Prompter is a hybrid piece intriguingly described as a work of magic-political-(quasi-science-fiction)-realism. It is said that something is broken in the world of Prompter – to find out what that something is…well, you will need to visit Arts House later this month.
Prompter is the brain child of Patrick Pittman and Sam Fox. Pittman was approached by Fox about four years ago to collaborate on Prompter. "He had a wild, ambitious idea to create a hybrid theatre piece about conflict, mediation and modern communication, but he didn't yet know what the shape of that would be," explains Pittman. "This dovetailed with a lot of what I'd been thinking, writing and broadcasting about at the time, and the opportunity to jump into theatre was irresistible. We wanted to tell a story that was political and performative, and that managed to combine rigorous, careful storytelling with elements of dance and performance art. I was also pretty excited about the mad tech challenges that the work promised – learning how to write for theatre wouldn't have been so much fun if I was jumping in at the shallow end."?
Pittman admits that the work ended up being about many longstanding obsessions he shard with Fox – the hidden costs of conflict and colonialism, how we understand disaster from distance, and what happens to ideas of truth in the whirlwind of the modern news cycle. "It's not a nostalgia piece for a lamented, lost kind of journalism, although we do play on the romantic idea of a foreign correspondent just a little – it's an exploration of the process of watching, and the complicit relationship between viewer and viewed," says Pittman. "Initially, I'd modelled our island setting on Haiti, and its long and problematic history with aid and not-quite-benign international influences. But then the earthquake happened there and I felt the need to abstract things a little more – we were certainly informed by the fallout of that disaster, but our location moved a little closer to home, to the South Pacific islands where I've recently found myself reporting, and a colonial legacy that we perhaps, as Australians, find a little easy to overlook."
Pittman and Fox were eager for Prompter to be a challenging work, but one with a strong, rigorous narrative at its core. He describes the world as one being built on his life's obsessions with the costs of reporting, of countless diaries of war correspondents (the type, he says, he will never be), of discussions and interviews with people who have been out there. "So I hope that the larger community will find a lot to chew on. We didn't write for an audience, we wrote for a theatre experience that was true to the story we were trying to tell – everything is part of a coherent whole, even the wilder bits," states Pittman.
Pittman has had loads of experience as a writer and broadcaster and is the Melbourne correspondent for Monocle, covering affairs, business and culture in Australia and the South Pacific region both for the magazine and Monocle 24 radio. Unbelievably prompter is his theatre debut. "My experience in theatre before this work, outside of occasionally being a critic, was nil. But over the years, working with Sam, and then our actors, and then the people who came in to work with us, like Stephen Sewell, was the greatest theatre education a boy could hope for," he says. "Watching words jump from the page to the prompter to the mouths of actors, I found, is kind of the best thing ever, particularly when you actually figure out how to write properly for those mouths of actors. Prompter is an epic production, with creative input from a team based all around the world, and bringing all of those voices together into a single, coherent piece has been a wild ride. Mostly for Sam, though – I just get to write the stuff and then make him figure out how to make it work. Although I did write out his tank."
Prompter is a brave and innovative piece that Pittman and Fox and all the creatives believe in one hundred percent. I asked Pittman for his best sales pitch: "I don't really know how to entice people, other than with bagels and maybe some whisky. Would you like some whisky, audience? I probably can't afford to give out too much, but I think I'll be hiding at the back with a comfort hipflask, so come find me. Otherwise, there will be this theatre piece on that's mad and ambitious and rigorous, and is the fulfilment of four years of hard work, and we'd love to inflict it on you."
Prompter Arts House Meat Market
Fri 9 – Sun 18 August