From puppeteering to fronting a rock opera, St John Cowcher has done it all. Nina Levy caught up with the versatile local theatre maker, performer and puppeteer, ahead of his next engagement, performing in Black Swan State Theatre Company’s Playthings.
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Nina Levy: Thanks for taking the time to chat, St John Cowcher. Regular Seesaw readers will be familiar with your work, but for those who aren’t, can you give a brief synopsis of what you do?
St John Cowcher: I’ve been working as a theatre maker, performer and writer for the last 12 or so years here in Perth. I’ve worked with most of the major theatre companies creating and touring work, as well as doing a whole bunch of excellent indie productions at The Blue Room Theatre.
Your readers might have seen me recently in Barking Gecko’s remount of Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories, puppeteering Bambert, or maybe strutting around stage in six inch platform boots performing in the rock opera I co-wrote called Ragnarøkkr, back in 2020 for Fringe.
NL: Indeed – you’ve got such a a diverse back catalogue, working with companies such as Black Swan State Theatre Company, Barking Gecko Theatre, Second Chance Theatre and The Last Great Hunt. You’re also an associate artist with Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, Weeping Spoon Productions, Variegated Productions and The Big Hoo-Haa. How do you keep all the balls in the air?
SJC: I mean, it’s pretty exhausting but I think as I’ve gotten more experienced in this industry I’ve realised how important time management and open communication is. Also the nature of this beast is that sometimes things do line up perfectly so you can do multiple gigs in a row, but just as often they clash and you have to choose one or the other.
But I love a challenge and there’s so many excellent people in Perth to collaborate with, so why not try and work with as many diverse voices as you can, right?
NL: You’re currently rehearsing for Playthings, a play written and directed by local theatre maker Scott McArdle. Tell us a bit about the show and your role in it.
SJC: Playthings is a snapshot of the life of two young West Australian kids dealing with not only growing up, but also processing their own trauma in their own unique ways.
I play Rhys, who is the step-father to the main protagonist, Lucy. He’s a bit of a goof ball, which I love.
NL: You also performed this role in the first season of Playthings, which was presented by local indie theatre collective Second Chance Theatre at The Blue Room Theatre in 2019, where it received a fantastic critical response. Why do you think Black Swan State Theatre Company (BSSTC) chose to pick up this particular production?
SJC: I think this show – despite it being part of a development season at The Blue Room Theatre originally – is a pretty polished work. We put a lot of hard work, heart and soul into that original version of it and I think that really resonated with audiences. I think Black Swan probably saw the potential and thought, yeah, let’s give a local voice a chance to get on a bigger stage, level up and share this with more people.
NL: It’s such a rarity and a treat to see an independent work remounted in WA. Is Playthings being further developed for this season?
SJC: Oh yeah! It’s had a script overhaul, there’s a new design, sound and lighting have been re-designed, we’ve had to look at new stage movement because we’re in a much bigger space and there may even be a cheeky dance sequence in there. It’s the same show at its heart, but even if you saw it before it’s definitely worth another look.
NL: Playthings is being presented by BSSTC in collaboration with The Blue Room Theatre, as part of a pilot initiative that the two companies hope will result in an ongoing partnership. What do you think would be the value of long term collaboration between a major performing arts company and a company that presents independent work?
SJC: I think this pilot program is a great new venture for our state flagship theatre company. As has often been said about support for the small to medium sector, big companies need small to mediums to feed into them.
NL: Oh yes, there’s a wonderful quote from Blue Room executive director Katt Osborne, in an interview she did last year for Seesaw. She said “There’s that wonderful image of the tree; the independents are like the microbes, feeding the soil which grows the tree. Independent artists spring fresh ideas, innovation… push artistic practice forward, give audiences surprising and new experiences.”
SJC: Yes – without a fertile and supported independent sector everything collapses. So any avenue for the majors to help elevate and give back to the strata of the arts ecology that eventually feeds into itself seems like an invaluable collaboration. I’m hoping we can keep this good thing going!
NL: What’s special about Playthings, for you?
SJC: The team! This is an exceptional group of independent artists working at the top of their game and being given the chance to shine. It’s local artists, telling a local story and absolutely smashing it. It’s just a pleasure being in the room with them while they’re doing it.
Pictured top is St John Cowcher in the 2019 season of ‘Playthings’. Photo: David Cox Media
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