For decades, audiences have been fascinated by the concept of Dystopia. From The Handmaid’s Tale to 1984, Brave New World to Farenheit 451, the themes of these fictional and faultful societies has permeated literature and cinema. Most of these texts hit a little close to home – and Mara KORPER is no exception.
Citizen Theatre are known for presenting their bold and innovative productions in Melbourne, with their previous show When The Light Leaves being nominated for a Green Room Award. Written and directed by Jayde Kirchert, their new show Mara KORPER questions and challenges the zeitgeist with a feminist lens. In a world where gender is obsolete and bodies are owned by the government, the show challenges ideas of corruption, gender, body image, and extremism. Fusing absurdist expressionism with music theatre, coupled with Theatre Works’ perspex seating boxes, Mara KORPER is set to be a theatrical experience like no other.
Jayde has over 10 years’ experience in the performing arts, having completed a Bachelor of Music Theatre at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) and working in professional music theatre before pursuing directing and writing. In 2014 she completed a Post Graduate Diploma of Arts majoring in Anthropology (University of Melbourne) and is currently undertaking a Master of Fine Arts (Music Theatre) at VCA (University of Melbourne). She has directed and written multiple critically acclaimed productions through her company Citizen Theatre, of which she is Artistic Director. Most recent Citizen Theatre works she has directed include Forgotten Places – an immersive experience at Chapel Off Chapel and Kingston Arts Centre (supported by City of Stonnington and City of Kingston), When The Light Leaves at La Mama Theatre (supported by the City of Melbourne) and Gasworks Arts Park and Ascent for Theatre Works’ 2018 Melbourne Fringe Festival program, which she also wrote (supported by ShowSupport). In addition to being a teaching artist at VCA, she has also been a director and dramaturge for many new Australian works for the Melbourne Cabaret Festival, Poppy Seed Festival, Melbourne Comedy Festival and at VCA, as well directing VCA Music Theatre’s Morning Melodies concert at Hamer Hall 2019 & 2021. Jayde’s extensive background in dance and physical theatre converges with her training and research in music theatre and feminist dramaturgies, giving her work a distinctly elegant, yet playful and at times subversive aesthetic, and a consciousness that allows her to work to speak to pertinent social issues of our time.
Can you tell me a bit about your process of writing Mara KORPER?
Jayde: The piece has taken really quite a long time to to write, about ten years or so. And part of that was because I didn’t know how to write it. And when I when I started writing it, the early versions are so wildly different to what it became because when I started writing, I knew I wanted to say something but I hadn’t quite figured out what it was. So I ended up just replicating all the tropes that I thought I was fighting against. When I looked at it years later it was like, what was I thinking? And most of the people I work with are women or non binary folks, so why would I be creating these shows where I have to try and find all these these male performers when I’ve got this beautiful company of a female and non binary performers. In music theatre, there are certain tropes and certain types of characters, certain archetypes, certain roles, that women are expected to play. I was just always really dissatisfied with that when I was a performer. So when I went into writing, I was trying to kind of create stuff that I would have wanted to have performed. And then, of course, it grew from there. It’s really about trying to challenge the tropes, challenge the stereotypes that are out there, and to really redefine what kinds of roles women and non binary folks can play. The taboos are everywhere, but we’re smashing them, we’re grabbing them. We’re really grappling with them because we’re a bit bored of the stuff that’s out there, you know?
Theatre Works changed their performance space in response to COVID-19 restrictions – how has this new ‘glasshouse’ style space affected the show?
Jayde: One of the really fortuitous things that occurred was that when TheatreWorks proposed this glass thing, at first it was like “Wow, okay, that’s going to be a completely different show.” But actually, once we started to think about it, it’s really worked out so nicely to be doing a Sci-Fi show with the audience in little Perspex boxes – it’s actually the best thing that could have happened to the show. I ended up kind of rewriting bits of the show to really lean into that and to really embrace being in the round. Having a Sci-Fi show with these scenes of surveillance and control and bodily autonomy, and then having people in these clear boxes just adds a whole new beautiful layer for us. We’re really excited about it, actually.
How have you interwoven feminist themes through the dystopian narrative?
Jayde: You know, you can definitely go into this play and see the really clear feminist landscape. And it’s very feminist. It’s got all these different comments that it’s making. You could also go into it and just go, “Wow, this is a really funny, weird sci-fi world.” There’s so many different points of entry for people. And to me, that’s really important that whilst we are clear as a company on what we’re putting out there into the world, that we’re not kind of sledge hammering people with that, and that there’s always space for people to make up their own minds. I think that’s where it differs from more commercial music theatre, where you really get told what the message is and it’s reinforced through spectacle, through song and dance. Whereas for me, a feminist type of music theatre is really more about using moments of spectacle to open up questions and to complicate stuff, for everyone to have a different experience, and to make it wherever they are at so that you it can move you. Whatever politics or knowledge level you come with, you will be moved in some way, and you’ll laugh and have a good time.
2020 forced a lot of the theatre industry to be a bit more introspective about inclusion and representation on the stage – we don’t see a lot of productions that give a space for gender non-conforming or non binary actors, so it’s really great to see that you have made allowances with the text to really keep the casting process open to any gender identity.
Jayde: When you’re writing in most music theatre type forms, your writing has to be economized. This sort of writing therefore necessarily relies on stereotypes and tropes that appeal to a white middle class, but that is changing as our world is changing, and new voices are wanting – and should – be heard. It is a time of reckoning, isn’t it? There’ll always probably be a place for theatre that is speaking to those more traditional values. But you look at something like Hamilton and it’s clear people want people want something new, they want something fresh, they want something that speaks to their values. They want to see women of color being powerful. They want to see different ideas of what gender could be. They want to see that exploration. They want to see women getting up there and smashing the patriarchy. As soon as you put bodies on stage, you’re making a political statement about who counts. To pretend that theatre is not political is rather inaccurate. As soon as you are dealing with representation there is a political statement. What we’re trying to say is: all this stuff is complicated. Deeply complicated. There are no easy answers and it’s time for us to really stop and listen to each other and think about the impacts our actions and learned behaviours can have on each other, and to question those. As we say in the prologue for the show: “Remember: discomfort is our friend.”
How would you describe Mara KORPER in one sentence?
Jayde: It’s a feminist, sci-fi, theatrical experience.
Mara KORPER opens at Theatre Works, St Kilda on May 12th.
Visit www.marakorper.com to learn more about the show.
For tickets, visit the Theatre Works website.