We've been told that success comes when you put in the hard work. But how much hard work is necessary? And what happens when you keep putting in the work but it feels like you're never getting closer to achieving your dream and that you have been constantly pushing a rock up a hill, or maybe running on a treadmill? Ensemble theatre company Pony Cam are here to interrogate just that with a brand new Melbourne Fringe Festival show, Burnout Paradise.
Over the course of 55 minutes, Hugo Williams, Ava Campbell, Claire Bird, Dominic Weintraub and William Strom mount four treadmills as they go through the feelings and process of the euphoric optimism that comes before burnout. With what has occurred over the last few years, no one knows this better than those in the performing arts industry, where optimism and burnout are very much entwined. "The two are closely related for us. Like siblings, maybe," the collective says. "Trying to make work as a team, we’re juggling a lot. Between the five of us, we have 14 part-time jobs, we make 5 – 10 shows a year, and on top of that we’re all trying to become better, calmer, healthier people."
"So this notion of burnout is very much in our bodies. It’s a factor in every decision we make. It’s both the bogeyman of contemporary culture and the inevitable endpoint of being in an industry that’s structurally destitute. But for us, there’s an ongoing hopefulness inside of it. Our drive to keep working is buoyed by the aspiration that we can do more and keep all the balls in the air at once. That we can live the dream. There’s something in this optimism that’s waiting to be unravelled."
Pony Cam will be building up a sweat as they deconstruct these big thoughts, with the performers running on treadmills in an escalating series of challenges along the way, some of which seem straightforward and others that will definitely require additional skill and coordination. "These challenges may include but also may not include and are not limited to running whilst: increasing speed, increasing incline, handlebar handstands, cooking a meal, editing a PowerPoint, increasing speed again, nurturing a baby, giving a ted talk, crocheting a new balaclava to wear to increase sweat, putting up the heating, increasing incline again, trying to re-create the entire OK GO video clip, doing the Macarena, increasing speed again, changing into formal wear, decreasing incline, eating a whole pizza and finally, increasing speed again," they explain.
With all this happening while performing an actual piece of theatre, the collective has been rigorously preparing with an intensive fitness schedule. "In terms of our fitness levels, we know that we don't have the stamina, nor the training, nor the muscle groups to run for an hour every day for ten nights," they concede. "It’s going to be a challenge but we want it to be a challenge. To break it down though, we started with the following:
1. William occasionally runs. Naturally. Easily. Acrobatically, some might say. Of all of us, William will triumph.
2. Hugo has a history of running and long tennis-trained legs, but has of late only put his mobile legs into action when trying to get on a tram he is late for. He is mostly late. This is accidental training.
3. Dominic does most of his exercise in secret. Secret swims. Secret sit-ups. Secret runs. We have no idea how fit Dominic actually is.
4. Claire went for a run six years ago and couldn’t use her calf muscles for three days.
And while they might have a regret, it's not the one you may think. "There has been a curious and wonderful thing happening when we talk about Burnout Paradise to others. Everyone seems to have in their memory a show they’ve seen with a treadmill in it, and we love this," they tell me. "We love embracing the un-original and the history of what’s come before. It’s too early to say, but this feels like the echoes of Grand Theft Theatre and playing into some sort of theatrical homage is brewing. This is not making us regret anything, but fuelling the ingredients we walk into the first rehearsal with alongside our sweaty bodies and our treadmills. What we do regret is having to lug the four 200kg treadmills into the shed, knowing that they will need to be moved many more times around the city before, during and after our season."
Even with winning best show at Melbourne Fringe Festival last year for Grand Theft Theatre, Pony Cam are going into Burnout Paradise more committed and motivated to deliver something as exceptional. "The Fringe festival has a great way of making you feel unpretentious. The success of Grand Theft Theatre has quickly disappeared under the collective excitement of heaps of artists coming together and testing their work," they say. "In that way, the success of a past show means little for the next. Perhaps there is an unspoken expectation that people will want to see more of our work, which is nice to think."
Fringe Five Fast Ones
1) Hugo's favourite meal is... a red pasta sauce with a recipe from a housemate, cooking some butter beans on the side and pine nuts in a mix of yummy herbs, combining of all them and placing them over some Casarecce pasta. With a bit of pecorino on top.
2) A TV show Ava would like to be cast in is ... any period drama. For the costumes.
3) A little-known skill William is is ... solving a Rubik’s Cube.
4) Claire's proudest professional moment is … under embargo.
5) For Dominic, happiness is ... being in the sun, tending to his small veggie garden.
Venue: Trades Hall, Cnr Lygon & Victoria Sts, Carlton
Season: 11 - 22 October | Wed - Sat 9:00pm, Sun 8:00pm
Duration: 55 minutes
Tickets: $18 Full | $15 Concession | $13.50 Hump Day Discount (Wednesday)
Bookings: Melbourne Fringe Festival