‘Having another world that people can dive into helps bring that little bit of magic into our lives’ – Rian Howlett on the Museum of Lost Things

3 years ago
Til Knowles

Where do things go, when they’re lost? To the Inter-dimensional Lost and Found.

Performer Rian Howlett has built a world of the inbetween, a fantastical exhibition of the lost and the story of who found it, the curator. Part museum, part story, the Museum of Lost Things has arrived in Melbourne’s Swamp (aka Bar Ampere’s theatre space, curated by Fireside Theatre Co) after a highly successful run at Perth’s Fringeworld earlier in the year. Rian kindly took a break from bumping in the Museum and chatted to Til Knowles about creating imaginative theatre.

What can the audience expect to find in the Museum of Lost Things?

Words, laughter, smiles and a tickling of the brain.

Your works often contain a fantastical element or concept. Why? Is it challenging to present the fantastical on stage?

The world’s normal enough, I don’t feel my art should be. The challenge of presenting work that sits outside of typical reality is also its greatest strength. Fantasy relies on an audience to make a big jump at the start with you, they have to want to leave certain aspects of reality behind. But, once that jump is done, audiences will come with you wherever you want to go. Having another world that people can dive into helps bring that little bit of magic into our lives.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever lost? And the best thing you’ve ever found?

I lost a necklace that was irreplaceable that’d given to me by a damn good friend. That friend can’t give things to people anymore, but I lost it in Hong Kong and it had travelled with me across much of the world. There’s now a part of an irascibly cheeky person forever kept by a phenomenally cheeky city.

I’ve found love and friends. Both of which mean the world to me. But the best thing I can ever find is purpose for brief periods of time.

This production is both one-man and inter-disciplinary. How do you balance the performance art aspects with the narrative aspects?

I don’t. The show has a firm internal logic that allows the weird and the wonderful to live side-by-side but I try not to shoehorn anything in that’s unnecessary. Even if it’s not straightforward my work is always about the constant, active communication between performer and audience.

You’ve said previously that you’ve been inspired by Demi Lardner, and Neil Gaiman – two pretty different artists! What’s your writing process for a show like the Museum of Lost Things? Did you start with the concept, or with an object?

It starts in New York, when I was 7. I lost a blanket out of a car window and became rather distressed. I asked my parents where the lost & found for everything is. They couldn’t tell me and so I became determined to build it. In my own mind at least.

The actual writing process, like many behind-the-scenes areas in life is much less exciting. It’s a lot of fighting with an empty page and re-writing. I flesh out the full structure of a piece over a series of conversations with myself and others, then I force myself to write a little everyday. In the words of Bojack Horseman’s Jogging Monkey, ‘It gets easier, you just have to do it everyday, that’s the hard part.’

Why did you decide to make this an all ages show?

I actually didn’t intend to do that. I only realised I’d used the phrase ‘suitable for children’ as my advertising copy when a cousin asked if his son and daughters would be ok to see it. So I made the show ok for them to see. It actually really helped to limit myself in that way. It also lead to possibly my favourite review : “You talk lots and you move funny.” 

You’ve been performing this show for a little while now, how has it evolved over the last few months?

It makes more sense. There was a problem with the ending for the Fringeworld season that I had to fix. There was an imaginative leap I needed the audience to take but I didn’t provide them with a trampoline to jump off. Now the ending is made for bouncing. 

It’s evolved as life does too. There are parts that I wrote months ago as pure fiction that became concrete fact in my life, and my world. 

What’s it like performing in ‘the Swamp’?

AMAZING. The space is beautiful and the owners have been unbelievably supportive. There’s more to come from the Swamp over the coming months too, so keep your eyes open and your ears peeled. 

What’s your favourite museum exhibit?

In Melbourne Museum the Bunjilka collections are stunning. I find a connection to the first peoples of this land essential. Australia and Australians brush over so much of the beauty that the indigenous cultures of this land created. There’s a heavy focus on the horror, and it becomes hard to see past that. As a cis-het caucasian it is imperative to remember what other people lost to give me what I have. 


The Museum of Lost Things is on at the Swamp in Bar Ampere from 24 – 26 June. Tickets are available online via Eventbrite.

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