Ever wondered what it's like seeing your own work brought to life on stage?
We asked WA playwright Kim Crotty for a behind the scenes take on what it's like your vulnerabilities on stage and what he hopes audiences get out of his show The Smallest Stage. Read on to find out what he said!
What were your initial thoughts when you were first approached about bringing your story to life?
When Matt, Zöe and Fiona first approached me I was sceptical. I couldn’t imagine anyone might be interested in my story, or that an audience would care about a play that tells it. I’d hoped that maybe one or two of the stories might one day be published, or that a fun show for kids might be made using the best of them. Matt and Zöe had to talk me around to the idea of sharing the origin of the stories because I lived through those experiences, many of them painful and very difficult. I just couldn’t see what they saw.
How difficult was it to share your personal story and the stories you had created for your children? What was the biggest challenge in bringing this story to life?
At the Donnelly River Artist Retreat, hosted by BREC, I didn’t want to share the truth behind the creation of the stories I wrote for my kids. I thought that if it came out that I had been in prison for growing cannabis that I’d be asked to leave. It wasn’t at all difficult to share my story with Matt, Zöe and Fiona though, they’re all so lovely. The difficulty I’ve had is sharing my innermost thoughts and feelings about a time that I’ve kept secret, with increasingly larger groups of people. It’s a bit terrifying to bear your soul to an audience.
What was the process for deciding on the way to tell this story to an audience?
We had a lot of fun, made a lot of mess, and experimented with a lot of concepts in true collaboration. Everyone brought ideas and we were game for anything. From the outset though, we wanted to tell a story without pretence for both kids and adults, because the lives within a family aren’t of separate worlds, they are always interwoven. The audio-guided participation has evolved a great deal and really brought this concept to life. The on-stage relationship between the story told by Ben and the kids and adults experiencing these situations and emotions for the first time was a beautiful discovery. One of many we made in the process of making this show.
The illustrated characters bring to life the journey you went on with your kids during your time in prison – is it emotional to see them animated on the big screen?
It is extraordinary to see the characters I created for my kids come to life on stage via live drawing, puppetry and animation. Had you told me this would happen back when I was in cell 3-16, D-Wing, HMP Dartmoor, I’d have thought you were mad. At the time of their creation, I didn’t know if I’d ever see these stories and characters again. I nick-named Arlen ‘Destructo, the Boy Tornado’ long before I wrote the story. I only kept the drafts because I thought it unlikely the originals would survive, so to have the boys, Zöe and Steve working to bring them to a wider audience is surreal.
Your kids feature in the show in a really unique way – how does it feel having their support for the production?
I love it! I’m so glad to have Otto and Arlen’s support for and involvement in the show. I wrote these stories as a way of bringing us closer together and they continue to do so today. Together with Zöe’s son, Matty, the boys chose to animate the first ‘Superfish’ story and it set a particular style and benchmark for joyful creativity that has spread through everyone’s approaches to making the work. Superfish then also became a key character in a pivotal scene after I sketched a self-portrait with Superfish in my shirt pocket, giving me excellent life advice that Matt and I worked into the script. The boys have brought a real energy and lots of great ideas.
With people able to take part as child-adult participant duos or just sit back and enjoy the show, can you describe the benefits of both options for ticket buyers?
I think this is both a unique show for audiences and a unique experience for those kid and adult pairs, one that will deepen their relationship as they become a part of the show. The participants aren’t asked to act, they are immersed in the story, on a journey together through the real events that brought my kids and I closer together, at a time when that seemed impossible. The non-participants aren’t just audience members for the show, they are witnesses to real people becoming another language of storytelling. They get to see the participants experiencing the events, emotions, and implications of a story that actually happened, and is happening again on stage in front of them.
What do you hope audiences will get out of this show?
I hope audiences get out of the show exactly what we put into it – lots of love and the joy of creativity. I also hope that audiences will recognise similarities in my story and their own. What I did to maintain my relationship with my kids is just one example of the beautiful acts of creativity borne of love that people everywhere do every day. But there are a number of intersections within the work from which audiences will make their own interpretations and meanings, raising questions of themselves and each other. So, I and the whole creative team, hope the show starts honest and meaningful conversations between people, particularly adults and kids, enabling better communication and stronger relationships.