Whitney Richards has gone to great lengths to dig up her lost childhood memories, and that even includes travelling to Canada to bring her story to life among the welcoming arms of Canadian fringe audiences. Now she’s bringing her debut solo show, I Do I Don’t, back home to Perth at The Blue Room Theatre, and is looking forward to telling her story to the folks who know her best. Richards gives us a little insight to her work and the challenges of getting the balance right.
What was your experience in Canada like, and how was your show received there? Are Canadians as nice or even nicer than everyone thinks they are?
Canada is really good to me. The artists, the people who billet artists, the audiences. I toured with Weeping Spoon on Shane Adamczak’s show Trampoline last year and it really opened me up. This year’s tour was tough for me though. First writing venture, first solo show, first time travelling alone. I probably went over prematurely, to be honest, and the show’s reception was very mixed. I made improvements on the show every day and that was both frightening and thrilling. I worked with an incredible dancer and theatre-maker, Linnea Gwiazda, whilst in Canada, and having her eyes on the project and not knowing the real-life characters involved, helped me explore things more.
Canadians are so nice. It’s ridiculous. I’m thinking about living there. I find the artists there incredibly generous with their eyes and ears and hearts and I do miss my support network there.
Is your perspective on The Rock Eisteddfod Challenge as an adult different than when you were a kid?
No way. I loved it then and I love it now. Same with Claire Nichols. She was my Rock Eisteddfod leader when I was in year 9 and choreographed the dances in I Do I Don’t. How special! We were a hyperactive combo when we were rehearsing in May.
Dancing in the four Rock Eisteddfods I did was kind of my introduction to performing so it has a lot to answer for. I’m deeply saddened that kids these days can no longer experience it. It definitely saved my lost teenage self. Hence, the show.
How do you feel about Whitney Houston, given you’re named after her?
Music has always had a big place in my life. I love young Whitney. I love her songs. It was a little heart-breaking when things went downhill for her and then actually very sad when she passed away.
Why did you decide to write and perform this show, and in this way?
I decided to write a solo show about my past when I toured with Shane in 2015. I was so inspired by all the brilliant solo shows I saw there. They were the types of shows that spoke to me most and felt most genuine. I thought “I’ve got a story too” and so I set about interviewing my family members and seeking out clarity from my childhood and turning it into a show. The Rock Eisteddfod storyline came to me during an aerobics class one day and I wanted to explore intertwining those storylines.
Is there material in your show which you might find difficult to perform to a home audience?
Yes. It is so important for me to perform I Do I Don’t in Perth but a few things will be tough. I didn’t have a perfect upbringing (who does?) so it’ll be particularly hard if I know family members are in the audience. The project is meant to give closure to me and has been made with absolute love for those involved but I’m frightened of hurting people, for sure. I’ve been so conscious of that throughout the process. The decision to test the show first overseas where no one knew me was deliberate. But it was really important to bring it home next.
It sounds like there’s both some light and dark stuff in your show – how do you go about getting the balance right?
Honestly, I’m still working on that. We’re just over a week out from our first show and I’m making tweaks to the writing and we’re still shaping the design for the show.
You’re been based in Sydney now, if I’m not mistaken – what are some of the biggest differences between a life in Sydney theatre vs. a life in Perth theatre?
I have been living in Sydney for the past 3 and a half years. I haven’t worked as an actor in Sydney but I’ve been in a lot of rehearsal rooms and I’ve ushered for a lot of shows there. There is a tendency to have a more sleek and symbolic design in New South Wales, I have observed. I’ve seen more re-workings of classic texts since living in Sydney too. My life is much more difficult now. The number of actors there is immense. I’m not known as an actor in Sydney and that has been very tough. Rent is also very expensive in Sydney, so I have to work more and just have less time for creative projects. Perth is great that once you do a show, most of the industry came along to see it. I do enjoy that after all the time I’ve been living in Sydney, I still see actors who I’ve never seen on stage before. You’re constantly seeing new faces. The anonymity in Sydney has ultimately been beneficial. I’ve had a lot of time to observe and think about the kind of stories I want to tell.
Whitney Richards tells her story from 16 Aug to 3 Sept at 8:30pm at The Blue Room. For more information and bookings, visit The Blue Room website here.