After winning a bunch of awards at Edinburgh, Perth, Melbourne and Adelaide Fringe festivals, festival favourite FAG/STAG has arrived in Sydney. We talked to co-writers and performers Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Chris Isaacs about where FAG/STAG begun and all the places it’s taken them.
Where did you two meet?
Chris Isaacs: We met around 2006 at The Blue Room theatre — an excellent performance hub for artists in Perth.
Jeffrey Jay Fowler: From there we knew each other through the same circles of theatre makers in Perth.
CI: We worked together on a few shows, but really became much closer since the forming of The Last Great Hunt and the collaboration of making FAG/STAG.
JJF: Our friendship was a long-time brewing.
Who are your main artistic influences?
JJF: Tricky one.
CI: I’d say we get influenced more by individual shows than by artists.
JJF: We were influenced by a spate of confessional storytelling shows that we’d seen a few years ago, and started to wonder what would happen if we played with two unreliable narrators rather than one.
CI: Recently we were influenced by Richard Nelson’s The Gabriels trilogy, though that probably plays more into Bali than FAG/STAG.
JJF: Also we both saw a show in Edinburgh this year called On Ice by Suzanne Grotenhuis which deeply moved us both and has given us something to think about for further works. She quickly shifted a simple story about fake ice rinks into a plea to take care of the planet so effortlessly it was shocking.
How do you go about writing a play collaboratively?
CI: We spent about a year talking, hanging out, thinking, dropping ideas here and there — letting the show be present in our minds but not forcing it out. Then we sat down in a room and set out a rough timeline of events in the play and then both went away to write and think about each character’s perspective on those events.
JJF: We were thinking a lot about masculinity, our own lives, the current fight against toxic masculinity, the arguments set out on both sides of that debate. A week later we sat down in a room and improvised the text — recorded it — listened to it — edited it — revised it — re-recorded it — listened again — sharpened it — wrote it down and performed it.
CI: The actual writing process was very quick, but the ideas and characters were gestating for a year.
JJF: The text is still fluid now. We change small things every season. The world changes, we adapt the play to fit. Some lines around gay marriage have been clipped and edited after the happy event of it becoming legal in Australia.
What new perspectives do you hope for FAG/STAG to offer?
CI: One of the nicest responses we’ve had is a guy coming up to us after the show and say “I’m going to go home and hug my boys a little tighter tonight.” I think it’d be nice to have men think about masculinity with a little more scrutiny.
JJF: I think the play gives the audience an opportunity to understand two people they may not necessarily like.
Any stories from the FAG/STAG tour?
CI: We’ve been very lucky to take the show around to a few festivals now, and most recently had a great season at Edinburgh Fringe. You meet many interesting artists when you’re in festivals like Edinburgh and we had a wonderful dressing room for FAG/STAG. It was us, English comedian Jack Rooke and BAFTA winning actress Monica Dolan.
JJF: We were rubbing shoulders with real celebrities!
CI: Jack was always a nervous wreck because he was just about to do his show — and Monica (who had about an hour before her show when we were in the dressing room) was either putting on her makeup or doing yoga, or some very quiet vocal warm ups. Every day Jack would be hurriedly looking over his script — completely unorganised — dealing with a thousand things at once — and Monica would spout little acting wisdom gems like ‘technique is what you use on the nights you’re not feeling it’ in a wonderfully pleasant English voice.
JJF: That bit of advice really came in handy while doing Edinburgh Fringe!
CI: Those fifteen minutes after finishing our show were always bizarre, lovely fun.
JJF: It’s been great taking the show around the world since 2015. The world is changing, the conversation around men is changing, and that means what people get from the show changes too. One of the best parts of the show is realising that every season is fresh and new and different because it is performed in response to a different city and a different zeitgeist.
FAG/STAG runs until 27 January.
Image credit: Robert Catto