Where do you see yourself in five years? If you’re anything like me, a question such as this can spiral into a full-blown identity crisis! There are so many things I want to be and do; how can you possibly pick?
Written and directed by Eliza Smith, She’s Terribly Greedy encapsulates this experience through the perspective of Ellenore, a 20-year-old who just can’t decide which future to choose. This new work will soon premiere at The Blue Room Theatre as part of their Summer Nights program and will feature a cast of seven WAAPA graduates.
Magazine 6000 sent writer and director Eliza Smith and designer William Gammel a series of questions to delve deeper into their terribly greedy world.
Can you give us a snap shot of what She’s Terribly Greedy is all about?
Eliza: She’s Terribly Greedy is about our main character Ellenore Steven’s relationship with her complex and multifaceted desires and identities. Ellenore is deliciously complex, flawed and deeply indecisive. No longer a gifted teenager full of potential, we watch her in the grips of her early 20s completely paralysed by the thought of making choices about her life. The play begins quite simply: Ellenore is asked in a Job interview where she sees herself in five years’ time and shocks herself with her own inability to answer. From there we fall down this rabbit hole with her as five separate actors play out her choices, mistakes, and consequent different timelines. As the play progresses, the boundaries between these five separate ‘selves’ become increasingly blurred. She is consistently the antagonist of her own story as her fractal identity collides with itself.
Where did Ellenore come from?
Eliza: The initial seed from which this work grew was the life and writings of Sylvia Plath, especially her novel The Bell Jar (1960). In the novel, Plath has this passage where she talks about sitting in the middle of a fig tree that is bountiful with fruit. As the metaphor goes, each fig represents a different life opportunity. However, choosing one means giving up all the others. The main character Esther starves to death in the centre of that fig tree, refusing to choose what she wants to eat. This half a page of writing captured the entire creative team and so both Ellenore Stevens, and She’s Terribly Greedy were born.
Being a collaborative, devised process the work went on to draw on a wide range of inspiration. The entire creative team came together for an intensive research period which included the chance for all of us to write and share stories from our own lives. Ellenore is a tapestry of all of us; the versions of ourselves we carry with us and the one’s we regrettably leave behind.
The Bell Jar by Syliva Plath 1963
The show has a cast of seven, how do they interact within the piece?
Eliza: It is definitely a big and brilliant cast! The seven performers never leave the space which, in The Blue Room Studio, creates a sense of fullness and complexity in and of itself. It is a deeply ensemble driven piece, with all seven actors playing an assortment of characters and caricatures that Ellenore encounters during the play. As well as this, the five actors who were raised female each play a different version of Ellenore in her interweaving timelines and stories. Although like I said, the work is so heavily ensemble based. For example, in one scene when Ellenore is being played by the exceptionally talented Rachel Adams, we have a secret game going on that she isn’t allowed to move herself anywhere. She gets lifted and carried, or push and pulled, a total of seven times in one scene by the ensemble.
Eliza, How do your roles as writer and director compliment each other?
Eliza: The director/writer role is something that I had the privilege of experimenting with and interrogating at university under the brilliant likes of Dr Renee Newman, Dr Frances Barbe and Dr Alexa Taylor. It is something that I am so incredibly excited to be debuting professionally and a craft I hope to continue honing. Unlike a more traditional process in which the script is written before the rehearsals begin, my training has allowed me to view this kind of work as one holistic practice rather than two roles. Our devising process begins with the entire creative team in the room: actors, designers, a musician etc. and a handful of stimuli (in this case, a passage from an old novel, a bedroom mirror, a pile of dresses and some Taylor Swift songs). So from day one I am acting as both the director and the writer.
As a director I have to create the conditions within which my creatives can improvise, construct images, tell stories, dance and generate this wonderful abundance of material for the show. I film and notate everything that happens then spend hours sifting through it at home and crafting it into performance. I don’t really know at what point I stop thinking as a director and start thinking as a writer, or vice versa. I suppose all I am trying to do is wait, watch, and listen for the moments that feel alive and the story lines which offer themselves up to me so long as I am listening.
William, as a designer, what excites you about this piece and bringing it visually to life?
William: The most exciting thing for me with this piece is working out how to complement everything else happening on stage, particularly considering we have seven performers on stage for the full 50 minutes. In a small black box, that already provides such visually commanding imagery so my job has really been about supporting them and adding texture and layers to them.
The work is described as chaotic and image-focused; how will that transfer into your design?
William: Chaos has infiltrated all aspects of the image based making of this process, in particularly with the design. While seven performers in a small Blackbox theatre might seem like a lot… we wanted even more. Think mirrors gliding around the stage, disco balls, projection, live streaming, and party lights.
There's also talk of a "delightful mess on stage". How much mess can the audience expect?
William: In the last work ‘Everything Flicker’s’ that I designed with Eliza in 2021 that was the epitome of physical mess and this idea of mess on stage seems to be a theme that keeps popping up in our work. However, the mess this time without giving away too much takes the form of psychological mess more so than the physical.
Everything Flickers performed at The Blue Room Theatre in the 2021 TILT program. Photography Stephen Heath
Elenor is struggling to choose what path to take in life, something almost everyone can relate to. Why do you think this is such a universal experience?
Eliza: Something we discovered in rehearsals is that this is an issue that runs far deeper than life or career choices. It’s been said many times, but it bears repeating, humans do ourselves a disfavour with our obsession for simplifying and categorising. You know; you’re either this type of person or you’re that type of person. Are you the jock, the princess, the brain? It’s like we are all trying to cast everyone we meet in our own private production of The Breakfast Club. No one I have ever met is just one of those things. In fact, far more commonly, people are these big messy walking contradictions trying to find some sort of peace within all of their different selves. Then when we talk about taking certain “paths” in life it can become so paralysing because many of us don’t even know who we are let alone where we want to go or who we want to become. And certain careers, certain life choices all come with their own labels and connotations. Especially for women, this isn’t a discussion we can have without talking about the way it disproportionately affects women. We look at a stay-at-home mother and define her in a split second, in the same way we define a businesswoman. These definitions are reductive, and it can be suffocating to try and squeeze a huge multifaceted identity into these little boxes.
I think perhaps it would all be a lot easier if we allowed ourselves to meander along these life paths from time to time. I think it’s worthwhile getting distracted along the way, doubling back, veering onto other paths that take our interests. The thought of picking one direction and charging ahead at full speed is the one that terrifies me most. Then again, I’m twenty and so don’t know anything for certain. I’m still stuck at the path-picking part of it all.
She’s Terribly Greedy runs at The Blue Room Theatre from Jan 27 to Feb 3.