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In Conversation with Brittanie Shipway and Miranda Middleton

"Storytelling helps me to make sense of people I don’t understand. It’s an art form that invites empathy in real time from an audience, and we both fInd that delicious." Writer Brittanie Shipway and director Miranda Middleton tell us about their latest collaboration on Senser - a new play with songs that will transform THEATRE WORKS into a dark and sumptuous world of Kabarett Qweens and Drag Kings!

Q: Can you briefly tell us about your collaborative practice and what drew you to each other's work? B: We’ve been trying to work with each other since the dawn of time (5 years ago)! Miranda and I share a love of whimsy and theatre magic. We want to escape when we step into the theatre but still question our reality when we leave the foyer. Storytelling helps me to make sense of people I don’t understand. It’s an art form that invites empathy in real time from an audience, and we both find that delicious. We also love solving creative problems together, which is 99% of the job when it comes to developing new work. M: Senser is actually the third work of Brittanie’s that I’ve been involved with in some capacity. Prior to this one, I worked as a dramaturg on her debut play A Letter for Molly at the Ensemble Theatre and helped to facilitate a development of her Gumbaynggirr song circle Yellow Rock with Hope New Works during last year’s mega lockdown. What I’m drawn to in Brittanie’s writing is her dark comedy, her grit, the visual world that she creates through the text, and her penchant for dreaming. When we work together, I tend to lose sight of our individual role descriptors entirely because it always feels like we’re co-creating, bringing a story into the world that wouldn’t otherwise exist. Fun fact: Brittanie and I are born one day apart in the same year. I like to think that the world wanted us to meet and make theatre together.

Q: Brittanie - what was the seed idea that inspired Senser?

B: I’ve been singing since I was six years old, but I didn’t understand the power of music until I was twenty-six. I was volunteering at a music therapy clinic for the day and the first session was for dementia patients. Our elderly clients entered the room with a mixture of reservation, confusion and frustration at not knowing where they were. We started singing an old jazz standard, Blue Skies by Irving Berlin, and suddenly the weathered faces lit up, youthful and beaming. Some couldn’t remember their names, but they knew every lyric in that song. Every single word. The arts is often overlooked in todays context. It’s not deemed “essential”. But I think it’s the key to unlocking our greatest memories. What could be more important than that?

Q: How do songs function in this show? B: We have four original songs in the show, one co-written by myself and Jess Newman and the rest composed by Jess himself. They are MAGNIFICENT! Fun, playful, provocative and… a bit sexy… Ava’s head is filled with music by Jess Newman. If only we were all so lucky! M: I’m pretty obsessed with the music in this show. Jess and Brittanie have written songs that are at the same time beautiful and biting, melancholic and magical. They help to transport us out of the mundane and into a realm of more heightened emotion and feeling. Of course, they also give us the opportunity for some choreography and dance breaks which I’m very excited about!

Q: Can you tell us a bit about the cast and creative team you have assembled to work on this world premiere?

M: I’m having the most joyful time working with our two wonderful actors, Luisa Scrofani and Adam Noviello (Brittanie has serious rehearsal room FOMO). They kind of have to do it all in this show - sing, dance, shape-shift, time-travel, and I really appreciate their courage and commitment to this new work (which has really gone on quite a journey from page to stage). The music department is headed up by David Youings, who is working his magic to orchestrate Jess Newman’s and Brittanie’s compositions, as well as create soundscapes that are integral to the world-building. Our design team of Grace Deacon (set and costume) and Aron Murray (lighting design) know Theatre Works well, having worked with me on Not Today just a few months ago, and are preparing to transform it into a dark and sumptuous world of Kabarett Qweens and Drag Kings! Our stage manager Andrew Hughes is going to have their work cut out for them with the tech in this show, but I have total faith in them and the whole team to create a banger of a world premiere.

Q: What can you tell us about the world that Ava finds herself in and how will these elements feature in the design created by Grace Deacon? M: A mutual aesthetic inspiration for Brittanie and I is the film The Shape of Water, so you can expect to see some lush teals and dusty gold in Grace’s design world. Costuming is also going to play a really key part in zapping us out of the drab, monochrome world of 2043, and taking us to a time where music was ALIVE!

Q: A world without music would be... B: Devastatingly barren! There are a million songs for every inexpressible mood and emotion. Who would want to cancel the thing that makes us most human? M: A world without music would be really bloody sad. I realised how vital music was to my mental health last year during lockdown, when sometimes I would put in my earphones, put on a particularly joyful piece of classical music (‘À la folie’) and dance down my street to lift me out of a slump. Music is connection, music is magic, music is LIFE. SENSER By Brittanie Shipway 7-17 September BOOK HERE


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