Hayden Jones and Sam Foster, performers, writers and directors, Undertow by Shock Therapy Productions

As a company we firmly believe in the power of theatre to connect, provoke, inspire and engage, not just young people but all people ...

We’re eternally jealous of anyone that can call themselves a multi-hyphenate, especially Hayden Jones and Sam Foster – the certified triple-threat talents that helm independent theatre production company Shock Therapy Productions. The duo – who have written, directed and performed numerous shows under the Shock Therapy banner – are back again with Undertow, an engaging and transformative arts experience that tackles important topics such as resilience, mental health, relationships and identity. Hayden and Sam will be performing Undertow for a limited season at Brisbane Powerhouse from June 16–26 – we caught up with the talented tandem to chat about their creative ethos, crafting shows for younger audiences and inspiring audiences through theatre.

To start, we’d love to know more about your company Shock Therapy Productions. What were some of the goals and ideas that underpinned its operational ethos at the beginning?
In the beginning all we knew is that we wanted to work together. We shared a very similar taste and aesthetic in theatre and it felt like there was a natural synergy there between us. Over the years we have developed more of a conscious ethos around the work we make and why we want to make it. For us, it’s about telling stories that explore what it is to be human and creating transformative arts experiences. Our main goal in the beginning (which is the same to this day), was to create a company that was sustainable and allowed us to tell the stories that we wanted to tell.

We are intrigued by Shock Therapy’s focus on creating transformative arts experiences. Can you offer some insight into what this entails and how it manifests on stage?
We do this through telling stories that explore what it is to be human. We collaborate with others to create work that engages, provokes thought, inspires and creates impact. This means that our work is sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes political, sometimes controversial, sometimes completely off the wall! Our work often has a strong focus on physicality, whether this is through dynamic movement or playing of multiple characters and we always aim to make work that is engaging and entertaining. We want our audiences to think and feel.

Your production of Undertow (an original work which you both wrote, direct and star in) will be hitting the Brisbane Powerhouse stage next month. Without giving too much away, can you tell us about the story’s inspiration?
As a company that makes issue-based theatre, we are always trying to keep our finger on the pulse of relevant social themes and issues. Mental health, coping with stress, relationships and identity are things that kept coming up on our radar as important topics and they are things that seem to transcend all demographics and touch everyone, be it directly or indirectly. The realities of mental illness can be dark, disturbing and heart-breaking, but hope always exists, even in the darkest places. It was also important for us to find the humour in the piece wherever possible. Life is full of humour and charm, even in moments of tragedy, and capturing all of the bittersweet of real life is what makes this show feel both melancholy and uplifting.

The show seems to be tailored towards an audience typically younger than most theatregoers – what approach do you take when crafting a story for younger demographics?
Firstly, and arguably the most important thing is to make it relatable to younger audiences. If they can’t relate to the story they are watching then they will tune out. We actually don’t ever set out to make shows specifically for young adults (Undertow is no exception) we just set out to make a good show. This inherently means that we never talk down to our audience, we treat them like adults and approach the work with a level of maturity, which teenagers tend to respond very positively to. I mean, what teenager doesn’t like feeling like a grown up?

We were all teenagers once, and while there are universal elements to the growing up experience, there are distinct nuances relevant to each generation. What were the challenges in making the show engaging to different age levels?
Again, it has to be relatable. Which means it has to be grounded in some sort of truth. This is why research is so vital when making a work of this nature. During the development of Undertow we connected and consulted with various Mental Health workers and organisations, such as Open Doors Youth Service and Headspace, as well as conducted interviews with family, friends, colleagues, and people of particular interest who were referred to us. This means the stories feels detailed, nuanced and relatable.

At the end of the day, what message do you hope audiences take away from the performance?
We don’t set out to make theatre that pushes a message. We set out to make theatre that raises questions and makes people reflect. It was important to us that the work destigmatise perceptions of mental illness, and encourage people to seek help. We wanted to portray mental health as something that affects everybody, and that no matter who you are, we all hurt and we all struggle at times. This is what makes us all human and this empathetic view is important to erase stigma and promote healthy dialogue. We hope Undertow can help people to understand, to feel understood, and inspire hope.

What role do you think theatre plays in educating and broadening the worldview of younger generations?
As a company we firmly believe in the power of theatre to connect, provoke, inspire and engage, not just young people but all people. Through creativity we can inspire new and different ways of looking at the world and ourselves. Theatre allows us to reflect on our humanity and our society and can challenge the status quo and allow us to imagine alternate realities. Theatre can and should help us to develop a more empathic view of the world and that is certainly what we have tried to do with Undertow.

If the events of 2020 have taught us anything, it’s the importance of self care. How do you two like to recharge the batteries after a tough day?
Family is pretty important to both of us, so spending time with our loved ones is always a great way to recharge and remember what we have to be grateful for and why we work so hard. Also, watching sport (go the Lions!), hanging out with friends and getting out in nature are always good remedies!

You can catchUndertow at Brisbane Powerhouse from June 16–26 – tickets can be purchased here.


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