Billed as a ‘festival of autobiographical performance’, The Horse’s Mouth Festival takes over Woolloomooloo’s Old Fitz Hotel for the next month, showcasing a collection of solo performances by some of the city’s brightest creative sparks.
Meeting two of them, queer theatremakers Tim Spencer and Nick Coyle (pictured at right and far right, respectively), during a break in rehearsals last week, the Star Observer got a taste of the sheer breadth of material on offer at the festival.
One of the founding members of Bambina Borracha, the theatre company co-staging Horse’s Mouth, Spencer will perform Show Me Yours, I’ll Show You Mine, a searing, highly personal retelling of his conversations with an anonymous male Sydney sex worker.
The foundations for the work were laid when Spencer spent time with a European theatre company earlier this year and developed a taste for the distinctly European tradition of bold, brutal theatre.
“Their big advice to me was to just be cold-blooded — to put yourself out there for the audience,” Spencer said.
“It’s about saying to people, ‘I’m going to cross the line, I’m going to feel anxious and uncomfortable — and you’re going to do the same’.
“[The piece] is a conversation between me and the sex worker. At first it was heavily weighted towards Nick — that’s the pseudonym of the sex worker I’ve been talking to — but through workshopping I’ve found it works best when it’s an equal conversation between the two of us.”
Through that conversation, Spencer said he hoped to make audiences challenge some of their preconceptions about sex work.
“An audience member who comes to the Old Fitz and sees a show about a sex worker is already going to be pretty progressive — I’m assuming most people will be left-leaning Greens voters.
“But even within that, it’s important we question ourselves. Just because we’re left-leaning doesn’t mean we’re absolved of hypocrisy or judgement.
“You can tolerate sex work — and I think a lot of people do — but there’s a difference between tolerance and acceptance.”
Despite this, Spencer insisted he wasn’t aiming to provide a commentary on the wider sex industry, instead preferring to focus on Nick’s specific story.
“It’s interesting to put forth the idea that a sex worker has integrity — just because you do that kind of work, it doesn’t invalidate your ability to have agency. A lot of the stuff I read about sex work seems to come from the point of view that because they’ve made this choice, you’ve invalidated your ability to make decisions for yourself.”
In stark contrast to Spencer’s fastidiously researched work, Coyle, already familiar to Old Fitz audiences for his genius all-female comedy Rommy and the equally brilliant one-man show Me Pregnant!, admitted his own upcoming 20-minute creation, Archeopteryx, was still in its — ahem — early stages.
“To be honest, I haven’t written the show yet, but I’m just starting with the title, because I love the Archeopteryx. Much like the Rosetta Stone, it was a fossil that proved something amazing [the missing link between dinosaurs and birds].
“Did you know they’ve discovered all dinosaurs had feathers? Even the T-Rex — it was a big chicken. Nothing scary about that.”
Feathered fossils are all well and good, but Horse’s Mouth is a festival of autobiography. Will Coyle be sharing his life story on stage?
“I think it will be somewhat autobiographical, but whether that’s my autobiography remains to be seen. I don’t think it would be very interesting for anyone to hear about my life. ‘Well, I’m white, middle class, not many problems. Yeah, it’s been tricky!’
“I could talk about being a gaybo, but those narratives have been done. I think at this stage, I want to fuse science and dance,” he said, somewhat cryptically.
Both Spencer and Coyle agreed that, as young queer artists producing work that sits on the fringes of Sydney’s theatre scene (you don’t see many gay male prostitutes and dinosaur dance spectaculars on the main stage at STC, do you?), taking the reins and producing shows themselves was a vital skill.
“Everything I’ve done, I’ve put on myself. I didn’t go to drama school, but I think it’s something they should teach more — if you want to work, you’ve just got to do it yourself,” Coyle said.
“I say this a lot and it might sound twee, but it’s true: if you want to put on a play, all you really need are humans to perform it and other humans to watch it. People think if they want to put on a play they need $10,000, but they don’t.
“I mean, obviously wigs help.”
INFO: Horse’s Mouth Festival, Old Fitz Hotel, Woolloomooloo. November 23 – December 17. www.bambinaborracha.com/horse