Coming to the Sydney Fringe is a new production by Jetpack Theatre, Flowers and O’Jim which further cements Jetpack’s reputation for bringing innovative, immersive theatrical performances to Sydney.
Drawing on a text written by Australian playwright Bernard Keane, Flowers and O’Jim brings together two separate, short plays and stages them within a former warehouse in Alexandria. Knowing that she wanted to produce this play, director Lucinda Vitek, described how she was captured by the play’s construction.
“I was really drawn to it because it feels like it's evoking ideas and thoughts without being stuck to a traditional narrative, and it asks more questions than it answers.”
It was being given access to this warehouse which for Vitek solidified her drive to stage this production in the venue that is simply referred to as Warehouse Stage One, which will host a number of productions over the course of the Sydney Fringe. The nature of such a site brought out themes that Vitek found inherent within the work.
“The play touches on ideas of the self and ideas around chaos and how we search for meaning in a meaningless world,” noted Vitek. Placing these concepts within the structured, yet desolate and unfeeling space, highlighted the play’s underlying qualities.
Collaborating with Vitek and the cast will be local alt rock outfit Manor Ants, who have composed an original soundscape in dialogue with the other elements of the production. While each approached the performance from their own artistic perspective, for Vitek this means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
“Working with the band as well as the actors has been really interesting mostly because they're two very different approaches to the vision that we have for the overall production and I think rather than that being a conflicting set of ideas, they're very complimentary.”
Unlike traditional productions where the musical aspects of the performance may be constructed separately to the performative aspects, Manor Ants were involved in Flowers and O’Jim from the beginning.
This collaborative approach has been a style that Vitek has worked with in the past, and Vitek avoids casting herself in the role of the director as auteur. The benefit of this is a “deeper and more complex production” argued Vitek, particularly as Flowers and O’Jim avoids a traditional, three act narrative.
Constructing an immersive performance allows Vitek and Jetpack to avoid this structure, and instead allow the audience to share the space with those who are performing. As Vitek described, “the audience and the actors will be inhabiting the same space, so in that sense you'll be able to feel and experience the actors.”
With this production, and some others like it that are not staged in purpose-built theatres, erected for a one-way interaction between performer and audience, narrative also does not return to expected forms. Vitek saw this interaction between site and performance as opening up a range of possibilities.
“I think a lot of immersive theatre shows try to stick to the three act structure to try and tell a traditional narrative, whereas I feel like the immersive theatre performance space is special because it can really explore alternate ways of telling stories.”
Since its formation in 2015, Jetpack has explored these divergent paths of meaning through a dizzying range of shows, but are perhaps best known for their production Art Heist where participants in teams of four have 45 minutes to steal a painting and create an experience between themselves and the performers who play security guards, and improvise each show. Vitek has been involved in various capacity with the company, but this is her debut directing a performance for the company, and one which she hopes will spur further immersive performances.
“Jetpack is one of the only theatre companies that I know of in Sydney that focuses exclusively on immersive experiences,” said Vitek. “You've got other companies in other cities that have been doing immersive theatre for a long time but I think Sydney hasn’t had one and hopefully it will break out and we'll start seeing more of it.”
Flowers and O’Jim runs from September 4 – 8. Pick up tickets here: https://sydneyfringe.com/buy-tickets?e=MTU4OTU
Disclosure: The producer of Flowers and O’Jim, Jodi Rabinowtiz, also contributes to Backyard Opera.