Thursday, May 31, 2012

Robot vs. Art - Travis Cotton - INTERVIEWS

Art in the Age of Robots

Mental illness, addiction, recidivism, god and killer robots who don’t appreciate art. Travis Cotton isn’t shy when it comes to tackling big themes. PAUL ANDREW speaks to the writer and director.

Since writing his first comedy, The 5th at Randwick; “a racetrack play with a pro-gambling message” and winning the Naked Theatre Company Award for Best Writer of a Short Play in 2003 the playwright has continued trawling for mirth in the most extreme situations.His 2009 Melbourne Fringe Festival feted play The Rites of Evil followed the rapid-fire musings of a pair of mismatched ex-cons recently released from prison who meet accidentally at a bus stop and discuss the failings of bureaucracy.

Failure is a central conceit to a Cotton play. His latest work Robot vs. Art considers an equally bleak scenario, “a time when robots have wiped out ninety percent of humanity and assigned the remaining ten percent of the population to hard labor in sustainable underground mines. “

According to the writer, developing humorous plays about human failings involves an equal measure of personal reflection and social soul searching. So it is not surprising to learn that one of Cotton’s earliest and most influential theatre memories was a farce, a famous Victorian play about one of societies most revered, yet grossly failed, institutions: marriage.It was Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. “I remember it clearly; it was the first play that really grabbed my attention. It was a production in 1988 with Ruth Cracknell playing Lady Bracknell. It was at Her Majesty’s Theatre. I remember it clearly because it was so apparent to me that the cast were having an absolute ball on stage. I could see them beaming at one another in between the lines and I decided that if a job could be that much fun then I wanted in.”

“I love clever writing”, he reveals.” Oscar Wilde remains my number one fave writer. He is the master of gag and I admire him most of all because I appreciate a well set-up gag. More recently I am inspired by wordsmith Martin McDonagh (The Pillowman, In Bruges). He has introduced a level of black comedy into the theatre that is as grossly unforgivable as it is frickin’ hilarious.”

It was Cotton’s own early personal failings that provided him with the motivation that only a certain type of grief, pride, can provide. ” When I left WAAPA I was shocked that I wasn’t employed immediately”, he explains.” My best friend and housemate Toby Schmitz was also unemployed, but instead of whining about it as I was doing at the time, he would get up every morning and sit at his laptop writing plays. Toby’s discipline rubbed off on me, and soon enough I had won the Naked Theatre Company short play competition and I was hooked. “

“Robots?  Yes, so, robots take over the world to save it from humanity”, Cotton continues.”Robots “realize” that if they don’t destroy the human race, it will be at the cost of the earth. This creates a wicked dilemma about practicality and art; art is something that seems so impractical to so many, impractical to robots at least. “

Sounds heavy, and the humour?

“Laconic”, he replies. “One character is a robot, the other is a human being - need I say more?”

Robot vs. Art
May 31 - June 10
Written & directed by Travis Cotton
Performed by Daniel Frederiksen, Simon Maiden, Natasha Jacobs and Paul Goddard
Produced by Paul Ashcroft
$25 Full | $15 Concession
Tickets available online
or via 03 9347 6142
Wed, Sun 6.30pm | Thu, Fri, Sat 7.30pm
Running time: 90 minutes
La Mama Courthouse
349 Drummond Street Carlton

First Published INPRESS Melbourne Issue: 1226 30 May 2012

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