5 Questions with Melissa Hume and Gideon Payten-Griffiths

Melissa Hume

Gideon Payten-Griffiths: What does the ancient story of Bluebeard make you think about?
Melissa Hume: It makes me think of deception, of a beast with a glistening smile, murder, a marriage mistake, a room full of blood and bones. All of the fun, juicy stuff. It also makes me think and question the concept of doubt. The nameless young woman becomes doubtful that Bluebeard was to blame for the multiple disappearances of his past wives. The doubt is enough for her to agree to marry him. What causes her doubt of his guilt? Is it his wealth, pressure from her family, or his kind, seemingly generous manner?

How does performing in a men’s change room and toilet make you feel and affect your devising process?
Performing in a men’s change room and toilets makes me feel like a theatre rebel! I’m really excited about it because there are so many interesting aspects and items to play with (toilets, taps, showers!) that you don’t usually have in a normal theatre. I’ve performed in site-specific works before and it’s always been an amazing experience. Often the preconceived ideas to how an audience should act are lifted, so it makes it all so immediate and exciting. It affects the devising process because the seating arrangement, architecture, layout and acoustics of the change room/toilets is really different from our rehearsal spaces. So these things need to be kept in mind when we devise and we also need to keep it somewhat flexible and adaptable.

Why are you an artist/performer/actor?
The idea of dying is frightening and the idea of living is also frightening. Somewhere amongst all of that is meaning, and I’m trying to find out what that meaning is through the lens of stories. There’s also nothing that makes me feel quite alive as when I’m working on and performing in a show.

5 desert island necessities?
Toothbrush. Floss. Tampons (such a luxury item). An avocado tree. Bear Grylls.

If you were not an artist/performer/actor, what would you be doing?
I’d be on a desert island with Bear Grylls.

Gideon Payten-Griffiths

Melissa Hume: Bluebeard; Or, The Marriage Mistakes Of A Nameless Bride will be performed in the men’s toilets and change rooms at Bondi Pavilion. Tell me more about this and your experience with non-traditional venues?
Gideon Payten-Griffiths: Unusual contexts and audience relationships has become a big part of my practice. The unexpected can simply thrill the audience or keep them active. It can transform the viewer’s everyday experience of that space or the normally relatable; with this you might talk about what lurks underneath, reveal the unseen. Site specificity can exploit a fusion between art and ‘real life’, offering a beauty and/or an unsettling quality which can provoke or open up the audience. Suspending the everyday creates joy. A men’s change room and loo makes me think of social conventions, competition and intimacy which could reveal (darker) aspects of the (male) psyche. For women entering the space there layers of permission, trust and disgust heightening questions of gender and the roles we play, romance and the mystery of the other. This amplification of the binary has me thinking about seen and unseen sides to the same story. Responding to the physical aspects of this space is also inspiring; the hardness, greyness, moisture, seclusion, compartments, obscured vision, neon lighting. In playing clarinet and other sound in the space, the reverberation, the source of sound and the ambient sounds of Bondi have great potential.

How do you think the audience will be able to relate to this adaptation of the fairytale Bluebeard?
I think we are exploring Bluebeard in terms of what it says about emotional needs, desire, intimacy, fear, trust, aspiration, reputation, gender expectations; all sorts of things we all experience that are in there alongside the far out, suspense, horror and eroticism of a good serial killer tale. Or is it? There is no script, we are re-making this story from scratch and still creating; it will be a contemporary view. It may have some abstraction which might further allow the audience to relate in their own ways. I think we want to resist the simple moral conclusions of a fairytale; that a young woman should be less curious or that Bluebeard is pure evil. It’s a story of courtship and life-altering choices. Meanwhile, we’ve been asking what drives people to extremes, what makes a ‘bad’ person and what is the source cause of horrifying acts; where is the killer in all of us? By the way, its not just a fairytale! These stories of violence happen, today, just around the corner…

Can you tell me your story of how you came to be a performer?
I became a performer when I realised I always was a performer. Having made, sung, danced and acted since an early age it was in my bones. Yes Mel, that meaning and life/death thing can be terrifying. Maybe something about this self-awareness and sensitivity is part of what got me to this profession, or vice versa. After school I went listlessly, and at times pathologically, in other directions. Then, in 2005 I did a training program at PACT centre for emerging artists and remembered I didn’t have to pursue one discipline but could explore the fusion of different practices. I could simply be and artist (person). I realised that being an artist was the only thing I could do – there is a special kind of joy and transcendence it brings. After we’ve taken care of the basics, it’s what we do. When we haven’t or can’t take care of the basics, it’s what we do. I think art in life used to be less about the audience vs. performer and more about a community spirituality. I’m still coming to being a performer. There’s the ongoing research into knowing and harnessing the self, my embodied energy and how to move and project it (in the endless entropy of existence). I love making and performing as an act of empathy, compassion and connection. To question, reflect, break down and see anew. To speak truth to power. To be the jester. I guess it is the sense of purpose to the work that is the real story. Let alone the fun in the play of it!

If your life was to be written as a fairytale, what would the first sentence be?
There was once a fool who lived at the top of an empty hill in a warm little invisible house and dreamed of being a real person. (I reserve the right to change the fairytale at anytime).

Do you have any pre-show superstitions or rituals?
Urinating. Hugging my colleagues (you know like energetic, inter-corporeal ensemble building, we are one, we are many, listening with my feet, seeing you with my elbow!)

Melissa Hume and Gideon Payten-Griffiths are performing in Bluebeard; Or, The Marriage Mistakes Of A Nameless Bride, part of Bondi Feast 2017.
Dates: 25 – 29 July, 2017
Venue: Bondi Pavilion