In Conversation with Paris Balla & Sarah Branton

"The show really represents that deep desire to make a change in the world, and the looming responsibility of what it is to be alive, all expressed through young minds and bodies." In their fInal week of rehearsals, co-directors Sarah and Paris chat with us about 'Owl and the albatross' and the future they wish to create as young and queer theatre-makers.

Q: Can you briefly tell us how your collaboration as co-directors on this project came about?

Sarah: Paris and I met when we were both at university at Monash, I was in a third year directing unit, and Paris in a first year acting unit, the units blended so the third years had people to direct, and the first years had people to be directed by! It was a bizarre combination of learning outcomes, however that our iconic meet cute.

Paris: Originally, I was looking for a dramaturg for the play, and became so obsessed with Sarah I was like “please stay, I need you to do more”.

S: When we first began working on the script I was immediately thinking “wow Paris has an amazing brain” and I still think that. They craft both language and the physical in ways that are so unique, poetic, and real, and as the project continued, I knew that I wanted to get my hands all over it and inside of it.

P: In 2019 we met a bunch of times over brunch to talk about the play and then had a development in my parents’ backyard over the Summer where I think Sarah was originally going to be assisting me in directing that workshop. I very, very quickly realised that we needed to be doing it together. It’s very cool that we’ve both been involved in it for so long in both a writing and directing capacity because we are both SO inside the world of the play… Great to have some actors who are new to the project too, so they can point out that we actually hadn’t mentioned there was a lighthouse in the latest draft…

S: Yes! There have been so many iterations of this work, from its first inception to its zoom version in 2020, now through to being on stage at last. It is always my joy and preference to work collaboratively, it’s true magic when people come together and bridge a shared vision from separate perspectives.

Q: Paris, what prompted you to write Owl and the Albatross?

Our producer Ryan was staging rehearsed readings of new works in his tiny apartment in 2019 and said “I’ve got a slot in 3 weeks. Write something?” and so the first draft with live improvised viola happened in a cramped bedroom in Melbourne’s South East in 2019. I knew that I wanted to write an intergenerational story because my grandfather was in hospital at the time and we had recently bonded for the first time in my adult life about gardening and I felt like I needed to find a way to have the conversations I was scared I wouldn’t get to have with him (luckily he recovered and is healthier than ever after lots of gardening during the lockdowns).

Q: What are some of the themes you both wanted to explore in this work?

S: When we wrote our VCE playlist application, I wrote about the themes that mean the most to me, which are queerness, magic, queer futurity, environmental activism, and intergenerational connection.

P: Queer futurity is maybe the not clear one on that list but is one of my greatest passions. It’s an idea that comes from this very cool queer academic José Esteban Muñoz who talks about queerness as a way of viewing the world as something that can be better than what it currently is.

S: It is something that we are always imagining, always creating, through both our literal creations and expressions into the world, but also by our being-ness. Existing as queer is inherently magical to me, and magic allows us to imagine the future we wish to create.

P: It’s very cool to be thinking about this as the ideas we were imagining in 2019 post the last election and now putting the show on when we’ve got a new government and more independent and greens seats in power. It feels like the better future we were hoping for might actually be on the horizon.

Q: The show is proving to be popular amongst teenagers and young adults with many performances already sold out to school bookings. What do you think is attracting young audiences to this show?

S: I think young people have always felt the pressure to make a difference in the world, and with the climate crisis we are seeing now, I see how the young generations are feeling it more than ever. The show really represents that deep desire to make a change in the world, and the looming responsibility of what it is to be alive, all expressed through young minds and bodies.

P: I mean… It’s on the VCE playlist so that definitely helps… I think it’s also pretty cool to see queer stories being told for young people, by artists who are also still pretty young themselves. It’s only been a couple of years since I was in high school, but this is definitely not a play that I would have had the chance to see as a teenager.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about the creative team involved?

S: We are all queer as hell.

P: Most of us are current or former Monash students (Shout out to Monash Uni Student Theatre for being an engine room of creativity and bringing cool queers together).

S: I think it’s interesting to note that a lot of us were involved in the theatre degrees at Monash that actually don’t exist anymore, sadly. In some ways I see it as a subconscious thing, similar to the themes of the play – there are obstacles, but we still create community and make art together.

P: Like Owl, we’ve all felt that the people in charge don’t seem to be listening or aren’t making decisions about the future that seem so obvious to us.

Also, most of us have been on the project since 2019, so this has been a weird pre, during, post(??) covid project of in person, digital, back to in person collaboration that has definitely been a marathon rather than a 25m freestyle race.

Q: If you could invite anyone to see Owl and the Albatross, who would it be?

S: A big albatross. Haha.

P: A lighthouse. Also my grandparents and they’re coming so that’s pretty good.

S: Completely cliched, but I would love to invite my younger self. We all create in a way that gives to the world what we would have needed, and that has a ripple effect in the world. By creating this work, not only do we support our queer inner children, but we also represent what is possible for other’s creativity and queer expression.

P: lol I was going to say the same thing. Except teenage me who thought I was cishet would have been like ummmm cool??? That’s nice I guess?? So teenage me, but also me from 2019 to prove that the play actually happened. Also, the creators of the really, really boring shows I saw in high school to show that things for teenagers can actually be good. And also Willow Pill just because I want to meet her.

S: Same. OWL AND THE ALBATROSS By Paris Balla 1-11 June BOOK HERE


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