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Sorry to Cut You Off, Penny

"We are messy, complex and in the process of figuring it all out"

Stories of everyday injustice add heat to a work inspired by Senator Penny Wong's Election Night woes.

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Company: Tantrum
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Penny for Our Thoughts

Date: 20 Aug 2019

You enter into a dimly lit theatre and are greeted by the smell of mushrooms frying.

On the stage is a set that reflects the bare bones of a share house kitchen and living room. This looks a little like a kitchen sink drama, but Sorry To Cut you Off, Penny is about to stretch this form as much as it can.

During the 2019 federal election four young women meet to feast, dance, yell at the TV and share stories. Despite obvious similarities to another Australian election night dinner party show, there is little expectation placed on these women to act a certain way, as tangential stories turn into moments of communal joy, loss and hope. Senator Penny Wong is cut off mid sentence during the election coverage for the eighth time.

“I really thought we had it.”

Meg, Alana, Daynah and myself came together to make this work through Tantrum Youth Arts’ Trajectory Ensemble, a yearly opportunity for emerging artists in Newcastle to make their own new work together.

The starting provocation – “Make a Movement”, a show about activism – quickly morphed once we began. We sat down to discuss what activism meant to us, and before we knew it the Tantrum studio was filled with “I’ve never thought about it that way”; “I thought I was the only one that noticed that”; and “Holy shit, you’re right!”

Watching a show escape from your fingertips and change before you is terrifying and triumphant. The age old question, “So, what’s the show about?” is inevitably flung into the space. Luckily for the four of us, our collaborator-mentor David Williams put forward a potential answer: This show is about four young women sharing conversations in order to process the world around them in the wake of political and personal change.

The show is about us.

Despite the framing of the show, political literacy is not an expectation of audience members or the cast. The conversations had by the ensemble in the rehearsal studio, that went on to form the basis of the script, were filled with stories of everyday injustice.

There is something softly radical about watching a 19-year-old lament over the stupidity of the customers she serves in her hospo job. There is something softly radical about four women on stage having a seemingly meaningless argument over which flavour of Twisties is superior. There is something softly radical about letting these women come into the space of the work simply as they are.

“It’s alright. We’ll be alright”

I appreciated the work of David Williams before joining the ensemble. I have always been drawn to theatre that strives to find the human element in big events and ideas. There is a richness of meaning that can be drawn from everyday conversations. Forming these discussions into Sorry To Cut You Off, Penny was a case of deciding where they fitted in the “conversational menu” of the piece.

The process of this show had an intense focus on the act of witnessing. Witnessing the grime of fully grown men catcalling teenagers on the street and the elation when one of these teenagers fights back. Witnessing the disenchantment with party politics but utter enchantment with those you share a meal with.

The women you see on stage are by no means perfect. We are messy, complex and in the process of figuring it all out.

What better reason to come and witness us?

Sorry To Cut you Off, Penny plays at PACT Centre for Emerging Artists, September 4-7

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