Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end, but a new play that’s about to hit The Butterfly Club in Melbourne – The Nursery Web – uses all three parts to frame a bigger story about the nature of romantic relationships.
Circumventing the treacherous clichéd waters that usually riddle its subject matter, The Nursery Web is an authentic study of love as explored through three different couples. Each relationship is in a different phase: one in its beginning, one in the middle, and one coming to an end. Encompassing feminist and queer themes, and intermingled with both humour and gravitas, The Nursery Web is a refreshing, creative exploration of the intricacies of love.
Red Magpie sat down for a chat with the talented all-woman team behind this intriguing production – writer and director Kotryna Gesait, and assistant directors Genevieve Neve and Lulu Jemimah – as they tell us about the play and their backgrounds ahead of The Nursery Web’s opening night tonight.
If you don’t have work, make work.
The most fun that I’ve had has been in shows that I wrote and then got to be directed in. My mentor was like, if you don’t have work, make work. That has kind of been my mantra. There’s not a lot of arts funding out there: no one’s going to come up to you with a silver platter and be like, ‘here’s money and here’s work’, so you just have to make it happen.
Genevieve Neve: I’m an actress with a background in arts and fashion, and recently I studied at the Watermill Centre in New York. I’m interested in a variety of theatre; I started out in musical theatre, and progressed from there. I’ve also dabbled in art performance.
Lulu Jemimah: I studied media film at Macquarie University, including some producing. This is what drew me to The Nursery Web. Kotryna put up a script and she was looking for people to help her, so I thought I’d bring my film experience to the project.
KG: The Nursery Web is about three relationships, broken down to represent the beginning, middle and end of a romantic relationship. We’ve got a sort of middle-aged gay couple that represent the middle of the relationship. It’s like a slice of what a ‘middle’ could look like.
Next we’ve got a young heterosexual couple – that’s the end. They’re at the breakup point. Then there’s a young lesbian couple that just fell in love for the first time. It’s what one person can experience in a lifetime, but they just happen to be all different relationships.
It’s presented as though you’ve opened up the curtains into their living rooms, and this is what is happening, but it’s happening on stage. We tried to create as much intimacy and genuineness as we could.
We have this other character, the announcer, who introduces each part with monologues; she adds a cabaret feel to it. It’s a juxtaposition of the very theatrical and ‘out there’ next to the extremely intimate and not theatrical at all.
KG: When I started writing The Nursery Web, I wanted to present love in the most authentic way that I possibly could. I think it’s a subject that’s over-written; everything’s about love and romance now. But often it’s either silly – like rom-com – or it’s over-sexualised, about one thing and one thing only. I wanted to write something that wasn’t either of those things, something that was just completely realistic.
I’ve always been curious about how to get actors to actually fall in love on stage, live, every night, or break up on stage every night, to get them to that point where love becomes tangible, where you can almost touch it, but it’s just the energy between two people. So I was interested in writing a script that would create that feeling on stage, and also write it from a completely feminist, feminine point of view, without masculinity, without these clichéd ideas of what men are to women.
GN: I don’t feel like the women are victims in this.
KG: Yeah – they’re not victimis, and they’re not waiting for love.
KG: I don’t want to give it away: there’s a metaphor about a spider that ties all three stories together, and that’s all I’ll say.
KG: That’s because it wasn’t difficult. You come here and there are people who are interested and want to help. Life here, as an artist, is a little bit easier, I think. New York is ridiculously expensive to live in, and if you’re an artist it’s close to impossible.
If you’re an artist who wants to make their own projects happen, and you need people to help you, and you can’t promise them money, no one’s going to help you unless you bribe them or they’re your best friend. I’ve put up plays before, but they were always part of a festival, because that’s the only way you can do it. And still, I had to do campaigns to raise money.
Here, it was really cool. When I moved here, I thought: this is what I want to do, I’m going to throw myself into this 100%. I worked pretty hard, and I’ve got really great people helping me.
GN: Coming from Sydney, I find that the Melbourne arts scene is so supportive, everyone’s so kind and so welcoming. And it’s easy to know a lot of people, too. I think it’s probably one of the best places for it.
LJ: With Kotryna coming from New York, it’s been really easy to work with her. In film, things usually happen slower, but for this Kotryna did quite a lot of the producing work for me. She’s good with the actors, she’s organised. It’s good having both worlds, like experience from other areas and countries. I’m from Uganda, and things are really different there as well. We have a very diverse team, actually.
KG: I think there’s a lot of potential and no, there’s not enough opportunity, it’s a pretty small pool. But I think if more people who want to write just did it, they might be surprised by how many other people will want to do it with them. If you have an idea, go for it. The more that we stay active, the more that we’re on the front foot, the more opportunities we’ll create.
KG: That I hate marketing. [laughs] My creative partner in that did most of it and she’s really good at it. We sold out; she did an amazing job.
Immolation Twins was very different because I worked on it with my mentor and acting teacher from uni. I gave him the script and he sculpted it into a piece of work, whereas The Nursery Web is very much my baby.
But the way I’ve been directing The Nursery Web has come directly from him. Everything I’m doing with the actors is completely enforced by what I learnt when he was directing me in Immolation Twins. It was incredible trying to mirror that experience. It was very good that I did that; if I had jumped into this without doing Immolation Twins first, I think I would have been a little less clear on my vision.
GN: I saw this recent one, Charles Manson at La Mama. That was really, really good. That was, again, a gentleman who wrote the story himself and then got all the actors in, and he also acted in it – he was Charles Manson. It was in a tiny theatre, you can only fit maybe 15 people in. That was brilliant.
With original writing that’s fresh, there’s so much you can do with it. Even in those little spaces, you can create so much.
And this is the whole thing. With original writing that’s fresh, there’s so much you can do with it. Even in those little spaces, you can create so much. You can have projections on the walls at the same time as someone’s being interviewed, and all these effects even in such a small space. I admire that sort of creativity.
KG: Hot Brown Honey at the Arts Centre. That was awesome. It’s a feminist spoken word piece from around the world. It was raw; it was a bunch of women being like: hear me roar! I felt like I was being yelled at with feminism, so I really loved it. That was really cool and powerful, a no barriers kind of thing.
LJ: I have been obsessed recently with Hamilton. There’s also a play coming on at The Butterfly Club after ours, it’s called All This Living. It’s this older lady who goes and talks to her friends in homes in Canberra, and she starts confronting life and death and all those questions. I find the whole concept interesting and I read a bit about it, so I would recommend that. And Hamilton, online.
LJ: What I really like is the chemistry between the actors. All our actors have such an intense chemistry that brings another layer of realism to the play.
GN: I like the writing so much. Just frickin’ hilarious. It’s like a wave of different emotions that you go through; it’s not a straight-up comedy, but there are just these moments of modern references that are so witty. You just don’t read scripts like that all the time.
Photography by the Amazonian Elly Freer, Edited by Woman of the World Georgia Kartas.