Julia-Rose Lewis, co-creator, Neon Tiger

It reminds you that you aren’t alone. That many people share your crazy thoughts ...

Travelling through a foreign country is always an eye-opening experience, especially if you don’t speak the native tongue! Imagine navigating your way through a heaving foreign metropolis with only a group of strangers as company. That’s what Julia-Rose Lewis did before helping co-create Neon Tiger. Along with Gillian Cosgriff and Kat Henry, Julia-Rose was put on a plane and told to spend ten days in Bangkok, tasked with writing a stage play together upon their return. The group’s combined experiences formed the basis for Neon Tiger’s inspiration, and after many months of work the story took shape. The resulting show is a disarming and funny insight into the minds of two travellers who meet by chance in a dingy karaoke bar in the heart of Bangkok’s party district. What unfolds is both emotionally resonant and effortlessly charming. We spoke to Julia-Rose to get some insight into the creation of the work and what audiences can expect.

To start, we’d love to know a bit about how you came to writing! When did you become drawn to the idea of writing for the stage?
I was always driven to be creative growing up but the things I tried I often wasn’t very good at. It wasn’t until after I graduated university that I considered writing something that I would let others read. It really snowballed from there –  because I suppose people liked my words and I liked writing them!

We heard the inspiration for Neon Tiger came from an intense ten-day trip to Bangkok. Can you fill us in on how the project originated and what prompted the trip?
Kris Stewart at the Brisbane Powerhouse dreamt up the idea of sending three female creatives from Brisbane to Bangkok on a research trip with the intention of creating a show based on the experience. Brilliantly, those three women ended up being Gillian Cosgriff, Kat Henry and I. Neon Tiger is our brainchild. Every element of the show is inspired by our experiences in Bangkok over those ten days as well as our own personal experiences being tourists at other times in our lives.

You’d never been to Bangkok before – can you tell us a bit about your experience journeying through this vibrant city?
Oh, it was a wild time! Especially because Gillian, Kat and I had never met before the trip, we were essentially strangers. Bangkok is such a wonderful, exciting, tiring and confusing city. Walking miles through the streets day in and day out meant that the days blended together and the whole experience ended up feeling like a very long and whimsical cheese dream.

Upon your return to Australia, how did you, Kat and Gillian set about transforming your experiences into a cohesive tale?
This was the hard part of the experience. Many months went by before we found an idea we wanted to pursue. Sometimes an open-ended commission is the greatest gift, but it does create challenges when trying to narrow down an idea that you feel you can tell with integrity, humour and joy, as well as creating something that the audience will enjoy.

Were there any thematic elements or concepts that were intrinsic to Neon Tiger from the beginning, despite the play undergoing different structural drafts over the years?
We always knew that the show would include Gillian’s music. She is a phenomenal musician with a talent for hilariously relatable lyrics. This element is probably the only thing that withstood the many crazy ideas we had before creating the current version of Neon Tiger.

Much like the characters in Neon Tiger, your trip involved you getting to know some complete strangers in a strange city. How did this element of unfamiliarity feed into the story’s genesis?
The people we met on our trip ended up being pivotal in the creation of the show. Particularly one theatre artist we met, who herself was a Thai-American woman who had moved back to Thailand after being raised in the US. She had a huge influence on the story. We met quite a few strangers on our trip but to be honest, less than we had anticipated. We were complete outsiders in Bangkok and without language, it was impossible to experience the city as anything but stereotypical tourists. This experience of feeling like a tourist in a new city informed every element of the show.

We loved the performances by Neon Tiger’s two leads, Lisa Hanley and Courtney Stewart. What do they bring to the roles that make them such great fits for the characters of Andy and Arisa, respectively?
These two women are both such phenomenal artists. Courtney is a mother herself, so she was able to bring a sense of honesty to Arisa’s search for her mother’s culture that has such a heartbreaking element of truth. Her final monologue has me in tears every time. Lisa came new to the show this season and she has been an incredible gift for the production. She has taken the Andy character, previously played by Gillian and crafted her into something unique. Andy really is the amalgamation of Kat, Gillian, Lisa and I. She is the heart of the show.

What do you hope audiences take away from the story of Neon Tiger?
This story is so relatable. I hope people leave feeling validated after seeing their thoughts and feelings come to life on stage in front of an agreeing audience. It reminds you that you aren’t alone. That many people share your crazy thoughts. This show has many moments of pure joy and this is, of course, the most important thing – that people have fun!

Neon Tiger will be at La Boite Theatre until November 17. You can purchase your tickets here

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