Q&A/The Festival Sessions/Fringe World Festival/Theatre

Twisting the narrative

17 January 2019

Whether you loved or loathed Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel Eat Pray Love (and the film that followed), local theatre-maker Andrew Sutherland is inviting you to question Western discourses around Asian cultures in his new two-hander Poorly Drawn Shark.

Written by Sutherland, performed by Ming Yang Lim and Sutherland, and directed by Vidya Rajan, Poorly Drawn Shark is presented by independent company Squid Vicious. Founded by Sutherland and Jess Nyanda Moyle, Squid Vicious describes itself as “the moist love-child of Perth and Singapore [that] aims to kiss dominant narratives into submission.”

Intrigued, Seesaw caught up with Sutherland to find out more.


A man holding a toy shark on a stick
Andrew Sutherland

Seesaw: Tell us about your theatrical training… 
Andrew Sutherland: I have an honours degree in acting from LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore. But in terms of working as a maker, as opposed to strictly pursuing acting, I would say that I learnt just as much or more on the job. In the first few years of my professional practice in Singapore after graduation, and I probably worked as much or more as a playwright and assistant director and dramaturg than as an actor, which has really helped to define my trajectory thus far.

S: Describe your artistic practice…
AS: I sit around and do unnecessarily complicated academic research for ages, then sit around for a while longer in intellectual paralysis while I try to piece together texts that I’ve either written, stolen or recycled. I aggressively structure and restructure my work while storyboarding reasonable ways to fake my own death, in case I really want to cancel the show. At some point I get into a rehearsal room with bangin’ great artists, look at a lot of memes, hopefully laugh a bunch, and from there try making something good.

S: Career highlight so far?
AS: Continuing to work with regular collaborators who are as rigorous as they are endlessly fun to engage with, like Joe Lui and Jess Nyanda Moyle, or Sharda Harrison and Koh Wan Ching in Singapore.

S: Career lowlight?
AS: Nah, every day is a victory, and every low point is tomorrow’s funny story.

S: Speaking of which, funniest career moment?
AS: In July last year when Renegade Productions brought Unveiling: Gay Sex for Endtimes to Bondi Feast in Sydney, a woman in the front row very loudly and gleefully proclaimed: “lil boy, you got silly string hanging outta your butt”. In my defence, I got shot with a lot of silly string in that show.

S: What do you love most about making and performing work?
AS: I guess I answered that above; in theatre, the practice of it really soars for me when it’s all about the collaboration. I also work as a poet and writer, which can be such an isolated slog, so when you can get into a room with people who are thinking and feeling on the same page as you and fuck around with how you want to make a performance – that’s an amazing feeling.

S: Tell us about your 2019 Fringe show Poorly Drawn Shark
AS: Poorly Drawn Shark was conceived with Melbourne-based playwright Vidya Rajan as a kind of queer takedown of the Eat, Pray, Love narrative; about the Western consumption of other cultures and the problematic idea of finding “meaning” or “purpose” from Asian cultures and peoples.

So we’ve been twisting the idea of autobiography; looking at the framework of my lived experience in Singapore and the issues of race, desire and citizenry attached to my presence. With director Joe Paradise Lui and co-actor Ming Yang Lim the show has developed into this sexy stew of daddies and boys, nationhood and neo-colonial encounters, and objectification and use between mutually “exotic” bodies. Also, there’s a very convincing Merlion, some A+ jokes, and lots of dumb facts about sharks.

S: Aside from your show, what are you looking forward to seeing/doing at Fringe?
AS: Many! Including Feminah by Charlotte Otton, Cotton Wool Kid by The Cutting Room Floor, The Basement Tapes by Zanetti Productions, The Real Housewives of Northbridge.

S: What’s your favourite part of the playground?
AS: Probably the swings. When I was in primary school somebody told me that if you go all the way over the swing set your skin turns inside out, which remains a goal of mine.

Poorly Drawn Shark plays The Blue Room Theatre January 22-26.

Photo: Marshall Stay

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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