Text by Anthony Thomas – Images by Luke Farrow
80 per cent of contemporary theatre productions are boring as fuck but you probably know that. These so called purveyors of culture pride themselves on their self-perception of intellectualism and social value. Meanwhile, the rest of us point and laugh from the sideline. Our friends The Violent Romantics are different. The only reason you will be pointing and laughing at them is because their new show, My Struggle: The Life and Times Of An Indvid (In A World Full Of Hipsters), is fucking hilarious. Set in an alternate reality at ‘That Art School’, My Struggle follows four friends coming to terms with a strange new world while trying to win overthat girl. Hidden beneath the comedy though, is something much deeper. I went along to final rehearsals earlier in the week to annoy TVR founder, Stephanie Thesen, and My Struggle playwright, Jory Anst, with some questions to find out more before opening night. This is their story.
Stephanie: Are you recording?
MM: Yes. Is this your first time?
MM: How does that feel?
J: I feel like I’m in Frost/Nixon.
MM: Are you hipsters?
S: To be honest, I didn’t think I was then I met Jory and we wrote this play. I always ate chia seeds and drank olive leaf extract before but it made me take a good hard look at myself.
J: I never thought I was either and then I wrote this play making fun of hipsters because I thought it was hilarious. People started asking me questions about hipster things and I remember one time Amber (play director), “Are you secretly a hipster pretending not to be?” So maybe I am.
S: Maybe? You definitely are.
J: Shit, they are actually wearing all my clothes in the play.
What motivated you to write the play?
J: Steph came to me with this comic called Hipster Hitler and it’s absolutely hilarious, all about if Hitler was a hipster, and she said we want to write about a play about this, can you do it?
S: She wrote it in a week too, she came to us with absolute gold in a week.
So was it a, I hate to say it, “organic” process then?
J: [laughs] Totes organic brah. It’s obviously developed a lot since then. Initially we walked into the project thinking it was just going to be really funny but we had to take a step back a few months ago after we realised how the serious issue we are dealing with is. We had distanced ourselves because of the humour. At what point is it just plain offensive and not funny? That was a necessary obstacle in the formation of the play.
S: The actual comic got taken to court by the Jewish Council of New York or something ridiculous like that, personally I looked at Hipster Hitler and thought it was frickin’ hilarious but I’m not everyone. So we had to change certain aspects. Instead of focusing on the Third Reich and being really blatant about it, it’s become more about group mentality.
J: I’m all for making light out of awful. I feel humour is the only way we can transcend so many of the social issues in the world. You know, reaching that point where we can laugh at how absurd it was?
How did you bridge that gap between the humour and the serious?
J: Through hipster culture. The funny things in the play are about hipsters, not the war. By parodying this hipster culture, it allowed us to create comedy with a serious backdrop. As opposed to making light of the war. It could have been any subculture but hipster is such a funny one because when you look at all of these cultural waves that occur – punks knew that they were punks; they owned and loved that fact. Emos knew they were emos – hipster seems to be the only subculture where the people involved refuse to accept the fact that they are part of it. In doing that, though, that defines them as part of it. I’ve never met a hipster that admits they are a hipster. That’s what is interesting; they don’t want to admit what they are and look down on other hipsters. When you look at the Nazis, they accepted what they were but wouldn’t accept that what they were doing was wrong; they looked at what everyone else was doing as wrong. These little parallels keep coming up between hipsterism and Nazis that are quite interesting to look at. The haircut is an obvious one. Whenever we learn about wars, people always says if they were in that situation they would have stood up to the Nazis. People like to think that they were above that, morally, had they been in that situation but at the end of the day, you wouldn’t have. You would have truthfully believed that you were doing the right thing. I’m not saying hipsters and Nazis are the same, obviously that’s a really unfair comparison. But for example, when I was thirteen, low-rider jeans were really in-style and my mum said I should wear high-wasted jeans because they were going to come in to which I told her I would rather die than by Harry High-Pants. Now all I wear is high-waisted pants. You might think you would never do something but as soon as everyone is doing it you do that exact thing you said you wouldn’t.
Who are you expecting on opening night?
S: We want a good mix. With everything we do, we steer clear from catering just for the theatre industry. Realistically, we try and make theatre for the people. People who don’t go to the theatre, that’s our target audience. I hope they think it’s funny. The way the play is structured, it’s only in the last twenty-minutes that the audience realises they have been sucked into a culture and what that means through all these harsh parallels.
J: I know who’s going to laugh and who won’t. The problem is, the people in Brisbane who are going to laugh is such a small group. I know my friend’s will find it hilarious and I know the 30+ theatre professionals who come won’t. They will sit there and they’re not going to get it. It’s a play for young people.
S: That’s why we want to take it to Melbourne and Sydney. Brisbane’s only starting to embrace the hipster culture.
I’m not a theatre person but I feel it is a very self-serving industry. Where does My Struggle fit in the Brisbane theatre landscape?
S: That’s the reason I started The Violent Romantics at acting school. Obviously, you’re expected to go to the theatre all the time and I was consistently disappointed. Not because the work was bad but when I go to the theatre I want to be taken away on a story. Whereas I found a lot of the work being produced here was all form and form means nothing to me if there’s no story. I just don’t care.
J: I hate going to a show and talking to people afterwards and being like, “Oh, it was just so artistic.” Blah blah blah. I just look at them and no one here understood what the fuck happened, everyone hated but no one wants to sound unintelligent. I never want to put on a show like that. I want people to leave saying that was really funny and made laugh rather than that was really deep.
S: Or alternatively saying that it was fucking terrible. I would prefer that than, “Oh that was obscure, there were so many layered meanings.” I would go to the theatre and think, “I don’t get it” and I study it! God help the person who just walks in.
J: They all pretend. They were black and act like they’re existentialists the whole time. But really they have no idea about anything that just happened.
S: And when you say theatre, particularly here, I find it means un-fun. Everything has to be depressing. There’s a lot of shame here about putting on a show that is just fun. Our whole philosophy is that the idea that entertainment and high-art can be one in the same. I don’t think theatre falls into one of two categories. It can be both. Jory’s play proves that. If someone sits there and doesn’t fully get the hipster culture, or the underlying historical references, then they will be able to sit back and appreciate these dickheads on stage. While the more astute audience member will be able to make the links. There’s something in it for everyone.
Interview stops but Jory has more to get off her chest. She insists.
Jory: The truth is Anthony, you ask about the Violent Romantics and at the end of the day all I can say is we’re shit, we’re not very good, we’re not beautiful. We’re the underdogs. We’re just in our own teenage wasteland. We have terrible bodies, we have no physical presence on starrrrge (sic). We’re like that TV show, Girls, except less intelligent. We’re like Sex and the City but less pretty and have no money. We’re like the extras of the show. We’re starving and not because we want to or like, “I’m a model in Paris” starving but because we don’t have any fucking choice. We’re just middle class at the end of the day. We’re just boring wasps.