Empire Times editor Liam McNally sat down to talk with Flinders alumni and previous ET contributor CJ McLean to talk about his upcoming Fringe production, ‘Love and Anger’. The show, written and produced by CJ, is debuting at Chancery Lane Gallery on Saturday 18th February with a repeat performance on Sunday 19th. He will accompanied by Paul Sinkinson, a fellow Flinders alumni, who lends his musical talents to the show.
How long have you had the idea of this show?
Since August. That’s when I first thought of the idea of doing something. I had the idea of doing a memoir show because I was writing a lot of memoirs last year. From that idea, it spiralled into this – I started putting elements of cabaret in there, I started making it more theatrical. It started off from the idea of wanting to talk about the things I’ve done this past year and what has really affected me.
Did you envisage it as a Fringe show from the beginning?
Absolutely. Mostly because when you’re starting out in Adelaide as a young artist, you go for the obvious options in terms of ways you can present your show. And it seemed you either do it on your own or you put it in the Fringe.
What was the first step of making it come to fruition as a Fringe show?
The first thing I had to do was decide upon the content. Because I’m self-producing it, it really required me to know where I was going with it and [ensure] it was something that people would come to [by] creating that solid idea. From that, I approached a few venues. I wanted to make sure I had a venue that worked. I got in contact with people I knew or people who had contacts as well. Once I realised I needed a pianist, that required me to expand and find people to work with. I basically put out a Facebook post saying, ‘Who’s around who knows any pianists or knows anyone who has any musical expertise?’ From that I found Paul Sinkinson, who was eager to do the show and play the piano.
What creative influence did he [Paul Sinkinson] have on the show?
As I’m the writer of the show, the content has predominantly come from me but having said that, we’ve been working together and on the music side, he’s been guiding me, guiding my voice. He’s helped me in choosing the tone of some of the songs. He’s been an incredible resource and an incredible help – both creatively and technically. Amazing.
How did you decide on what you wanted to include, what atmosphere and style you wanted to bring up?
I think mostly the past year of events really influenced the mood of the show and what I wanted it to be about. I finished my Honours in Creative Writing in 2015. From that, I went to Sydney and I had a piece I wrote produced and everything just seemed to be happening. Then it all sort of stopped. I spent the last year working in retail and not really going anywhere or doing anything. I had to [look at] the next step in what I wanted to do. I guess that melancholy, the sadness, and naivety of that, all went in to what I wanted the show to feel like and what I wanted the audience to take away from it. The frustration you feel from feeling stuck [was an element I wanted the audience to get].
You draw on musicians like Florence Welch and Kate Bush – why did you choose those particular people?
Whilst I originally had the idea of a doing a memoir, I wanted to use a framing device of talking about women who’d influenced me, and women who’d influenced me. [Those] who gave me strength in those more troubling times.
From a young age, I’ve been predominantly inspired by women. Women in music, women in writing, women in theatre and film. Those voices have resonated with me much more – and not to use the gender binary and say women only produce a certain type of work, men only produce a certain kind of work – I’ve found those voices to be much more conducive and much more inspiring. I wanted to tap into that to create this show. Subsequently, that aspect has, though not dropped off, the memoir aspect has risen to the fore. That initial idea of wanting to explore how and why women have influenced me is still there and is why I’ve chosen the songs I have. There’s Tori Amos, Florence Welch, Kate Bush, Fiona Apple – all those artists I’ve been influenced by and have illustrated my anger and sadness and frustration. All of the emotions I’ve felt in the past year are right there in those songs.
Having come out of Honours, and being to Sydney, and doing a play, you mention this sense of stagnation. How did this show help in removing the stagnation and getting things going?
It definitely has helped me to realise certain things and see where I want to go from here. The content of the show has constantly been changing as I’ve been making those decisions. Part of the show’s ending involves a decision I’m going to be making about whether I’m going to leave SA to go to Melbourne or not and I was wrestling with that decision for months so the ending of the show was constantly changing. Even now I’m still not entirely sure. The content of the show has been constantly changing because of what I’ve been doing.
On the admin side of the show, how did you find the process of getting the show at Chancery Lane Gallery?
A friend of mine knows the curator there and she got us in touch and he was more than happy to let me present the show there. He has a space in the middle of the gallery that is basically a big blank room you can make anything you want with lighting and sound. It was absolutely perfect for the show. He very kindly has let me use it for the show.
How much went in to getting it into the Fringe, and would you have any suggestions to anyone looking to do their own Fringe show?
The show has been completely self-financed. I’ve put in 100% of the capital on it which I guess can be a bit intimidating to hear if you’re just starting out and looking to do your own show. If you have that idea, and you have that drive, you’ll find ways to do it. I have been working a lot over the last year so I was able to raise that capital. There are definitely other ways, of people making tremendous successes with Kickstarters and Pozible campaigns. If you are passionate enough about that idea you have and also, I guess, feel that it has that commercial aspect to it, there’s no telling what might come of that – I guess the best thing I can say is that you never know unless you try. I’ve never done a Fringe show before. It’s never even crossed my mind but once I had that idea and once I thought I could do this, it just went from there.