Brand new Australian theatre is sprouting this Spring, with Monash Centre for Theatre and Performance and the Malthouse Theatre presenting Death Match, an explosive new piece of physical theatre that examines life, death and ambition against the backdrop of a sporting arena. I had a chat to playwright Morgan Rose, and director Katrina Cornwell who have teamed up with Monash third year performing arts students to create this fast-paced new show.

For Rose, creating a new piece of Australian theatre is her favourite thing to do.

Transforming something that is just an idea, just thoughts, into a giant complicated show that physically exists is the most thrilling thing in the world. More adrenaline terror and joy than the high dive” she said.

“It’s incredible that these students get to be involved in the process of creating a new Australian theatre piece. It’s so important that our Australian stages reflect our own stories and experiences of contemporary life. It’s easy to point to the past or to other countries (like America) and judge their actions and choices, it’s a far greater challenge to question life at home. In ‘Death Match’ we are examining our contemporary, Australian ideals of success and failure” said Cornwell.

Rose can clearly name her influences and pieces of theatre that have inspired her in the creation of the show.

“We blatantly stole all our favorite moments from all our favorite work. The following artists were robbed so that we could make our show:  Natalie Abbot, The Danger Ensemble, The Rabble, Hofesh Shechtor, Zoey Dawson, post, and probably some others I’m forgetting or not even aware of. We also stole from ourselves and re-used all our old tricks (along with a bunch of new ones)” said Rose.

Committed to supporting the current generation of performance makers, the Monash Academy of Performing Arts (MAPA), in conjunction with the Monash University Centre for Theatre and Performance and the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music, has commissioned two new Australian works (the other is Jack of Two Trades, a new musical).

The concept for the show came from brainstorming with Fleur Kilpatrick, Artistic Director of MAPA.

“She suggested having something to do with sport, which is something we probably would have never made a show about in a million years if left to our own devices. So we came up with two ideas: a show about grandmothers and a show that looked at life and death through the lens of sport and competition. Fleur chose the sport one. Neither of us are particularly sporty, so we got down and dirty with the sports research. It’s been truly fascinating and I’m so glad we were nudged into it” said Rose.

For the record, I would really like to see this show about grandmothers. Everyone loves grandmothers.

Since 2015, Monash University has partnered with The Coopers Malthouse to allow performing arts students to apply their academic learning through collaboration with professional artists who have included Daniel Keene, Angus Cerini, Patricia Cornelius, Susie Dee and Emma Valente.

“It’s a dream to be commissioned by Monash. As independent artists being paid a living wage and encouraged to make work the way you want to make it is actually really rare. MAPA is incredibly supportive of our process and our way of working which is perhaps not the norm for theatre. There is a giant team of people putting effort into making this show happen, ensuring it’s the best it can be. To have that support and artistic freedom is a treat and Kat and I both aware of that and living it up while it lasts” said Rose.

They’ve been so impressed with the talent, commitment and passion of the young cast and creatives.

“The process of devising asks actors to be open to experimentation, play and the embarrassment of trying something untested. Early on in the process we spent a lot of time reflecting on personal experiences of success and failure, which was hilarious and heartwarming. We’ve also sweated together – a lot. Death Match is a challenging show that asks actors to push themselves to their physical limits—so there has been a lot of sweat” said Cornwell.

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“The process has been truly joyful for me, and truly exhausting and sweaty for the actors. Our show is basically an hour of exercise, which means our rehearsals are basically 8 hours of exercise. Working with Monash students has been fantastic. They are incredibly talented, creative, and hard working individuals. We couldn’t ask for a better team. It’s a devised work so the entire team is contributing to the creation of the work. If any member of the team weren’t there, the show would be entirely different” said Rose.

The cast had to tell stories, improvise and also exercise in their auditions, having them do squat jumps and plank holds in preparation for the physicality of the show.

“I would say that ‘Death Match’ is part physical theatre and part contemporary performance. In ‘Death Match’ we have created a live physical game that the actors are attempting to ‘win’ at every night—so there are sections of the performance where the actors are really pushing themselves to their physical limits. The actors’ physical efforts are both a metaphor and a real game—as in people get eliminated when they tire or fuck up or give up. These physical scenes are both expressive, visceral experiences for the audience and they are part of the plot” said Cornwell.

To me, the show sounded a little bit like The Hunger Games, with the concepts of games and violence and entertainment mingling.

“That’s hilarious, I loved the Hunger Games series! Violence is deeply embedded in the themes of the piece – which investigates our competitive nature and draws parallels between winning at sports and winning at life. Sports has a bloody and violent history that we still struggle to civilize. To win at sports you have to be bigger, stronger, faster and smarter than your opponent. In rehearsals, we have spoken about privilege as violence and whether one person’s success is only possible through someone else’s suffering. In our lives, a lot of this violence is hidden. So too is it obscured in the performance”, said Cornwell.

For Rose, she has her personal theory about how the competitive instinct has come about in life.

I think competition is an ancient animal survival instinct that we as humans have civilized and turned into tennis or Scrabble or whatever. Our desire to win is the same feeling two dogs have when they race each other to the food bowl. It’s violent and dark and a life and death matter. If you get the food, you stay alive. If you win the Scrabble game, you stay alive” said Rose.

Death Match plays from 28 September until 7 October at The Coopers Malthouse.  Bookings 03 9685 5111 or malthousetheatre.com.au

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