Charlie Garber’s new play The Astral Plane begins with an influencer couple becoming separated during a mountains getaway.
Eventually, they are reunited, but not in the same dimension they were separated in. Now they are on the The Astral Plane, where each thinks the other is a projection of their own mind.
Here, Garber chats with sound designer-composer Clare Hennessy about the project. Then Clare turns the tables.
Charlie: How did you get into sound design?
Clare: My first unofficial gig as a sound designer was during university when a friend asked me to press the button on her laptop to make a whistle sound effect play during a monologue.
When the time came, her laptop had managed to log me out. As the pregnant pause settled in, the audience heard me whispering “what’s your password?” instead of a whistle. Happy days.
Thankfully, now I just make sound effects and compositions so that someone else can handle the stressful stuff. I was lucky when I was studying to be able to try my hand at a bunch of things; the deal was done when I realised I could combine my love of making music with my love of plays.
Charlie: You have quite a range of disciplines and interests. What would your next one be if you had to add another?
I’m really obsessed with accents. I’d love to study phonology and then try to learn every single accent in the world.
Charlie: Have you ever sound designed for a fantasy infused adventure comedy-with-heart before? How are you finding it working on The Astral Plane?
I was ‘in’ as soon as you sent me the synopsis and I read the words “runt rat-prince”.
I’ve never worked on something so epic before; it’s fantastic because the goal is literally to facilitate the audience enjoying themselves as much as possible. Plus, making sound can be quite a solitary experience.
I’ve worked on shows that are about death and war and really morbid stuff which leaves you pretty much sitting in a room, alone, listening to guns and screaming, so it’s been lovely to work on something that’s so full of fun.
Clare: Hey Charlie! You’re an actor, director and writer … how has this project been different to others that you’ve written before?
Charlie: This is my first solo-written piece of theatre. I’ve collaborated with Gareth Davies on Masterclass 1 and Masterclass 2, with Nick Coyle and Claudia O’Doherty as Pig Island, and with Tommy Murphy and Rita Kalnejais. Writing those, you just have to make each other laugh. The structure and logic is a consideration but you figure it out between you, picking up blindspots.
By myself there’s been a need to get the structure sorted so I could enjoy writing the dialogue. I got to explore structure in a way that wasn’t possible in collaboration. In fact, the structure is so elaborate in some ways that it’s fallen to the actors to point out some issues. There have been a few rewrites since starting rehearsals – things that would have been cleared up earlier in a collaboration.
Also, I never really knew if it was funny. I’ve kind of not worried about it being funny for this show.
Clare: What’s been the most surprising discovery you’ve made while working on The Astral Plane?
Charlie: The most surprising discovery has been that there is an energy in a first draft that is to be prized. There is some honest discovery on the writer’s part that translates into the character’s honest sense of discovery and should hopefully come across to the audience as something real happening in the moment.
There is an art to rewriting that I’ve been discovering. You run the risk of knowing too much, of putting the wisdom on the page, of making the characters say things that would require clever thinking before being said. You have to trust a lot of what comes out first.
Clare: On the Astral Plane, anything is possible. When in your life do you feel the most ‘enlightened’?
Charlie: I’ve had some strange spiritual experiences. I think I accidentally meditated once while I was drawing uninterrupted for a whole afternoon. I spent the next few days in a very different place, mentally. I wish I could go back there. Smiling faces on advertising posters seemed a joy to behold.