CHAOS Ensemble‘s Daley King hopes to make some waves with his new theatre work TANK which opens at The Blue Room next week. The show is a kind of aquatic fable involving four fish in a fish tank, and it explores how we humans behave in the face of ecological destruction that we have brought upon ourselves. King opens up about how the show has evolved, and shares a few ideas about how the arts can evolve the human race.
Where did the idea for TANK come from and how did you begin to transfer your ideas to the page and then the stage?
It started off as a very political show, as in literally exploring real-world climate change politics and policies, but we whittled it down to something more important: the humans behind these policies, and what drives them, what drives us all. There’s this survival instinct we all have, and sometimes it takes control. It’s very similar to how fish live, especially in tank-like conditions. If there’s too many fish, something has to give, and I think that’s a very potent issue that we’re currently experiencing with the relationship between climate change and overpopulation.
Was your aim always to direct it as well? Has one or the other been more challenging for you?
It’s certainly been a long process, but I always wanted to be the one to bring it to life, especially as the issues were so important to me, and I had such a clear vision in mind. However, the show, as it stands today, has not solely come from myself. I certainly put the pieces together, but it couldn’t have happened without the cast playing such an important role in the devising process. I would challenge them, and they would challenge me right back. I’ve had to throw my ego out the window, and really listen to everyone, to find the common ground that we could explore together.
You started CHAOS ENSEMBLE “with an aim to break the idea of normality and genre in theatre”; could you explain that a little bit further? What do you see as normality in theatre and in what ways specifically do you break free from that?
The company was born out of my own small dealings with chaos; mainly a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and a realisation that I was bisexual. It’s quite amusing actually, I refer to it as being ‘bi-squared’. I had always been adverse to order when I was younger, and I often managed to get myself stuck in unpleasant situations because of this. I felt like I had no real control over anything, especially myself, as I was pulled back and forth between two polar opposites. I’ve learnt to embrace this chaos, and channel it, but it’s still hard, it’s unpredictable. I want my art to thrive on this unpredictability.
We’re still stuck in an old predictable art world; we do the same shows over and over, trying to find something new in the old, instead of just looking outside. We find that audiences often don’t like what they don’t know, so we pander to the crowd, trying desperately to distill the chaos of life into something for the audience to comfortably enjoy. We need more artists who disturb this comfort. We need to update our practices to meet a modern crowd head on. We’re not honest enough about the world; it’s a new generation scared of surprising, offending, attacking, or demanding attention from our audiences, and from each other. The world is not a safe place, so why should we reflect that with safe art? I want to break free from the safe.
Do you believe that theatre has the power to inspire or activate significant social change?
I believe so. Find an issue close to your heart. Find people who have studied it. Find people who have lived it. Find people you trust to bring it to life. Find an audience willing to listen, and if they’re not willing, tell the story anyway. I’ve personally helped several people and their loved ones understand some of the complexities behind depression, simply through telling brutally honest personal anecdotes in my previous show. They thanked me afterwards, and we had a long conversation about the ins and outs of the invisible illness. Some have gone on to seek help, and some were inspired to help others to do the same. Art has inspired social change for centuries, and that’s one tradition I’m willing to uphold.
How do you find the humour in the gloom and doom, and what makes you want to keep fighting the good fight?
There’s always humour in the absurd, and the world we live in is full of the absurd. I love to sit and allow the world to flow around me, watching and listening. Anything is hilarious, if you focus in on how ridiculous it is. I’ve seen some climate change deniers out on the street recently, yelling their beliefs. Climate change is something that is slowly killing us, and yet a good chunk of the world just doesn’t give a shit. That’s not serious, that’s ridiculous. Show these people how ridiculous they are. There’s nothing malicious about it. That’s just one example, and we get to have a bit of fun with that in TANK. If we had more of a chance to laugh at ourselves and each other, the world would be an infinitely happier place, and I believe we’d get a lot more done. Laughter is a natural action for animals, even my pet rats do it. Allow yourself laughter. Even when everything looks grim.
Often times political shows that go up at the Blue Room are preaching to the converted – the audience generally already has a certain political bent. Are you hoping to reach people outside of that echo chamber, and if so, how will you get to them?
People have to want to listen, you can’t force them. I think that, while everyone has a certain political bent or implicit bias, the important audiences to reach are those who are willing to take on ideas that oppose their own, to be willing to experience cognitive dissonance. While many theatre-going audiences would describe themselves as liberal, or specifically left-leaning, this does not automatically make you open-minded. I’ll try and reach any audiences that are up for a challenge, that are willing to have their beliefs torn apart in the theatre. Ideas are not sacred.
You’ve described the show as “Reservoir Dogs meets Finding Nemo” – I’m thoroughly mystified by this. Can you tell us more about what we can expect in this mashup?
In Reservoir Dogs, all of the characters are out for themselves, which is one of the big themes in TANK. There’s a survival instinct, a battle between self-interest and morality. The characters are constantly turning on one another, attempting to find the weak link. Also, a lot of the dialogue is quite natural banter, and often about quite mundane things, which is inspired by the exchanges between characters in Tarantino’s work. In regards to Finding Nemo, there’s the anthropomorphism to help us sympathise with the characters; if they seem human, we care a lot more about their story. Fish are one of the species most affected by climate change. How would they deal with it, if they were in our shoes? TANK is all about survival, one of the built-in instincts that we’re never going to shake off.
TANK runs at The Blue Room Theatre from October 11 – October 29. For more information and tickets, visit the Blue Room website here.