Q&A/What to SEE/Theatre

What to SEE: Earthside

12 April 2022

Former showgirl Kaitlin Tinker is making her debut as a playwright, with a work that reimagines the story of Alien’s Ellen Ripley as an allegory for the modern woman’s experience of pregnancy, birth and beyond.

Kaitlin Tinker’s career path can be described as multi-faceted. After graduating from Sydney’s College of Fine Arts (COFA), she worked as a performance artist in the cabaret industry for over 12 years, before becoming programmer and in-house producer for Melbourne cabaret venue Red Bennies. She went on to complete a Bachelor of Film, and travelled internationally with her award-winning debut short film The Man Who Caught a Mermaid.

These days Tinker runs independent production house Acid Tongue and works as program co-ordinator for the State Theatre Centre of WA’s State of Play season. She has also written her first play, Earthside, which she describes as “confessional, naughty, gritty theatre disguised as a big sci-fi epic”.

Ahead Earthside‘s premiere at The Blue Room Theatre in April, Nina Levy caught up with Tinker to find out more.

Nina Levy: Kaitlin, you majored in visual art but your career has been grounded in performing arts, How and why did you make that transition?

A headshot of a woman with red hair and green eyes. Her head is turned slightly away from the camera, but her eyes are turned to the lens.
Kaitlin Tinker. Photo: Nelli Huie

Kaitlin Tinker: When I started, I could never make up my mind – I sat astride both disciplines. In the early 2000s I was painting and making at the University of NSW’s College of Fine Arts (COFA) by day, and by night I was dancing and clowning in the underground clubs of Sydney’s Oxford Street.

It felt like there was a more stable career to be had with a background in the ever-serious realm of “fine-art”, but… I loved making performance work and experimenting in live space. And I was always getting the call from my queer carnie mates to get on some spiegeltent stage somewhere!

Over time, I think my practice has become more organically informed by both.

NL: You first worked in Sydney, and then Melbourne. What brought you to Perth?

KT: Love! I fell in love with a Melbourne man, who then moved back to his hometown of Perth to rebuild his life. He was a single dad with four kids. When we’d first met, neither of us could see a way we could be together – but years after meeting, we were still holding a candle for the other. It was a slow burn romance, and I eventually moved over too.

It was a tough start – Perth really felt like a country town, and I had to leave all my creative networks behind and start again. But now, it’s hard to imagine living anywhere else. And when I visit Melbourne, it feels as busy as Tokyo!

NL: Spanning film, cabaret and performance art, your creative work is layered and multi-disciplinary – what do you like to explore when you make new work?

KT: I’m passionate about making work that explores power and sexuality, experiments with the female body in live space, and stitches video with live performance.

I’m curious about the power of “affect” on an audience and the infiltration of so-called lowbrow fringe culture in “high art” institutions.

I’m drawn to work that is disruptive in some way, or beloved by the masses for its radical honesty, or grotesque or experimental nature.

Whenever I start making new work, it’s usually driven by some visceral experience or central image that I can spiral out from; find out how it’s rooted in the zeitgeist in existing literature, and how I can weave something new into the loom of our artistic elders.

A woman dressed in a navy boiler suit, decorated with woven badges, looks up at something out of shot.
‘I’d always loved powerful sci-fi heroines; I adored Ellen Ripley.’ Kaitlin Tinker. Photo: Johannes Reinhart

NL: Earthside is your first play… why the move into theatre?

KT: I was inspired by the work of Ursula Martinez and my friend Emma Maye Gibson (Betty Grumble). Both had moved successfully out of bawdy, physical theatre and cabaret into text-based performance or theatre.

I’d written screenplays, but it didn’t have the immediate, visceral punch that feminist, confessional theatre did. It felt like a play was the best medium to deliver the story of Earthside – live, raw, present. A ritual for bodies of lived experience to float together and be with each other for a small time.

I’m honoured that both Ursula and Emma Maye have played a role in the development of this work.

NL: Tell me about Earthside

KT: EARTHSIDE reimagines the story of Ellen Ripley (from the 1979 film Alien) as an allegory for the modern woman’s experience of pregnancy, birth trauma and beyond. It re-frames the wildly true account my own quest to survive, through the cinematic lens of Ripley’s own dire attempts to escape the Nostromo alive.

NL: The Ellen Ripley reference feels like a very dark joke… why did you decide to tell your story through that lens?

KT: You know how parents love taking photos of their families dressed up at Halloween? When I was preggo, I started thinking about the kind of characters I could dress up with my soon-to-arrive baby. I’d always loved powerful sci-fi heroines; I adored Ellen Ripley.

Months later, after the experience of labour and trauma left me shell-shocked, the image of Ripley holding her baby alien floated back to me. It felt like a very dark joke! There was deep thematic crossover between the two stories: motherhood, survival, alienation, agency of female bodies, parasitic beings inside hosts of blood and bone. And a deep synergy with a woman who was always wearing the armour in a patriarchal world; never prepared to surrender. How does popular culture from the greater universe allow us to grapple with very earthly narratives of our own?

NL: What can audiences expect from Earthside?

KT: It’s a wild-ride, a romance, a grief ceremony. It’s confessional, naughty, gritty theatre disguised as a big sci-fi epic – East-coast post-punk performance art meets West-coast story-telling.

NL: And what do you hope they will take away?

KT: Solidarity. Sometimes it feels like we’re floating alone in space – here is a moment of togetherness, to laugh and cry, connected to a mothership of our own making.

Earthside plays The Blue Room Theatre, 22 April – 7 May 2022.

Pictured top: Kaitlin Tinker and her baby. Photo: Johannes Reinhart

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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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