found this deeply unsettling. As an experimental artist, I have always wanted to tour internationally, but I find myself constantly challenged, perplexed and enriched by my Australian peers and mentors. I think that the work we make is reflective of our multi faceted sphere of influences, that there is much work to do in unsticking ourselves from the colonising impulses but that there is so much exciting political thinking and cultural change happening… so I why would I leave? I think it taps into the cultural cringe that still dominates the cultural industries – the notion that things are more meaningful elsewhere, that the art is better in Europe, and that we have not proved our worthiness until we have undertaken apprenticeship in the mother country. I was furious, even more so because I really thought about it – where would I go? Where could I actually go without a VISA or Irish grandparents or anything interesting besides six generations of British-descendant Australian behind me? Which got me thinking about movement in general: about who can move, and in what circumstances, and where they might choose to go. About my relative privilege. At the time when the planet is in unfurling ongoing crisis of movement through displaced peoples, oceans rising, borders shifting. And yet, as an artist, you are in crisis if you are not moving on to the next city, the next venue, the next festival/residency/study tour. These ideas and questions kept swirling through my head, and that is where the work comes from.
What are some of the themes explored and why do you believe them to be significant to an audience
I think we’ve all had that feeling of being stuck, of wanting to know if we should stay or go. Its the feeling you get when you’ve just ordered at a restaurant and then a rodent catches your eye as it dashes from one side of the kitchen to another. Or when you consider breaking up with someone but stay, even though you know its the wrong thing; because there is something unknown and unspeakable holding you in that room: habit or fear or comfort or whatever. It is also the feeling that dredges through you when you think about the country you live in, and wonder if you belong there – perhaps because you’ve been displaced, or moved around from where you want to be, or if the people in charge of that place just don’t represent you, or maybe because you want to escape and start fresh. These thoughts of leaving form a scale in this work – from big exits to small ones, from meaningful endings to cheap avoidances.
What sort of themes/ styles of work/ characters and their voices et al are you personally interested in creating and why do you feel this is and has this changed over time at all
The voice that I make work with, or through, has been maturing at roughly the same speed that I have – because it’s me, speaking to the world. I made my first show when I was about 19, and since then I’ve become a fully fledged adult with a (small) super account who pays bills on time (mostly). My artistic concerns have been cultivated with age and experience, and I’ve become more competent at expressing them (I hope), but still and always its an investigation into how we live together; how we make a society, what we spend our time on, and how power is distributed. These are big questions, long debates, with any luck it’ll be my life’s work.
I’ve always been interested in the moments that art and entertainment intersect. Put simply, I want something that makes me think through urgent, momentous ideas; but which can also be experienced on a level of pure entertainment or aesthetic delight. It means that you can meet the work wherever you happen to be that day, and that my mum and her nursing friends from Nepean Hospital can come along to contemporary art venues without feeling alienated or excluded.
Who would you credit as being your initial personal inspiration or greatest influence toward your career as a creative and why do you say this
Probably the Bette Midler character in ‘Beaches’. She was a triple threat (dance! sing! act!). She made a great anti-capitalism musical (Oh, industry!), and she cut her teeth singing telegrams in full costume (every eight year old’s dream job). She also has lifetime friendships for laughs and bad singalongs, learns that having pals around that challenge you will make you a more tenacious artist and a better person, and she dresses in costume to match people she is dating. She’s smart and funny and weird and everyone wants to have her as the ideal ‘distraction/compassion aunt’ when trauma strikes. When CC Bloom showed me what a career looks like in the arts, it was an instant YES.
When did you know that performance was your passion and what did you consequently do to follow that dream
When I was about fifteen I went to my first piece of contemporary performance in Sydney. After many years as an artist I can look back and see that it was a bunch of people in matching Bonds underwear, rolling on the ground around the audience in body bags and talking about their feelings. But to my star-filled sixteen year old eyes, it was like nothing I’ve ever seen before – it wasn’t ‘theatre’ and it wasn’t quite ‘gallery art’ either – it was people sharing stories and ideas and making images and it was weird and funny… I was hooked.
I wasn’t far off university study so I researched until I found a course that taught experimental theatre. The (now defunct) course I undertook produced generations of theatre makers still working in and around the institutions of Sydney. I then hung out at theatres like PACT and Urban Theatre Projects, volunteering on shows and probably annoying the staff with thousands of questions about art, life, and how to survive. Eventually I got a couple of paid gigs, I think mostly because people were embarrassed by how many hours I’d clocked in their rehearsal rooms and studios and storage facilities.
I made my first show before I had any idea of what to do in the studio, how to start, or how to put anything on in a professional way. It was a baptism of fire, but it meant that from the beginning I was in charge of where and how I was working – I wasn’t waiting for the right context or for a programmer to believe in my ideas, I was just doing it, doing something. It gave me an autonomy that I cling to still, the notion of a ‘self’ separate to the arts ‘industry’. That initial urge to make and to find my place through doing was mixed with a certain degree of arrogance and just the right amount of optimistic naivety, this recipe was what got my through my first years of practice. I’m still never sure what I’m doing or if its the most logical pathway – I prefer to follow my instinct, to challenge myself and try and do things that I have no competence in. I suppose I get a lot of satisfaction from various states of unknowing, followed by short periods of smug achievement.
Tell me a little about your involvement with performance group POST – why was it created and mission statement
The POST company – led by myself, Zoe Coombs Marr and Natalie Rose, met about fifteen years ago in Sydney. On our first day in a youth theatre making course we decided to see if we could make a scene where I burst out of a dishwasher. It made us all laugh, and we have basically spent the last decade-and-a-half getting together every year and making a show that keeps us laughing. We also use making theatre together as a chance to think through whatever is making us furious or confused, to try and speak back to power while touring the world. It’s pretty good.
Finally, what would you say to encourage an audience to attend Exit Strategies
I’d simply say – Please come! It will be so awkward if no-one does!
A Melbourne-based performing arts maker, Grigor creates work between popular entertainment and experimental art. Her recent works with co-collaborators Zoë Coombs Marr and Natalie Rose (who form POST) include Ich Nibber Dibber (2018) and Oedipus Schmoedipus (2014 – 2015).
Grigor has performed across Australia at Sydney Theatre Company, Malthouse Theatre, Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney Festival and Darwin Festival; internationally in Hong Kong, Netherlands and the United Kingdom; and in 2017-2018 received an Australia Council for the Arts residency to travel to the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Centre in New York.
November 13 – 17
artshouse.com.au or (03) 9322 3720
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