After a year in development, Cheryn Frost and her team, Fish Hook, are letting loose their beast, Fem Menace onto Sydney stages.
Only one year out of university, Cheryn Frost is ready to take the theatre world by storm. Frost is definitely one to watch in Sydney’s competitive theatre scene and is staging her first show at PACT Centre for Emerging Artists this November. Entitled Fem Menace, the show promises to be an intense exploration of femininity and the monsters inside of us.
BYO: How long have you been at PACT Centre for Emerging Artists for?
Frost: In 2016 I jumped into [PACT Collective’s Production of] iDNA, did that with Katrina [Douglas] and then Katrina turned to me and was like ‘Hey, you know we've got money from the City of Sydney, we're thinking about putting forward two First Nations artists. Would you be interested?’ And I was kind of really taken aback because in my head Katrina is like on this pedestal, she runs PACT, she's an insane creative she's an amazing woman and I was like, 'You're coming to me?' But it was kind of funny because she approached me and was like, 'we’re really interested in you as an artist and we would like to commission you to make a work' and I took that and was like in the same breath me, Cath [McNamara] and Tahlee [Leeson] have had this dream from uni of just ‘We're going to make a company and we're going to make works that people are going to come and see.’ And now it's like we have money, we have a space so all of our imagine, imagine, imagine is now a reality and this is us coming together and making a show, which is super exciting.
BYO: How long have you spent developing this show?
Frost: So we went away in June, I think it was, for about a week, Kat's Dad owns some property in Orange so we were like we're going to go on an artists’ retreat, because we always imagined if we were rich and famous, all these crazy artists go on retreats, we should go on a retreat. That was kind of our first development, went out there and were in the bush for four days making and creating. Getting drunk and experiencing it. Being drunk and just trying to put ourselves in every sort of circumstance to find something to start with because Katrina gave me absolutely no boundaries it was just we want you to make something, off you go. For someone making their first show, that to me was really frightening because I've never had someone say you have complete control.
BYO: What were some of the ideas that came out of that week in Orange?
Frost: We were looking at our fears. Looking at us just as women and how we exist in a world as women. We started off looking at women being compared and objectified, but how do we objectify women in relation to nature and how do we use terms of nature in relation to women and how do we combat those fears from the perspective of women. That's how our show started to develop, was our fears. And then yeah it kind of started to snowball from that and we were like we want to make a world and I think our big point in Orange was what sort of world do we want to make and we want our audience to walk into our world. We didn't want to make a show that was, 'I'm sitting here and you're sitting there and you are watching me perform.’
My biggest fear is to make a show that's stale and then the performance is stale, so we went well fuck it, let's do a two month, hyper intensive, we'll do three days, Monday to Friday, and then one full day on Sunday and we'll work like that until our show goes up, so we can't ever get sick of it.
BYO: I’m really interested in how you're saying you don't want to just have just have the stage and the audience and I was wondering, what're some of the techniques or things that you're playing with to cross that divide, to get the audience there in your show?
Frost: I think just the way you utilise your space. How you take into consideration our audience and make our world a full experience for them as well, like they're not just watching in a window of our world, they're a part of our world and these things with us. Things like using our set and bringing our set in amongst the audience and us coming in among the audience, not just standing in front of our audience. So we're like dancing on them and we're dancing around them, we speaking to them, we're speaking at them.
BYO: How's the process of going through PACT and Afterglow and moving from University into what's kind of the 'real world'? How does PACT and Afterglow work as a pathway for young artists like yourself and how are you managing that transition?
Frost: Every performing arts school has a style; there's a NIDA style, there's a ACA style, there's a WAPA style. There's a UOW style, and it is that they show their performers that they're not just an actor, you need to be an actor, a tech, a director, a stage hand, an outside eye, a dramaturg. Coming out of uni the first thing I got offered was through a friend of a friend doing a play I really didn't agree with and it was a straightforward play and I had no creative control and even when I tried to give a bit of ‘oh guys you really need to think about it from this perspective’ it was always shut down and I was just like, 'I don't like this. I don't like having a voice and then not being heard,' because it's hard as a woman to sit in a room amongst a whole bunch of men, and I was the only Aboriginal woman in there and it was dealing with issues of my own background and I was like ‘I don't like this, I'm not a part of this anymore. Fuck this whole realm of theatre because I hate it,’ and that's when then PACT came along and they were allowing us to have complete creative control. I started seeing similarities between PACT and UOW, we were allowed to create and weren't questioned. It's very much ‘we're here to support you, to facilitate you and to be the best artist you can be,’ and that's what I love about PACT.
BYO: One of the things you said is that you want to change the world of theatre. So what's holding it back right now and what would you like to see change in the future?
Frost: So much, just so much I wish could be changed. I would just love for more theatre to be accessible to younger people. Because that's something I didn't have as a kid. I lived on the Coast up North, in a small town. Drama classes weren't a thing, no one had ever heard of what NIDA was or what WAPA was, no one knew what theatre was. We did 'School Shows'. I want more funding, more spaces, more accessibility for everyone on every level of performance. More platforms for us to have voices on, for people of colour, women, people with disabilities, everyone needs a platform and it's so heavily run by males, we sometimes feel like we don't have a voice.
BYO: What can people expect for the show?
Frost: Fun, excitement, explosive. It's dynamic, it's relatable, it's everything. It's funny, it's unnerving. It's a lot of emotions just in this one show. The three of us are very what you see is what you get, and this is who we are and that really structured a lot of our theatre. We all come from such different backgrounds there's so much that's honed in on and so much that's brought to the table for each show. It's going to be an experience, that's what we're aiming for. Welcome to our world.
BYO: What's next?
Frost: The dream? We take the show somewhere and it goes elsewhere and it gets places. If that doesn't happen? We make more fucking work and get our voices even louder because we're here to stay and there's no way you're letting us go. You can try and push us out but we're always going to find some way back in. We just want to make more work, more explosive work, more fun, exciting dynamic, fragmented, relatable work.
Fem Menace will be on show at PACT in Erskineville from November 22-25. You can buy tickets here www.pact.net.au/whats-on/2017/11/23/thomas-es-kelly-and-cheryn-frost