Melbourne Fringe 2016

Sleeplessness And The Weather, Melbourne Fringe 2016

0 Comments 11 August 2016

Words by Eliza Janssen

Despite its accusatory title, How Can You Sleep At Night isn’t interested in guilting its audience into caring about climate change. Creator and performer Christian Taylor, a long-time insomniac, instead wants to use his experience in sleeplessness to create a dialogue about environmental apocalypse, as he discussed with Eliza Janssen.

Is How Can You Sleep At Night a play?

I wouldn’t call it a play – it’s a solo show. Definitely not a traditional play. It’s somewhere between a hallucination and a dream, and I guess in some ways, a memory as well. I’m an insomniac. I wake up like fifteen times a night, so I sleep pretty badly most of the time. And the show deals with the stuff that keeps me up in the middle of the night and wakes me up at three in the morning. Specifically, mortality, and climate change, and the end of the world. You know, just tiny things.

Nothing super important then.

Yeah, and how that affects my relationship with sleep.

That sounds pretty personal.

It’s quite personal. It’s been almost seven years in the making, all come from journal notes or voice recordings or dreams I’ve had. So it’s a bit surreal, and a bit strange. It’s really hard to piece together things you’ve thought of at three in the morning; they’re all kind of disjointed and fragmented. Nothing is stable.

How did you decide to turn that into a play?

I’ve been an insomniac for about seven years, give or take. Kind of gets blurry. Around three or four years ago, I found that I had enough content, in the form of all those journals. Someone told me that the perspective of an insomniac is something that a lot of people relate to – nobody has a good night’s sleep all of the time. So that’s kind of where it all came from.

How difficult was it to take that very specific, personal environment – what you see in your head – on stage, and make it relatable to an audience?

How Can You Sleep At Night deals with some heavy content – climate change is so overwhelmingly huge, so hard to process. Which is why I still haven’t solved it after seven years. Then trying to make my surreal, strange reaction accessible to other people was a really interesting process. It required a lot of outside eyes, someone to say ‘I don’t understand that, that’s too weird, too wacky’, and to find intimate, personal moments that are relatable.

Who in this case were those ‘outside eyes’?

I have my family, especially my sister Rowena Taylor – she’s producing the play with me. My dramaturge is Olivia Satchell – currently studying her postgrad in directing at VCA, and she’s incredible. So those have been the key eyes at the moment. But I also did a workshop performance at Small and Loud, which is a monthly scratch performance evening at The Workers’ Club. So I performed a 15 minute-long piece of work, which I had never shown to anyone before, to a roomful of strangers, which was absolutely terrifying.

Were you happy with the response?

Yeah, it was really well received. A lot of what was in that workshop hasn’t made it into the final show. But it really solidified for me what people relate to or find accessible or disengaging or confusing. Particularly when it comes to a very personal dream.

What’s the stagecraft like, in bringing a dream on stage?

Still figuring it out. There’s a very strong relationship to design, lighting, sound; because those are so ethereal, they do a lot of what the human body and voice can’t. I also decided to stage bits of it as a conversation with a jellyfish, so that’s kind of representative of how my mind works at  3am. It makes sense as long as you distance yourself and go, ‘oh, it’s a bit of a dream world’. Just sit in the weirdness of it. I think that works for the subject matter, because we find ourselves in such a weird state at the moment. No one really knows what the future holds or what to do about it. So trying to process that uncertainty on stage is really interesting.

Do you think making How Can You Sleep At Night has influenced the way you think about every day decisions?

Earlier today I decided to go vegetarian, so I’ve been doing a lot of research, and I am as of now a vegetarian. I’m in the process of changing a lot of things about how I live my life. It’s slow, but it’s hard in the face of all this evidence not to. Whereas before I didn’t know anything, and that’s the state a lot of people find themselves in. People haven’t really spent a lot of time diving into the rabbit hole that is climate change, confronting that scientific material and evidence, and deciding how to react to it.

To be honest there were some dark moments for me, thinking about how the state of the earth is going, and you don’t know how to react. It’s like, well, what do I do now with that information? That’s a big part of the show, dealing with your own death. ‘Cause maybe if you figure out how to deal with your mortality, you can face the mortality of our planet, and do something about it. I find myself stuck in the feedback loop. You think it’s too much of an issue, so you pull yourself out, and that only makes it bigger.

Has the process of bringing the show to stage helped that process of thought?

Oh, yeah. It started as a show about an insomniac, and then it turned into a show about the end of the world, and now it’s sort of been led down that same path to climate change. I’m narrowing in on the root cause of all of that anxiety.

A more specific apocalypse.

We talk about a lot of potential armageddons, some of which I go through in the show. But in the end the most pressing one, I believe, is climate change.

Why was Melbourne Fringe Festival the right place for the show?

I think because I didn’t know what the show would be when I set out. I’m now sixteen drafts into the show, effectively seven years in the making. So it’s been a long, complex process. Not knowing what it would be, I didn’t want to put expectations on myself to make anything in particular, and Melbourne Fringe gives you that flexibility. You can do anything you want. and people come with very open minds and hearts and receive your work for what it is, which is very encouraging. Which is great, seeing as I don’t know whether what I’m putting on is some weird fever arsenic dream, or if it makes sense.

Do you have an idea of what an ideal audience member would look like? As in, is it someone who already cares about climate change?

I suppose that’s the ideal human at the moment in the world, I guess. But I started out this process not knowing anything. Climate change skeptics may not get too much from the show, but people who are willing to think about it, and acknowledge that our behaviour has to change in some way are probably ideal.

Is there a persuasive element to your logic in the show?

No. I think there are small elements of convincing, but it’s more a point of questioning our attitudes towards climate change and the end of the world and mortality, rather than providing answers. It’s such a hard thing to say ‘this is how you should react in the face of this’. You can try, but everyone has their own personal relation to grief. It is a process of grieving for something you haven’t lost yet. Being willing to go on that journey with grief – that’s the important bit, I suppose.

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