The Blue Room Theatre will open its April – July season with a show from sandpaperplane, the folks behind Fringe sensations Fairybread and 34,000 Forks. So You Think You’re Charlie Smith is an original work that takes a dark look into the world of reality television, “explor[ing] identity, purpose and escapism to interrogate what is the nature of reality in an unreal world.” We spoke to co-writer and co-producer Ben Thomas for a bit of background about the show.
Why did you want to tell this story?
We had tossed up a few concepts when thinking about a new idea for a show, and this was one which stuck with us for many months, even when we were working on other things. I feel like that’s always a good sign; if you’re still thinking about or revisiting an idea a while after its initial conception, it must be interesting to you. Of course, through the process of developing the idea and even drafting the script, the concept has morphed and changed quite a lot; I think it’s safe to say it’s a very different show from what we set out to write, but I think that’s a natural part of writing a script. Throughout the process, we’ve felt like this work is relevant and exciting, particularly stylistically. That’s why we want to make it, because we think it’s engaging and that it will resonate with people.
Do you like or dislike reality TV? Is it a guilty pleasure for you, or a waste of time?
I don’t really watch a lot of reality TV these days, but when I was younger I did watch Masterchef and similar shows. I think that it’s easy to get hooked; those shows do a great job of reeling you in so you feel like you care about the people in the show and what they’re doing. But that’s exactly the aim.
Did you do research into reality TV and how it’s made while writing the show? If so, what kinds of things did you find surprising or interesting about how shows are put together?
As fun as that sounds, I didn’t do any specific research into reality TV. That’s been appropriate, I think, because the show doesn’t revolve around one series or format in particular; it explores reality TV in a general sense. Reality TV is so pervasive in our society that it’s possible to know a lot about a particular season without ever having seen it. We wouldn’t want to lose people by being entirely focused on one type of show; hopefully everyone will find something recognizable and resonant in the way we’re presenting reality TV from their own experiences with the medium.
What’s your writing process like with Jackson Used? How did you guys meet and begin collaborating?
We make a point of always writing together, at the same time, in the same room, working from the same document (thank you Google Docs). That way, we kind of get a first level of editing straight-away. If one of us writes a line or a series of lines, the other person is seeing it immediately and can comment on it or change it. We’re constantly talking and offering ideas as we work, and sometimes we’ll stop a session and spend a lot of time discussing a new direction or thought before we start again. Once we’re done with a draft, it’s judicious, judicious editing. Jackson and I met through mutual involvement with the University Dramatic Society at UWA. I approached him about writing a short one-act piece, for a laugh, and we did and we put it on. We were both in it and we rehearsed it in my bedroom, without a director. We just thought it was a bit of fun, but we kept collaborating after that.
I missed out on Fairybread but really enjoyed 34,000 Forks a couple of years ago, which had a bit of a sitcom feel to begin with, and then moved into more psychological territory. Where does your current show sit in terms of genre and style, and how does this reflect where you are in your career as a theatre-maker?
With Fairybread we started to stray into slightly more absurd territory, playing with what is real and what is not, that sort of thing. I would say this show goes a bit further, it’s our most experimental work so far. It’s a very visual show; there’s a lot of imagery and sometimes not a whole lot of dialogue. It’s also more technically ambitious than our previous pieces, we’re using projections and live camera work, and the sound and lighting will play a vital role. I don’t think there’s much comedy in So You Think You’re Charlie Smith, which is something we definitely have focused on in the past. When we’re developing a show we try and keep in mind that it’s a theatre performance, not a film. We want to make work that needs to be done live in front of an audience, and I think this show needs that. As theatre-makers we want to be continually pushing ourselves, we don’t want to just make the same kinds of shows over and over again. We’d rather take a risk and not quite get it right, than simply ‘play it safe’.
Do you think reality TV is here to stay, or do you think it’ll lose its appeal someday? Do you think it has any useful purpose in society?
I struggle to imagine a world without reality TV, at least in the near future. It’s just everywhere, and obviously a lot of people watch it and enjoy it, and that’s fine. It’s just another form of entertainment. I think reality TV is useful in the sense that it’s a reflection of society, of what people want or think is important. But it’s necessary to understand that it’s just a reflection – if people confuse it for actual reality then that’s not good.
If you could be a contestant on a reality show, would you? What kind of show would you be on?
Maybe! I enjoy cooking, so maybe I’d try for one of the cooking shows like My Kitchen Rules or Masterchef. I don’t think I’d be very good at renovating a bathroom, or living in the jungle.
It would certainly be an experience.
So You Think You’re Charlie Smith runs from 11 – 29 April at The Blue Room Theatre. For tickets and more information, visit the Blue Room website here.