INTERVIEW: Finn O'Branagain and Scott Sandwich from The Epic
There are few things I love more than sharing stories with a friend over a beer. There's the camaraderie, and the intimacy of the one-on-one, and that undeniable thrill of pulling together your best words, to make your story an absolute cracker - one that'll have your friend going home saying, "you won't believe what I just heard!".
Performance poets Finn O'Branagain and Scott Sandwich feel the same way - and fittingly, they told me about it over a couple of drinks in Northbridge last week, during a break in rehearsals for their new show, The Epic. They explained that the play - which, as its name suggests, is a compilation of stories from around the globe the pair have found most intriguing, most impressive, most relatable - is the result of a friendship based on who can spin the best yarn.
"It was us just upping each other!" says Scott of how the pair first bonded. "We realised we both just love stories, and it was just, 'Oh, I've got a more obscure one,' or 'I've got a cooler one'. We're going to kill each other by the end of performance week, but at least we'll get a lot of joy from sharing the stories!"
The stories - which the pair have labelled "badass" - aren't acted out, but are delivered in the style of spoken word poetry. Scott explains that it's a way of connecting with people individually, because performance poetry is storytelling, too. "It's just two people who want to communicate something to you," he says. "It's not as if we're acting and you're watching, it's as if we're at the pub, and we're figuring out the best way to convey the story to you on a very personal level. Everyone's engaged, and you can talk to each person individually. At the end of it you've revealed so much about yourself, you could probably hug!"
He explains that the stories they're telling are ones they've found that they can't keep to themselves. "They resonate in your chest," he says. "You think, 'Someone needs to know this story besides me'. I'm so glad I get the chance to tell this story. Stories aren't just to be trapped and held and preserved and forgotten - they need to be told in order to continue and to remain relevant."
Finn admits that it's been difficult grappling with the fact that the stories aren't necessarily their to tell - even though they've read them, and heard them, and want to share them, is it really the place for two white Gen-Y Australians to be sharing thousand-year-old African stories?
"We grapple with that throughout the whole play," she says. "This is not of our culture. But the thing underneath is that these stories don't feel so distant, somehow. There's whatever kernel was in each story that made us think, 'You may be from the dawn of time in Madagascar but there's something in you that's saying something to me, today.'"
They tell me that in the end they have to tell the stories from their perspective, just like how Warwick and his team explored the Australian bush from the view of city slickers in Under This Sun - because that's what they know; that's where they come from. But, they're quick to add that they don't want to impose their interpretations of the stories onto audiences: rather, they just want to create space for people to think.
"I’ve definitely grown from each of these stories," says Finn of what she's taken away from the development process. "It’s made me think more broadly about the world, and about my context in the world. How I fit in amongst all these different stories that don’t belong to me, but do speak to me."
I'm a big fan of accidentally learning - you can't be a subscriber of a newsletter called Sketchplanations and not be - so I was thrilled to hear Scott explain that the stories are intended to sneakily educate people, as much as they are about sharing something moving. "We're trying to shake things up, and make you rethink what you already know," he says. "We want to trick you into learning something! It's still compelling, and weird, and funny, but you learned something."
Rest assured - it definitely is funny. If these guys' performance storytelling is anything like their over-beers yarns - which you'd think it would be, given what they told me - you'll be laughing while you're learning, and you'll have as good a time as I did with my storytelling teaser last week.
The Epic opens at the Blue Room tomorrow night and runs until June 13. Tickets from the Blue Room website.