Chris Edwards and Riley Spadaro are, respectively, the writer and director of This Bitter Earth, a darkly funny, bleakly tender, excitingly queer piece of new Australian writing coming to the New Theatre this week.
Deep inside of tech week, Chris and Riley took some time to ask each other the tough questions in an unvarnished insight into the collaborative process between writer and director.
Chris: I guess I’ll start things off by saying that this show is a ‘coming out’ of sorts for each of us on Sydney stages.
Riley: I would say that you’re better than that joke, but I’ve read your script.
Chris: I’m also personally grateful for this opportunity to speak to you, Riley, as you haven’t been replying to my messages since you barred me from the rehearsal room a week ago.
Riley: Yes, so let’s keep this brief; I have a show to rescue. Chris, how would you describe This Bitter Earth?
Chris: Thanks. I’d say This Bitter Earth is in essence an anthology; I hope we can at least agree on that.
Riley: Sure. It’s a collection of six disconnected scenes that explore queer crises in our modern Australian context, yes?
Chris: Well done, yes. When I first started writing the script we were fresh off the national disgrace of the plebiscite and a condescending vote for our personhood, so questions of how we interrelate and rely on each other amidst personal and communal struggles were top of mind.
Riley: Let’s have less of the plebiscite references. It’s not 2017.
Chris: So true, that was a wonderful time … long before we had met. I think of it fondly.
Riley: With where your hairline is now I’m sure you do.
Chris: I’ve long been fascinated with the line between connection and disconnection, especially for people of our generation and in our queer community. There’s a particular strain of queer loneliness and disconnect that I find incredibly fertile ground for exploration, and that I’m well aware you know intimately on a very personal level, isn’t that right Riley?
Riley: Let’s not talk about my personal life.
Chris: We can’t really talk about something that doesn’t exist. (A pregnant pause)
Riley: What an excellent question, Chris –
Chris: I didn’t ask –
Riley: I was drawn to the work for its bleak humour – the way language works in your now edited script (you’re welcome) is rather exciting. These characters weaponise their own insecurities against each other in hilarious, horrifying ways. There’s a dark heart, yes, but it’s purposefully hidden behind wit and verbal dexterity. You’re a walking example of this.
Riley: But I also saw myself reflected back in that. All of these characters sound like people I know, and all of their conversations sound like ones that I’ve had with the people closest to me.
There is a great amount of love and intimacy expressed in harsh, insecure ways, which I think is a particularly millennial way of relating. That’s what I was trying to tell the cast when you started screaming at me and accusing me of stabbing your child in the chest and ranting about the sanctity of authorship.
Chris: I stand by that. Well, seeing as you’ve taken over this conversation like you took over my perfect script, any final words?
Riley: Yes. It’s dark, it’s funny, it’s staring into a void, but at the end of the day I do believe there’s an odd sort of catharsis to it. Not that theatre should ever be therapeutic. That’s what Audrey Journal articles are for.