FRINGEWORLD: Interview with Jessica Paterson

Loaded: A Double Bill of New Plays, a fresh new double bill of plays featuring up-and-coming talent, continues in the Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA.  

Season until Sunday 7 February 2016. Presented as part of Fringe World Festival 2016.  

We caught up with actress Jessica Paterson, who is in Girl Shut Your Mouth and asked her about her experiences working with Black Swan Theatre Company.

The Australia Times Theatre (TATT): How did you come to be involved in Black Swan’s Bridging Program?

Jessica Paterson (JP): Our WAAPA graduating class of 2015 was extremely fortunate to be the first cohort to be asked to audition for the new Black Swan Bridging Program. It’s exciting to be starting my professional career in Perth where I trained as part of this incredible initiative for young artists.

TATT: What was it that drew you to Girl Shut Your Mouth?

JP: Girl Shut Your Mouth is a really exciting new work and Gita Bezard’s writing intricately blends two seemingly opposed contexts; that of sparkly, sickly-sweet high school ‘girl politics’ with a world in which horrific violence against women occurs on a daily basis.

TATT: You’ve previously played several strong female roles, such as Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice and Lilly Cahill in Punk Rock, how does the character of Katie compare to your previous experiences?

JP: Katie has been completely different to any character I have played before. She wears her viciousness on her sleeve, and is hiding damage and trauma that runs very deep for her. Katie speaks real truth so seldomly in the play and is always hiding her nature, and this has been a real challenge and joy to bring to life. That being said, all three characters are dealing with the difficulties of growing up and becoming a woman in a world that still treats females as fundamentally inferior to men.

TATT: The set is incredibly simple, relying heavily on dialogue and stage movements. What is it like to not rely on the huge sets and costumes of a large-scale production?

JP: That’s something that we’ve had lots of practice with at WAAPA! We’ve been so lucky to come through a training that helps us create productions with all levels of creative and financial support. Working with Black Swan is absolute luxury. The set and costume design is so integral to the world, and has been a huge part of creating the characters and of helping to tell their stories.

TATT: Girl Shut Your Mouth covers incredibly intense themes, how do you feel the play deals with this intensity?

JP: I think that the tone of the world we’ve created helps to balance the intensity of the themes. The high-energy, over-the-top, mile-a-minute way in which the girls speak to and relate to each other throughout the play has been a deliberate choice to help counteract the horrific nature of what they’re going through.

TATT: How closely do you identify with Katie as a character?

JP: At first I didn’t identify with Katie at all! I was certainly no queen bee at high school, so it’s been a really exciting process to open up the character and find what really makes her behave the way she does. It’s been fascinating to work on a character that is really quite different to me. So often we’re cast in roles that are similar to us, so it’s been an incredible challenge to find the truth in a character that I didn’t immediately connect with.

TATT: The approach to deadly serious topics about women and girls is quite unique. What do you think it is trying to say?

JP: I think at its heart this is a play about violence against women. It’s both as simple and as complex as that.

TATT: What’s it like to work with other newcomers in the Black Swan environment?

JP: It’s been amazing! The three women I get to come to work with every day are so courageous, talented, and open that it has been such a pleasure to share this process with them. We’re so lucky to have been working together at WAAPA for three years, so we really just all clicked into gear on day one and got straight to work. And to be doing so under the guidance of Jeffrey Jay Fowler and the hugely experienced Black Swan team has been fantastic.

TATT: Your show is part of FRINGEWORLD – what other shows would you recommend during Fringe?

JP: Oh there’s so much going on! I’m trying to catch as many shows as possible, especially those featuring fellow WAAPA grads and current students. Though I have heard that La Soirée is wonderful so I might have to add at least one big-ticket show to the list.

TATT: What’s next for you?

JP: I’m super excited to move back home to Sydney and to get settled there before continuing to work at creating a future in this industry. We’re all so lucky to have the backing of WAAPA and now Black Swan behind us as we get started, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the next twelve months.

For more information, see our review of Loaded: A Double Bill of New Plays