A Conversation With … Claudia Barrie

Independent theatre director Claudia Barrie has been pushing the Sydney theatre scene, taking on plays outside of the canon to probe and ask questions of audiences all too used to convention. This month, Claudia takes on a new work by Stef Smith, Girl in the Machine. After its premiere in Edinburgh, the play is coming to the National Theatre of Parramatta and we spoke with Claudia about producing independently, the impact of tech and theatre and working on a new script such as this.

BYO: In thinking about technology and our relationship with technology, how does technology being wearable change our understanding of the devices and how we relate to them as bodies?

Claudia: I think if you can put something on your person and wear it then it starts to have the ability to absorb more of you as a person. In this play the device can read heart rates and brain waves so the minute that you wear something there's that idea of becoming completely wrapped up by it which is quite a strong image, whereas if it's a phone, you can just put it down.

BYO: How is approaching the blurring of reality and the virtual through theatre different to other artistic forms?

Claudia: That was one of the questions that I had for National Theatre of Parramatta; the sci-fi genre and the Black Mirror story is all very much dominated by film and TV. Theatre offers a very different kind of experience so for me it's more about the relationships. I'm quite interested in how the technology affects the relationships of the two characters that are in the play. I believe that people go to the theatre to feel something and so it's my job to make sure that that can happen.

BYO: How did you approach this text in particular, what was the process of putting it together for this stage?

Claudia: [So far] it's been a bit on the floor, a bit around the table, working things out dramaturgically because it is a different space, a different audience, a different company and we just wanted to mould [the script] a little bit more. It's been a slightly different process because of the text itself but it's been good.

BYO: What was different in particular?

Claudia: Just that this is a relatively new play and it's a play that's still growing. Some of the other plays that I've done have been quite locked down and established so there's something about it that's been like working on a new Australian work. It's also different because it's a different kind of story, I haven't really delved into the sci-fi technology story before so that's been fun.

BYO: Does that mean you have a bit more freedom to interpret the text?

Claudia: Yes, and the playwright has been quite generous as well.

BYO: What was the process of casting this play and developing the production team?

Claudia: So National Theatre [of Parramatta] had an idea of [casting] Brandon McClelland and I knew Brandon as a friend and a colleague as well and I thought he was a really great fit and I've worked with Chantelle [Jamieson] before and so I suggested her because I thought she was the right energy opposite him. So it was a bit of a collaborative casting process with the National Theatre of Parramatta and the same thing with the design team, so some of the designers that I brought on, the National Theatre hadn't met them before but all of the designers I've worked with before.

BYO: It seems like the focus of your work is strongly in the independent theatre scene and I was wondering what made you choose that area to focus your efforts and energies?

Claudia: I didn't so much choose the independent theatre sector as it is where I was able to access the work. For me, starting my own company was more me wanting to have autonomy over the work that I was doing and have some creative control over that and know that I would be working even if I wasn't working for another company to keep me busy. So I'm now at that point where I'm doing a little bit of both which is nice. I started producing out of a need for work but it ended up becoming quite a successful enterprise as well.

BYO: I wanted to ask, because you studied drama and then worked outside of theatre for a while and then came back to theatre, how has that trajectory shaped your approach to producing work?

Claudia: Well I worked in the industry for a few years after finishing drama school and then I went back to uni and got a Masters of Education and then after I got that I moved to Canada and had a break from everything. Then I came back and I've been working reasonably solidly in the industry since then. I think it's a good to give yourself a break, to go off and do other things.

BYO: And then what did you draw from that experience coming back to the world of theatre?

Claudia: Oh just growing up a bit, a bit of life experience, getting older. When I left drama school I was very very young and I reflect on that now and go ‘Oh it probably would have been better if I'd gone when I was a little bit older’ because I went just straight out of high school and I just needed to settle a bit. You have to be pretty solid and resilient to work in this industry and I just needed to grow up a bit.

BYO: The last question that I had was what's the one piece of technology that you can't do without?

Claudia: My phone, probably!

Girl in The Machine runs from June 20 – 29. For tickets and details, head here: https://riversideparramatta.com.au/NTofP/show/girl-in-the-machine/.