"In the spirit of the play, we want to encourage audience members to form new friendships over ice-cream." Cassandra-Elli Yiannacou's chats with us about her new play that combines ice cream (post-show tasting included!) with quantum gravity, Elton John and the need for human connection.
Where did the idea behind 'The Marvellous Life of Carlo Gatti' originate from?
It almost came in three separate parts that joined up once I had the final piece.
First, I learned about Carlo Gatti and how his ice-cream parlours were places of entertainment.
I had a scene in my head for a little while, of people who had a neighbour who kept playing elaborate classical music and then one day out of nowhere switched to a very bad version of chopsticks. The only problem is they lived on the top floor. If that happened to you, you’d have to go check right away.
Then one day I picked up Seven Brief Lessons in Physics by Carlo Rovelli and was immediately absorbed in his theories of quantum gravity. The story honestly fell into place from there, the scene I had in my head, Carlo Gatti and quantum gravity felt like an instant connection.
What are some of the themes you wanted to explore in this work?
Loneliness and the idea that loneliness could be heard at a frequency powerful enough to rip apart the universe. Quantum gravity and humanity’s intertwining-ness with physics. The idea that we all need connection, the different definitions of queerness over history, found family, and ice cream of course.
Those are the first things that spring to mind, but truthfully when I’m writing a play a lot of the themes, including the ones listed, happen on a subconscious level. When I’m creating a plot, I let the themes slip in in very thin layers stacked together but rarely consciously.
It’s only once I finish that I can take stock of them. My process for exploring themes is pretty organic to be honest.
Can you take us through the development and dramaturgical process involved in creating a new Australian work and the impact Covid-19 has had on this play.
I think when you’re staging a new Australian work for the first time there is an awareness that you’re being given the chance to be heard, and it really forces you to interrogate what you want to say; that’s not just on a writing level, that’s for a director, actors, what goes into set and lighting, all of it. It becomes a hugely exciting and collaborative process, even more so than theatre usually is, because you’re all working together to leave your mark on this piece for the first time.
I showed the first 15 minutes back in 2018 at Small and Loud which was a scratch night for new work, there I met Glenn Saunders who was interested in working as a dramaturg for the development of the script. We’d meet at cafes and go over notes for the first couple of drafts I’d written, this was the first time I’d ever worked with a dramaturg before, so it was a new and interesting experience, it changed the way I look at my own work and bonus, I also got a new friend out of it! Fast forward to 2022 and after we got it programmed, we had a reading, which for me is the best way to always find out what’s working, and our production dramaturg Laura Hartnell gave some really helpful notes.
Of course, COVID-19 hit in 2020 and we weren’t sure when we’d get back to seeing theatre. Trying to get things programmed was hard, the uncertainty so many venues faced as well as performances having to be pushed back and re-programmed because they had to be cancelled has had a massive flow on effect.
Making a new work in COVID-19 is definitely something we’re all having to get used to, we’ve had some rehearsals with masks on and some rehearsals over zoom but at the end of the day we’re still able to make theatre which is something to be very grateful for.
There is a post-show activity that audience members are offered after each performance, can you tell us a bit about this?
In the spirit of the play, we want to encourage audience members to form new friendships over ice-cream. We’ve partnered with 7 Apples which is a local ice-creamery in St Kilda to provide a small discount to audience members. Each audience member will be given a card with a few questions about some of the topics in the play; Elton John, Quantum Gravity, Christmas, ice-cream.
They’re told to find two strangers and answer the questions together, the idea being they’re getting to re-create a small version of the play in real life and find bonds in new connections.
A world without ice-cream would be...
Pointless. THE MARVELLOUS LIFE OF CARLO GATTI By Cassandra-Elli Yiannacou 3-13 August - Explosives Factory BOOK HERE