Andrew Sutherland is a theatre-maker whose show Poorly Drawn Shark is on at The Blue Room Theatre for FRINGEWORLD 2019. We caught up with him ahead of the show to find out what it’s all about.
Poorly Drawn Shark appears to be autobiographical – how much is fantasy and how much introspection?
A large amount of my theatre work, as well as in other mediums, tries to investigate autobiography and modes of self-construction and the cannibalisation of memory or trauma. It’s incredibly easy to twist autobiography towards whatever point you want to make; it’s a hugely untrustworthy form.
With Poorly Drawn Shark I feel like I’m continually shifting the truth, or ‘my truth’, sideways in order to make the show. That’s the fun of it. So I guess that’s a long-winded way of saying that, like when a younger gay theatre-maker asks how old I actually am, it’s more interesting to keep the answer fuzzy.
Obviously it’s not a literal shark, what is it about sharks that resonate with you?
Ages ago someone told me (or actually, maybe I said it, and there were just a lot of mirrors around that day) that in profile my nose makes me look like a poorly drawn shark. And I really like the idea of the shark already being inadequately constructed, like a half-baked character sketch. But particularly in this narrative, it’s very fertile ground to think of this impenetrable apex predator, this violent eating machine that consumes everything in its path, as so flawed that if it were to ever stop swimming forward it would drown. I think there’s a lot to be mined out of that.
Your previous work has always been physical, how important is movement in performance?
I think I’m actually a very text-centric creator, which is why it’s important to me to try to decentre a text’s sway over me in the rehearsal room and to that end, work with people like Joe Lui who are hugely talented in the art of embedding concepts into performative actions. I like the idea of performative or critical actions because I’d be very hesitant to term anything I’ve ever done as being in the form we think of as physical theatre.
I would say that I think theatre is necessarily physical because the first thing theatre must contend with is the proximity of the performer and audience bodies. But that’s just a needlessly academic hot take for ya. Poorly Drawn Shark is definitely a text-heavy show, but Ming and my bodies are vital in the construction of the work, particularly in the way that we ‘perform’ for each other throughout.
Is the show story telling or metaphor?
A bit of column A, a bit of column B. There’s absolutely a narrative to follow, but it’s told in a variety of ways, and the ‘story’ has to exist in service of provoking the tensions of body, consumption, desire and personal/political belonging that the work wants to explore.
What was your process developing the work?
I sat down with co-creator Vidya Rajan and chatted for a long time about the narratives that exist around white bodies and agency in Asia, and what narratives we could extract out of my body and its (sordid) history. I did a bunch of research, from live-blogging myself watching the Eat Pray Love movie to combing through academic works like ‘Brown Boys & Rice Queens’ by Lim Eng Beng, and started to write possible texts.
Then Vidya and I met up in Melbourne and had an intensive couple weeks of script development, rehearsal room devising, and conversations about how nobody should write plays anymore (another hot take for ya). Then in January we started up with director Joe Lui and performer/collaborator Ming Yang Lim and began to restructure and remould the performance in rehearsal.
How entwined is the direction? I get the feeling you work very closely with your director?
I do work very closely with Joe. I have very little preciousness about the text being morphed and developed in a rehearsal room with Joe because I know we live in the same world and I tend to think less of him directing ‘my play’ than of both of us constructing a performance together. It’s kinda like sex except I’m less likely to cry afterwards.
Is it important to put Poorly Drawn Shark on during FRINGEWORLD 2019?
Possibly slightly more important than if I stayed in my room and masturbated for the month of January. But probably less important than if I went out and, I dunno, tried to assassinate a world leader or something.
What are you looking forward to the most about Fringe?
The Basement Tapes, Cotton Wool Kid, A Westerner’s Guide to the Opium Wars.
What will people get out of your show?
I’ve probably made it sound super academic so I’ll also say it’s hugely funny, a bit sad, and a lot sexy.
You can grab your tickets to the sad and sexy Poorly Drawn Shark HERE.