Rough Conduct Theatre Company are bringing physical theatre and spoken word together in a new, immersive show that explores the emotional impact of holding on and letting go of our personal baggage. Presented as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival,Deadweight has its five performers – Darcy Joyce Mcgaw, Chelsea Crosby, Jarryd Evison-Rose, Kyle Wright, Sarah Hartnell – stuck in a metaphorical dystopian world trying to rid themselves of their struggles and burdens. But what happens when the cycle is broken? What happens when they put down the weight?
While still a relatively new performance group, the five members have known each other since their student days at Deakin University.
CC: We actually all met whilst studying Drama and formed our small ensemble there. When our final year came around, we devised a show together and were lucky enough to win the Industry Standard Ensemble Award, which sparked the official beginnings of Rough Conduct. Since then we’ve worked hard to negotiate busy schedules, hectic work life and our own sanity to find our feet as an emerging theatre company.
Despite their specific creative interest, the collaboration between the five has proven to be highly dynamic, ensuring that all aspects of Deadweight are well conceived and support the rest of the production.
CC: Everything that you see in the show is a product of our blood, sweat and tears. As individuals we gravitate to specific areas such as choreography or design, but at the end of the day everything is 100% collaboration between the five of us. We’d be hard pressed to say which ideas belong to whom within our company. Every idea that is brought into the rehearsal space is treated as a first draft idea and then hacked apart, torn up, deconstructed, recycled and sewn together until a franken-scene emerges that we can put into the show.
The design of the show had required the creators to get down and dirty with their roles, performing in a 6×6 metre pit filled with dirt.
CC: The design might make bump in a nightmare, but it gives Deadweight this earthy grounding that is totally immersive. The myth of Atlas, the Greek Titan known for holding up the Earth, is discussed within our piece and so the topic of earth and dirt came up a lot in our early discussions. We’re very tactile people, and became really excited by the idea of a tangible element on the stage to work with. Originally, performing with the dirt was a choice made to emphasise the world we’re creating for the audience: a barren, endless purgatory filled with nothing but baggage and burdens. However, as we explored the work more and more, we unearthed (pardon the pun) so much within the dirt and what it means for us as performers, as well as how the show functions. The dozen hessian bags that hang above us are constant reminders of our burdens, so the dirt represents so much more in terms of uncovering, rebirthing, and hope for regrowth after finally shedding our baggage. Dirt has become such an integral part of the show, that rehearsing without it feels a bit like we’re missing an ensemble member to be honest! We’re definitely keen to wheelbarrow two tonnes of the stuff into Theatre Works come Fringe time.
Working on a show that can be both physically and emotionally draining has given Crosby the opportunity to reflect on her own mental health, and hopes that audiences also consider their own while watching the show.
CC: The work has forced us to become more introspective, reflecting on how we handle our own mental health and trauma. We’ve definitely gained a deeper understanding of ourselves and our own baggage and histories. It’s allowed us to become more empathetic about the differences in how people tend to their burdens (even in our small group) and given us a new awareness to how people respond to these sorts of struggles. We hope our audiences feel a similar shift in their thinking when they watch Deadweight.
Read more about Deadweight here.