It’s a little after 7 on a Friday night. Outside the small studio in North Melbourne, the rain pours down in torrents. But inside it’s warm. People ferry cups of tea and coffee back and forth, and you get the feeling of friends coming together to share their passion.
It’s the final week of rehearsals for ‘The Wild Party’, a vaudevillian production based on a controversial 1928 poem by Joseph Moncure March. It tells of the titular party in prohibition era Chicago, hosted by disillusioned vaudeville performer Queenie, and her lover, the minstrel Burrs. And wild it is, fueled by drugs and bathtub gin, a mirade of eccentric, egotistical characters gather for a night that some might want to forget.
“There’s racial elements to the show,” explains Director Robbie Carmellotti, “there’s abuse elements, there’s sexual elements to the show…it’s done in a 20s style, and it’s done based on how a 20s play would have done it.”
Cast members Rosa McCarty and James Cutler (who play the roles of Queenie and Burrs respectively) agree: “It’s a collision of a whole lot of cultural norms crossed with cultural taboos,” says James. Rosa adds, “All the different taboos with homosexuality, and race, and also prohibition era sets an incredibly complex and fascinating period of time.”
The atmosphere is hectic to say the least, but you can see that all the work of the last few months is coming together. Lines are memorised, the final flourishes are being put on elaborately choreographed routines. As the play is run through, Robbie moves like a fish through water among the action: gently guiding, observing his performers from all angles.
His enthusiasm is infectious: “I asked to direct this show as soon as I saw the company was doing it, because I am in love with it, it’s my kind of show…it’s dark, it’s got humor to it, it’s full of questionable topics, difficult scenes to portray, and…it’s just a dream for a director.”
Nothing worth doing is ever easy. According to James, “This is the most challenging undertaking theatrically ever. The role is so vastly different from anything I’ve played before, the content is more challenging than anything I’ve done before, it’s stylistic – which I love! – it’s a show where the actors don’t leave the stage, so everything has to be organic and created live in front of the audience…emotionally it’s a wreck of a show, it really takes you through so many dark unexplored places within yourself that you have to access something incredibly deep to make all the characters work in conjunction with all the other characters.
Rosa elaborates, “You can’t take a superficial approach. I find it challenging because it is so stylised and caricatured and over the top…but you’ve got to actually connect with the tragedy of the different characters in order to reveal what a farce it is, the masks that all these people are wearing; all of them are damaged, damaged people. You have to connect with that in order for it to work.”
But the performance is just the start; for its run, Four Letter Word Theatre is transforming the main stage at Revolt Artspace into a pop-up speakeasy so that the audience can join the party. Producer Robert Smith says it will be “an event”, hinting at “themed waiters” and a warm up comedian. Rosa describes it as a “show-within-a-show”.
[EDITED: the competition has now closed, thanks to everyone who entered, the winner will be contacted soon!]