Tuesday 11 September 2018

Eggsistentialism - Melbourne Fringe Festival preview

There comes a point in everyone's life where they need to decide if they want to have children. Joanne Ryan has reached that point and in Eggsistentialism, the Irish performer takes a comedic journey through the process of coming to her decision, while also looking at the politics of reproduction in Ireland where 66% of voters recently voted to repeal legislation that banned abortion in a majority of cases.

"I was battling with the dilemma of whether or not I wanted to have children and decided it could be worth staging for a couple of reasons. I realised as I talked to friends and peers that I was certainly not alone in this crossroad," Ryan recalls. "It seemed that lots of people around me, men and women, were equally conflicted and yet no one was talking about it - or at least not on stages - and there was a lot of stigma and taboo around some of the core issues."

"It also struck me that I was part of the first cohort of humans in the history of the species to have a choice - my mother didn't, and my grandmother certainly didn't - and that was a really interesting and important moment in our shared history to document. The show is about my decision but it's also about my mother's journey and the entire nation’s journey and about how our social and cultural context can inform big life decisions. It’s the classic political in the personal thing; the show is universal because it’s so specific."
"What followed was a year of intense research which is always a focus of my working process," Ryan explains. "I like to forensically examine my subject from as many angles as possible so there’s lots of reading and investigating but also interviewing a broad range of experts and other people with similar experiences. I’m writing a new show with my mother about her bipolar disorder at the moment and there is a year of just reading, interviews, focus groups and other research incorporated into that process. I love the discovery and I think it all indirectly informs the work and makes it richer."

While there were moments when Ryan had qualms about opening up to a room full of strangers, these were never to do about herself. "My main concerns were more around how it might affect or expose other people close to me. One of the main ethical issues with making autobiographical work is that it invariably involves the lives or stories of other people. That is very much the case in this show. Although not physically on stage with me, my mother is my hilarious co-star and plays herself through audio recordings throughout. There was a whole series of steps I took over the two years that I worked on the show to make sure she felt safe and empowered in that process," she says.

"My boyfriend who I had just met when I started work on the show, and who was remarkably calm when I told him on our third date that I was writing a play about my eggs, has also been extremely generous with some very personal details. Anyone mentioned or even referred to in passing in the show has given their full consent and I’m really grateful that they all approached their roles in the play in that spirit of trust and generosity."

Eggsistentialism has been the talk of the festival circuit, winning the Melbourne Fringe Tour Ready Award at Edinburgh Fringe last year. "It was amazing! It couldn't have happened in a nicer way too. I had just done my very last show of the festival and as I was bowing and thanking the audience for coming the manager of the venue we were in bounded onto the stage with a huge bottle of champagne and the news that I'd won. It was a pretty magical end to the run," Ryan recalls.

Since its premiere in 2016, there have been changes made to the show, particularly with more emphasis on the politics of women's bodies. "After the premiere I used all the profits from the run to reassemble the creative team to do some further development on the show. The main structural change was that a central animated Monty Python style documentary piece charting Ireland’s sexual health history that had acted as a hinge was broken up into small sections and seeded through the show. I think that was in no small part me embracing the inherent politics of the show and making it more overt and integral which of course in real life it absolutely is," she says. 

"I feel really lucky to have had the money and the opportunity to invest that time in the show as you don't always get the chance to redevelop shows once they’re up and it made a big difference to the overall flow and message of the show I think," Ryan tells me. "There has been a small but pretty crucial change that I have made to ending of the show especially for this tour, but I can’t give too much else away about that now..."

Five Quick Ones

1. Art is hard to make well.
2. If you had to become an animal, which would you choose and why?
Ooh, an eagle maybe? I’d like to try my hand at having things I don’t have now like good eyesight, upper body strength and a predatory nature. The flying, swooping and views would be fun extras.
3. What song would you play on repeat to torture someone?
Ed Sheeran’s "Galway Girl".
4. How long would you survive in a zombie apocalypse?
Seconds. I have no practical life skills and almost zero cop on.
5. It just isn't a Fringe Festival experience without an audience so come along to see the show! (Seriously though, do come.)

Show Information

Venue: Arts House, 521 Queensberry St., North Melbourne
Season:  22 - 29 September | Tues - Sat 9:15pm, Sun 8:15pm
Length: 60 minutes
Tickets: $24 Full | $20 Conc | $18 Cheap Tuesday
Bookings: Melbourne Fringe Festival

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