Queer DIY theatre duo Sisters Grimm (aka Declan Greene and Ash Flanders) started making their twisted backyard productions back in 2006 as a reaction to what they saw as stale fare offered at mainstream theatre houses.
Funny, then, that those same theatres now clamour to stage Sisters Grimm plays – the duo have recently played sell-out seasons at both MTC and STC.
“Sisters Grimm started out as a project that was almost entirely about antagonism. We hated everything we were seeing on the main stages in Melbourne – it was a really anti-careerist project right from the start. Ash and I staging stupid, violent, gross little plays for our friends,” Greene told the Star Observer.
“As an artist, you scream as loudly as you can for attention. Once you’ve got that attention, you owe to the people listening to speak as articulately as you can. That’s what Ash and I have ended up doing. Now we’re attracting attention, we’re trying to refine what we do.”
The latest play by the pair to ‘cross over’ to mainstream audiences is Summertime in the Garden of Eden, a demented drag revamp of a faded Southern belle that started life with an initial run in a backyard shed and will play in theatres across Melbourne and Sydney next month.
“The design has definitely changed. When we first did it, the design process was basically pushing all the broken whitegoods in the shed to one side and clearing a space for the drag queens to swan around,” Greene chuckled.
Almost all of the original cast from the original backyard production have joined Sisters Grimm for this more polished season – among them actors Peter Paltos, Genevieve Giuffre and Bessie Holland. Alternative drag queens Agent Cleave and Olympia Bukkakis play the feuding Southern belles at the centre of the play, giving the whole show an air of danger.
“They’re such amazing wildcards. Because they’re used to performing in nightclubs and performing for drunk, unstable crowds, they have really fantastic improvisation instincts. They know how to keep the show live, strange and unwieldy.”
In Summertime, a plantation-owning family welcome their faded debutante daughter back into the fold after 10 years away. Where has she been in those 10 years? What has she seen?
“It’s a mash-up of civil war melodramas like Gone With the Wind. That world of plantations at sunset, golden-hearted slaves, iced tea on the patio… all mashed up with Southern cinema and culture circa Tennessee Williams. Repression, homosexual anxiety and broken women.”
The design process wasn’t the only thing refined in transferring Summertime from a backyard shed to a theatre. Greene and Flanders also expanded their research, making sure they knew the historical facts before playing fast and loose with them.
“We discovered that a lot of the initial research we did was just plain wrong… which is a shame, because I think people come to our shows expecting that they’re going to learn a lot about history,” he joked.
INFO: Summertime plays Melbourne’s Theatre Works, November 7-16, & Sydney’s Griffin Theatre, November 20-December 14. theatreworks.org.au, griffintheatre.com.au