After a successful run at the 2010 Melbourne Fringe Festival with the original piece A + B=? , collaborators Adam Direen and Jorge Tsipos are back with another exciting, two man show.  Strengths & Weaknesses tells the story between two candidates waiting for an interview for a mysterious job opportunity.   Who are these men?  Why do they so desperately want the position?  And what will they do to get it? 

Devised by Adam and Jorge who are both in their final year at Monash University, the initial starting point for the project spurred from the ever approaching reality of graduating and facing the difficulties of making a living outside the safety net of tertiary education.  The production is being developed over a period of eleven weeks and forms part of a “performance as research” project for their third year Independent Theatre Practice unit.

Come with Adam and Jorge as they discuss collaboration, their project, their future and all things in between:

What are some of the pitfalls that you may  encounter as joint creators of a work and how are these managed?

Adam: There are a number of problems which possibly could have happened, but the thing is with Jorge and I, we just work well together.  The whole process has been very smooth and enjoyable.  We get each other’s sense of humour and when one of us makes an offer, the other is able to pick up the ball and run with it.  Being mates outside the show makes a big difference as well.  The creative process just doesn’t work when you are working with someone you don’t trust, understand, or get along with. 

Jorge: It's entirely possible that we would disagree on some things – but I'm surprised at how often it works out. We're not aiming for a coherent narrative for the most part, there are no beats that we really need to hit – so for the most part we just write down what we think is funny or interesting. If we do disagree on something we usually go with the person who has a stronger opinion on the subject. We haven't torn out each other's throats yet.  It's actually a really fun process.

Do you have particular processes you follow re. your working schedule or is it more chaotic than organized?

Adam: It’s really important to write up a production schedule and stick to it.  That said, the whole thing has been surprisingly relaxing.  Rehearsals are pretty laid back; we meet for around seven hours a week.  Rehearsals are usually at uni in studio’s we’ve booked or at my house (however when they are at my house an inevitable play station session or nerf gun battle ensues).   I suppose there are two periods for this kind of work, the first being the devising/writing phase and the second being the rehearsing phase.  The important thing is in both instances that we set a goal for what we want to achieve by the end of the session.  There is no real set structure to the way things work, but when devising we would look at some source material, do an improv, record it, then play it back and write down what we liked.  Now that we’ve finished the script, we’re both learning and blocking the material, while running what we have completed the week before to cement it in.  After you do the above a number of times, you develop a working pattern that pays off and you can get stuff done quickly.

Jorge: We meet for a few hours two times a week to work on the show. Whether that's discussion about the producing side of it, improvising text or rehearsing is up to us. I think the most important decision we made is making a schedule for the completion of the work and working towards a deadline. You just have to make the decision that on this time on this day I'm going to walk into a room and be creative.

Your current piece sounds fascinating. Can you discuss where the inspiration to write this came from?

Adam: From a number of areas.  But chiefly the main thrust of the idea sprung from the fact that we are both meant to finishing our undergrad degree shortly.  It’s pretty bloody scary.  Especially when you consider that we have spent the last three years studying a field that does not guarantee any great success or financial security.  I also have a lot of friends that are studying other areas and facing the same uncertainty.  Secondly, after doing A + B=? Last year, and because of the nature of the concept, we realised that Strengths & Weaknesses would be in a similar style.

Jorge: I think the main motivator was us coming to the end of our performing arts degree together. We're meant to be going out into the world and making theatre, but we still have so many questions: How do I do this? Can I do this? Why do I want to do this? This piece is a response to those questions – and to the 'business' of art

What are some of the themes you are exploring in writing this piece and how do you hope these are digested by the viewing public?

Adam: The piece is very self reflexive, but in a way that relates not just to us, but “to anyone that has applied for a job.”  We cover a lot of subject matter but perhaps of chief concern is the nature of getting work, carrying out that work, and how these concepts are interdisciplinary.  Strengths & Weaknesses is also very concerned with the concept of success, how one might quantify that and thus what does it mean to have it in today’s society?  It’s a piece that asks “what is the point?” and should hopefully get the audience to have a think as well as a laugh.  A lot of the time when we were devising it, we would simply ask “what happens when you have a job interview?” or “what regular or ridiculous shit has happened at my work?”  We take these points from their source and make them absurd or maybe just verbatim because they are absurd enough on their own.  It is our hope that the audience will recognise these common threads, become engaged, and enjoy themselves.  It would be great if an audience member can say “oh that reminds me of that time…”

Jorge: Some of the themes we hope to explore are the difficultly of producing work in the current climate, getting consistent work, the nature of acting in general and dicks. There are quite a few dick jokes.
I'm honestly not sure how I want the public to respond. I want them to like it. I want them to relate to the difficulties we're discussing and I imagine they will because most Melbourne audiences are highly literate in theatre matters. More than anything I want them to laugh, you can't be important without being entertaining.

You have a reference by Donald Trump in your publicity. Do you feel his philosophies about business have influenced this piece at all and, if so, in what specific way?

Adam: Not directly.  We have been using the British version of the apprentice as a stimulus material; obviously the American one is similar.  The quote itself relates nicely to our piece.

Jorge: I don't think the philosophies of Donald Trump specifically have made it into the piece. Rather, we wanted to capture something about big business that was contemporary and recognisable – I think that's the very definition of Donald Trump.

When did the desire to write plays come to you and what are some of the other works you have collaborated on?

Adam: We’ve been at uni together now for three years.  Specifically this is our fifth production together.  We are frequently reminded that our performing arts course is a “theatre makers” degree, so we are encouraged to be creative and responsible for our own work.  Being in this environment, it’s kind of assumed that we would start creating stuff at some point.  Part of the reason for the projects inception is because we simply needed a piece for our third year Independent Theatre Practice unit.  We’re relatively new at the game of play writing.  In fact when I mean relatively new, I mean fresh out of the oven.  I’ve never written my own full production before, by myself or otherwise so it’s great working with Jorge as a partner.  He’s really got a knack for this genre and has written stuff before. 

Jorge: Well, I personally started writing plays last year for the Melbourne Fringe. It was my first independently produced work and I wanted it so say something about me. It's much easier to do that when you write the piece yourself. Adam and I both worked on this play together (A+B = ?) and I thought it was such a positive experience that we should co-write the next one together. And here we are now.

You are not only the creators of their particular work but also the performers. In what way is this an advantage for you?

Adam: We don’t have to pay for the rights.  Soooo much cheaper.  For some reason, it also feels more “artistic.”  We have the control; we can add or change anything if we wish.  It also proves easier to remember!  There is much that can be said to creating something completely new.  It gives one a sense of accomplishment.  Or maybe despair if we don’t sell enough tickets.  Fingers crossed!

Jorge: For a start, you don't have to memorise somebody else's script, it's all in your head already.
You can change or scrap something if it doesn't work.
You don't have to pay for it.

What are some of your long term goals re. your writing?

Adam: I’m not sure how I’d cope by myself, but I’m definitely going to give it crack soon.  Could end up horribly but you never know?  I really enjoy political theatre, work that has something to say.  I when I do, I’ll be writing in that vein.

Jorge: I actually have no plans for my writing beyond my own use of the work in performance. It occurred to me recently that I actually have so much material now that It's possible to get it bound together and published. Perhaps that's something I'll pursue in the future, but for the meantime I'll just be writing material that I intend to work on myself.

What is some advise you can offer anyone else wishing to participate in the Melbourne Fringe?

Adam: Not a part of Fringe this year.  We were last year, but it seemed not important to do so for this project.  Fringe is massive.  It can be easy to get lost in the program.  By all means though, give it a crack.  It does have its benefits if you can pull it off.  I’d advise people not to be over ambitious, develop a realistic business plan.  Also, think about what will make you stand out from the competition?  With several events on at any given time in Fringe, it’s important you are doing something to draw a decent audience share to you.

Jorge: Well, as this show isn't part of the Fringe Festival, I can't. Separately,  as an artist that has participated in two Fringe Festivals though, I would say your biggest issue usually isn't making the work – it's getting people to come and see it. Most shows make a significant loss at the Fringe. Don't just bury your head in the sand and then emerge two days before the performance with a finished work – you need to be working on promotions for weeks (even months) before the performance. The art, in this case, is actually the easy part.

And finally, what is next for you?

Adam: I’m probably going to take an honours year, as this will give me a chance to put on another bigger project, with the support of the university.  I also want to get some more acting gigs.  I’ve applied for some part time technique workshops next year, so we’ll see how that goes.  After that, who knows?   Despite the odds I’m optimistic about a career in the industry.  I’ll keep creating, auditioning, training and plugging away.   When I’m not doing that you’ll probably find me at the local pub…

Jorge: I suppose I'll continue creating independent work and see where that takes me. I also do a weekly podcast with Adam called Unnatural Selection which is doing really well. I look forward to see how these things are going to develop and I suppose I'll leave myself open. You never know when opportunity comes knocking.

Strengths & Weaknesses Created by Adam Direen & Jorge Tsipos at The Space Dance & Arts Centre (The Red Room) 318 Chapel Street Prahran, Victoria 3181 Thursday 20th October, Friday 21st October, Saturday 22nd October at 8:00pm General Admission:  $17.00 Tickets: