My eighth Sydney Fringe interview is Aaron Cornelius, the producer of Slanted Theatre’s Chain Play, which opens at Flight Path Theatre tonight. We chatted about giving opportunities to emerging Asian-Australian theatremakers, and the chaotic fun of creating two chain plays with a team of 40.
Please note, interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
I’ve been hearing a lot about Slanted Theatre, ever since it was founded in 2021 by Tiffany Wong. For people who don’t know what Slanted is, can you give me a quick summary?
Slanted Theatre is an Asian Australian theatre company for emerging artists. We’re committing to working with theatre-makers of diverse Asian heritages and experience, and including bi- and multi-racial artists. Our work aims to improve representation on Australian stages, create conversations, and explore diversity and what it means to be Asian.
Slanted has presented three different plays, Ching Chong Chinaman (2021) at Chippen Theatre, Three Fat Virgins Unassembled at KXT (2021), and most recently Lady Precious Stream (2022) at Brand X. So, this is number four.
Tell us about Slanted’s production of Chain Play.
If you’ve never heard of a chain play in general, it’s where you write an original play, but every scene is written by a different playwright and the writers only get to read the scene right before theirs. They have no other context.
So, you can get a lot of interesting jumps in genre and narrative and the introduction of new characters. Anything can happen in a chain play. It’s quite chaotic and full of surprises
And so, for our Chain Play we’re actually presenting two short plays—Where There’s A Will, There’s a Way and How Asian Are You?
So, you are in a 1-hour slot, performing two short plays, one after the other?
Yep, back-to-back, no interval.
And people will buy one ticket and they will see both?
And you’ve got a huge team for this, right? Like, a bunch of different writers and actors?
Yes! A lot! I’m going to open the database because there are 40 people.
Six writers on the first play, another six on the second play. That’s 12 writers in total.
Six cast in the first play, seven cast in the second play, 13 actors total, and the rest is a whole big bunch of production team members.
And all 40 of the artists are Asian-Australian?
And do you find this approach—specifically seeking out those artists with Asian backgrounds— means you are getting a lot of new up-and-coming artists?
Yeah, absolutely. And, we’re very much encouraging it.
We have a lot of first timers in most roles. We also have some first-time writers who have never written for stage, a couple of newish actors, and our directing team is a mix of emerging and slightly more experienced.
Although, on the broad scale of things, they’re all emerging.
That’s so cool. Honestly, I can’t think of another Fringe production that has 40 people on their team.
Honestly, I’m glad that no one else does, it’s not a great idea for anyone’s sanity. (Laughs)
I’m sure your profit shares a nightmare: “Everyone gets 50 cents at the end”. (Laughs)
Yeah, Oh my God, Yeah.
I mean, you don’t do this kind of thing for money. You do it so everyone gets the experience. And—yes—it sounds very stressful, but these artists and crew members are all going to get so much out of it.
And, for the industry in general—like, it’s important to us that the industry knows that they all exist.
Look—there are this many of them! They may not be experienced yet, but they exist!
I also find that making that jump from student theatre to proper indie theatre is so intimidating and hard to do. So, for everyone to be able to put on their CV “I’ve done something for Fringe!”— it’s a really cool starting point for their careers.
Absolutely. I have a folder with 40 bios that I could tell you all about them!
Why should people come see Chain Play?
Well, if you like surprises, this show is for you.
Our bio says “Audiences can expect 60 minutes of genre-bending, laugh-out-loud theatre with surprises at every turn.” Also, if you are really passionate about representation on stage. We’ve got so much of it. Try finding more representation per capita. (Laughs).
But seriously, we haven’t just thrown a bunch of emerging artists on stage and been like, “Do what you want”. As part of the process, we have actively spent lots of time and energy crafting these plays and embellishing them with proper lighting, sound design elements, the dramaturgy as well.
It’s not a first read. We’re treating this as an actual new, developed work.
Enjoy these brand-new works you’ve never heard of, with a production team of which you’ll maybe recognise five out of forty of! It’s a big journey of discovery for everyone involved.
And so, this is the first time these two plays have been performed with an audience?
Yep. These are both premieres.
And do you have plan to perform it again?
That’s an excellent question—what the hell is the copyright arrangement here? I think all six of the playwrights of each play collectively own the entire script…
So— no solid plans to do it again?
I don’t have any immediate plans in mind. This is a large, large project. I’m not necessarily rushing to repeat it. Slanted also doesn’t own these plays, the playwrights do.
I understand! I just ask everyone that question because I’ve interviewed a bunch of solo acts who are touring all the national Fringes.
Yeah, they’re expressly being made for touring. This one… (trails off).
This one—with its team of 40—is not made for touring! (Laughs).
My other show, though…
(Aaron is also producing TattleTales – Immersive Candlelit Tarot Card Storytelling for Sydney Fringe)
More generally, does Slanted have any plans for future shows?
Tiffany (Artistic Director and Founder) has always got multiple ideas on the boil. You never know which one will make an appearance next.
So, nothing solid, but there will definitely be more to come.
Watch this space!
Who is the the ideal audience for this?
We do, obviously, create work with the Asian-Australian audience in mind. But we also present work for a broader audience. We encourage everyone to see it. It’s not exclusive. We’re not gate keeping.
I’ll make sure everyone knows that they can, and should, buy a ticket even if they’re not Asian-Australian.
Chain Play (consisting of Where There’s A Will, There’s a Way, and How Asian Are You? presented back-to-back) opens at Flight Path Theatre in Marrickville, tonight. It is playing from Tuesday 20-Saturday 24 September at 6:30pm (on Friday) and 9:30pm (every other night). Tickets can be bought here.
Interview conducted and edited by Jo Bradley.