5 Questions with Priscilla Jackman and Charles O’Grady

Priscilla Jackman

Charles O’Grady: What’s the most significant or surprising thing you’ve learned about trans people and gender identity through the process of making this show?
Priscilla Jackman: I’ve learnt so much on this journey but probably the most obvious thing has been correcting my previous misconception about the homogeneity of the trans community. In my
ignorance as a cisgender white woman, I assumed that trans people share common ground, common values, options etc. Of course, just like all facets of society there is enormous range and diversities within the trans community. Getting to know Catherine McGregor has been such an extraordinary revelation, because her experience and her journey has made me think, quite deeply about humanity and the commonality of our experience, as much as those aspects of her life which are so different to my own.

I find that every time I do a show like this – this one in particular! – I come away having learned or re-evaluated something about myself. Is there anything you’ve discovered over the course of this production that’s changed how you understand your own identity?
I guess a chief understanding and development for me has been an affirmation of the extraordinary collaborative process that making theatre is all about. Often as a director in the past, I have felt solely responsible for overseeing every aspect of a project, feeling I should have all the answers to everything. The most wonderful and humbling experience of working on this show has been to realise that in terms of my identity as a director, actually, the creative solutions have often been born through a deep and rich collaboration with all my team. Recognising the power of this collaboration and the creative strength and collective experience in the room has led to some of the most important creative break-through moments during rehearsals.

You and I have talked a lot about how beautiful and resonant Cate’s voice is. If you could have her read one book or play aloud to you, what would it be?
Apart from cricket, Catherine’s chief obsession is language – her love and faculty for language and storytelling is precisely what captivated and inspired me in the first place. She loves Shakespeare, the Greeks, can rattle off any number of famous military and political speeches verbatim, in a heartbeat. I love to hear her recount famous speeches – Robert Kennedy is a favourite. I love her love of poetry. But perhaps my favourite is her rendition of St Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V. So to answer your question, I would love her to read Henry V to
me.

What element of this show are you most proud of?
There is so much to be grateful for, being involved in bringing this production to life. For me, one of the greatest gifts has been to work with the team. I have never felt as supported and connected to my design team and have absolutely loved and adored working with Michael Scott Mitchell and Nick Schlieper. I have learnt so much from them both. Working with Heather Mitchell has also been one of the most inspiring experiences of my professional life – all members of our team have given so much heart and soul to the work, it has been extraordinary. The day Cate arrived at our rehearsal room, unexpectedly and played cricket with the cast, was one of the proudest days of the rehearsal process – because in that moment everything made sense – the journey that
we have been on together, the importance of telling this extraordinary story, the grace and generosity of both Cate and the cast and the team. I think we all walked away from that day feeling very affirmed that this is indeed, a very special project and special opportunity.

How has making this show differed to other shows you’ve directed in the past?
There are many differences and many similarities. Differences lie in the experience of the team I have around me – including working with you Charles – my first ever Assistant Director! I have created new work in the past using adaptation processes, but this is the first play I have written using a verbatim methodology.

Charles O’Grady

Cate talks frequently about her idol and ‘talisman’, Indian cricketer Rahul Dravid. Do you have a ‘Dravid’ in your professional or personal life, and if so, who?
I feel like I have several Dravids – most of whom would hate to be mentioned by name here! – in the sense that there are a lot of people in my life who have directly or indirectly kept me going, pulled me back from the edge in darker periods, reminded me there are reasons to keep surviving, or just been there when I needed calm and clarity. They all know who they are and they’re all rolling their eyes because, as Dravid says to Cate, “it was nothing” for them to show me kindness and support. I think often we don’t know who the “still points” in our chaos and turmoil are going to be until we find them and we’re clinging on for dear life. In terms of celebrity talismans I’ve carried with me in my life as a gender diverse person, Laura Jane Grace (lead singer of Against Me!) was a big one, as her album Transgender Dysphoria Blues was what gave me the courage to come out to my family. One time she tweeted me saying we were “BFFs”. It was amazing.

What about the text or the concept most excited you when we first discussed it?
There were two things that most got my blood running when reading the script and chatting to you about it. The first thing was that, despite our very different lives and worlds, I found a surprising number of similarities in my story and Cate’s story – something I wouldn’t have necessarily expected from someone who transitioned later in life, and who is involved in sports and the military! There’s so many moments in the script – some big, some minute – that felt to me like a hand reaching out and touching mine, like someone saying “I was there too, you’re not alone”. The second and possibly greater thing was that I saw a nuanced and complex portrayal of a trans person whose opinions I often disagree with. I love that I’ve been forced to re-examine some of my own pre-conceptions, that this is a play that constantly demands more from me, that gets me fired up and passionate. As a younger queer person, I can sometimes fall into the trap of forgetting there are multiple views within my community. Engaging with the words of someone who sees certain things differently to me, who also expresses her views so eloquently, has been as much an intellectual challenge as an emotional one.

Cate talks about cricket being a space for her where “everything just dissolves” and she feels congruent in her identity. Do you have any passions that have the same effect on you?
For me it’s always been dancing. I did ballet from age five to eighteen – I was never very technically proficient but I knew a lot about dance and loved every moment of it. For me, ballet, and dance generally, became a space free of gender – odd, as I was in classes exclusively with girls and we were constantly feminised. But the physical act of dancing was always about being a body moving in a space, and not being a gender – it was about making shapes and evoking stories, and I didn’t need to be a girl OR a boy to do that. Now, though, I find that I get the same euphoria of congruence when I sing.

What’s your favourite iconic ‘cricket sledge’?
Now that I’ve quite literally read the book on the noble Art of Sledging, I’d have to say my fave sledge is by Stephen Harold Gascoigne, better know as ‘Yabba’, who said to a fumbling batsman: “Bowl the bastard a grand piano and see if he can play that instead!”

Sum up this play in five words or less.
Chaos. Congruence. Cry-inducing. Cursing. Cate.

Priscilla Jackman is director, and Charles O’Grady is Assistant Director for Still Point Turning: The Catherine McGregor Story.
Dates: 21 April – 26 May, 2018
Venue: Wharf 1 Theatre