Daniel Evans, writer, director and producer
Small secrets are made epic, private thoughts publicly explode and the ordinary is made extraordinary ...
The sharp sense of humour and endearing turns of phrase that thread themselves through the prose of Daniel Evans have seen him collect a gaggle of fans spanning generations, demographics and chocolate tastes. Whether you’ve witnessed his work in a magazine or on the stage, you can usually pick it by the full-bodied hilarity that will have you checking your pants for pee patches. And now it seems even the state government agrees, with Daniel taking out the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award 2014–15 for his explosive play, Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. But before the script evolves into a Queensland Theatre Company stage production, you can catch Daniel’s innovative work I Want To Know What Love Is at Bille Brown Studio next month, as part of Brisbane Festival. Between gathering anonymous love declarations from the public and launching the new show, the gifted wordsmith filled The Weekend Edition in on the thrills of reality TV, yelling in tunnels and publicising private thoughts.
Congratulations on winning the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award 2014-15! What was the first thing you did when you heard the news?
Thank you! I was in a car park. I remember swearing, out loud, a lot, much to the dismay of a number of elderly folk who ‘tsk-tsk’ed’ me as they passed. It’s incredibly exciting and I’m pretty thrilled that the work was chosen, given that it was somewhat of a dark horse, which made the win all the more sweet.
What can you tell us about the piece that won you the honour, Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore?
Oedipus is the guy who grew up to unknowingly kill his dad, marry his mum and father her children. It’s kind of the ‘original tragedy’ and what the play does is transplant his story to the outer suburbs; a space that has always felt mythic to me. It asks, what if Oedipus lived next door? If his wife Jocasta shopped at the same Coles you did? And if his sons, Polynices and Etocles, were in your biology class at school? It’s a proposition that isn’t so hard to imagine, especially given the spate of murders, bashings, disappearances and backyard horror stories that grip and mortify us via the 24-hour news stream; unspeakable tragedies becoming disturbingly commonplace.
The script will soon evolve into a theatre production, how do you plan to celebrate on opening night?
Have you seen the Saturday Night Live skit Sue Loves Surprises? That’s basically me on an opening night. I’ll be somewhere in the back row eating a cheese-ball. Or a chair. Then, I’ll be drinking. Quite a bit I imagine.
Who would you most like to see in the audience?
I think this work is for those who like their theatre served with a harder edge. It’s dark and funny and complex – think American Beauty meets Elephant via Snowtown. I think the theatre is a great place to see ourselves played out, a place where we can ask some tough questions about ourselves and what it’s like to be alive here and now. Come away shaken more than stirred.
You’re a writer, director and producer – do you have a main squeeze or is this a polygamous union?
Ha! I love that! Definitely polygamous. One feeds the other. The creative roles aren’t neatly chaptered – often there are two or three firing at any given time. That’s the way the creative industries work, it isn’t a vertical ladder you climb up, but rather something far more horizontal that you move across and dip in and out of. I love so many artistic mediums, I couldn’t be involved with just one. Contemporary dance is next. Kidding! But not. Really.
You formed performance collective The Good Room with Amy Ingram in 2009, which has been your favourite production so far?
I think my favourite would have to be I Should Have Drunk More Champagne. That was a work we did in early 2013 where we asked people to submit their life’s regrets through a specially-built website, then we made a work in response to them all. There was something pretty humbling about crafting a theatre piece from real people’s stories – heartbreaking and earnest stories at that. It was a three-person show played out in a basement space for audiences of 40 at a time. The show featured a giant panda and ended with a children’s choir signing Cher’s ‘Turn Back Time’. Oh, and there was a bubble machine. It was pretty amazing.
The Good Room has also teamed up with Queensland Theatre Company and Brisbane Festival to create I Want To Know What Love Is, which will open on September 4. What sparked the idea to trawl through anonymous declarations of love from the public?
This work is a sequel to I Should Have Drunk Champagne; picking up where that work left off. We’ve taken what we’ve learnt from that process into this next one. At its core, it’s about taking the stories of you, your mum, your brother, your best friend, your neighbour and placing them in a space that’s usually reserved for large fictitious stories. Something really magical happens when you do that: small secrets are made epic, private thoughts publicly explode and the ordinary, the everyday, is made extraordinary.
The website We Want Your Love encouraged submissions about love in all its forms, from unrequited to epic. What was the most interesting form of love you came across?
My favourite story is about a person and their first car. Stay with me. This person talks about how they’ve only seen their family once or twice in the past three years, how they’ve seen friends come and go, lovers too, but that the car was the one constant. And the story ends by saying they gave up on each other and – from what I can tell – the car was sent to a wreckers. It was sad.
We heard you’ve also worked behind the scenes on Big Brother and Eurovision? Any interesting anecdotes to share from those experiences?
The highlight was a nationwide tour I did last year as part of the Big Brother Housemate Hunt. As a general rule, people are fascinating. People auditioning for a reality television series are mesmerising. So much is playing out: dreams, fame, celebrity. It’s unreal! Reality television may feel diametrically opposed to theatre, but it’s not really. So much of it is based on the same rules we use when we create performance. Extra bonus: I got my own office and a spinning chair. That was cool.
You’ve written for publications including Scene Magazine and Frankie, what’s been the most interesting response you’ve had to an article so far?
Most recently I did a spate of chocolate reviews for Frankie – all sorts of chocolate too. And it was a reader who wrote in to the magazine to inform me that the chocolate I’d called ‘dark, bitter, brick-like and gross’ was actually drinking chocolate that I’d eaten. I blame the label. It was in Spanish.
What were you like as a child?
Trouble. I threw a lot of tantrums. Had my mouth rinsed out with soap. Not much has changed.
What’s the best advice your mum ever gave you?
Dive head-first into what you want – the worst that can happen is that you hit your head. This seems like strange advice now and not quite sound. Definitely check the level of water, just to be on the safe side.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt as you’ve become an adult?
Life is finite. When you’re a kid, you think life will last forever. When you’re a teenager, you think you’re invincible. In your 20s, you’re waiting for life to get started … whatever THAT means. But something I’ve learnt as recent as this year is that life isn’t assured, it’s tenuous. Nobody’s here for ever. That idea hurts but it can also be enlivening if you let it.
Only a local would know … there’s a special thrill to winding down your windows and yelling at the top of your lungs in the Ivory Street Tunnel. It’s got a great echo.
What’s your personal definition of ‘success’?
‘Success’ always sounds like some sort of foreign country: this exotic locale teeming with milk and honey, plaudits and money. It sounds like the kind of place where all carpet is red and every drink is served with a tiny umbrella in it. I think a lot of us buy into the idea that if we work hard enough, success will send us a Green Card and a VISA. I like to think of success as being smaller, more fleeting, more domestic. It should be something that we pass through – acknowledge – and then move on with a little spring in our step.
FAVOURITE WEEKEND SPOT TO:
Relax … a back verandah somewhere with a bottle, or four, from Craft Wine Store in Red Hill.
Indulge … Palace Cinemas at The Barracks. Those macadamia honey choc-tops are insane.
Catch up … Habitat Restaurant & Bar, West End.
Be inspired … Avid Reader, West End.