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Byron Shire
October 24, 2021

Interview with Claire Atkins from SHIT

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SHIT happens 12–28 March 2021

SHIT – the best theatre show you’ll see this year.

I find most theatre boring. It’s a terrible admission. But I do. It drags, it feels forced, it seems like it comes from another world. Not this show. I saw SHIT last year and I was blown away. Incredible script. Incredible acting. I realised I love theatre. When it’s this good, there is nothing better!

This month, the Drill Hall Theatre Company shines a light on a world most of us would rather ignore with Patricia Cornelius’s electrifying play SHIT. Directed by long-time NIDA teacher Liz Chance, the play revolves around the lives of three women who have slipped through the cracks; sentenced at birth to exist in a world that doesn’t care for them or about them, in a society that will cross the street to avoid them. They are tough, resilient, at times hilarious and truly heartbreaking. Performed by Claire Atkins, Kate Foster and Kate Horsley. Claire Atkins spoke with The Echo.

You recently had the corflutes for SHIT impounded by Council after complaints – why do you think these stories, and these women frighten more conservative members of the community?

Strangely, I was listening to a conversation on radio this week about swearing, and the historian said that Australian women didn’t have the ‘authority’ to swear until well into the 20th century. Women have been swearing for years, but up until the 20th century, swear words have ‘belonged’ to men.

Given that most of us say ‘shit’, the impoundment of our signage, and seeing residents remove our posters has been fascinating. I think the reaction is, in part, still a gendered thing. The women in SHIT are rude and rough and people have found our promotional material confronting because it challenges deeply held values around femininity.

This is your second time presenting SHIT – it’s a brutal show, there’s nowhere to hide. What was it like stepping into these characters? How did it change you?

We play three women who live on the street. They’re women who have never felt love or security, but have grown up in a state of hyper-vigilance in foster care. And so, as three middle-class white women we are constantly assessing whether our values are impacting our character’s actions – we’ve got to get out of the way! Our characters are slippery, and we’re still coming to grips with them and the decisions they make. An important part of the rehearsal process has been researching the testimonies of teenagers in foster care. Those stories have been vital in building our characters, but it’s also been devastating to learn about the serious abuse and neglect that kids have experienced while they were in state-funded care. Their testimonies and the stories of our own characters have affected us deeply.  

What conversations have you witnessed from audiences?

Our characters can turn on a dime, and so audiences experience a rollercoaster of emotions. One moment they’re laughing out loud, next minute their completely shocked, and then moved to tears. We’ve had great feedback from men and women, but one gentleman said he found us so shocking he couldn’t get out of the theatre fast enough. Maybe that’s not great for ticket sales, but we want to make theatre that’s impactful, so we loved that! We found many women reflected on their privilege, and despite the great social chasm between themselves and the characters, many found common ground as survivors of abuse.

Why do you think plays like these have such potency? Why are they important?

Patricia Cornelius’s language is so electric, and we can’t get enough of it, but we also think most theatre-goers are used to seeing their own lives and concerns played out on stage – and it often happens around a dinner table. This play packs such a punch because most theatre-goers would cross the street to avoid these women, these women don’t have dinner parties, these women don’t even have a table. It’s risky theatre, because it makes us uncomfortable, but it doesn’t preach, judge or bang us over the head. 

Tell me about you three on stage together – you are all just so perfectly cast – I love that I’m seeing women from the community (who I might usually see serving at the post office) occupying these roles with such social potency.

Over the years, we’ve collaborated on various plays and films at different times, but it wasn’t until we performed in SHIT that the three of us got to work together. We love the energy that fires between us and the audience, it’s like a live circuit. In SHIT we’re tight like brothers and sisters are tight, but just like siblings we’re incredibly cruel to one another too, constantly shifting our allegiances and picking at each others’ weakness.

Tell us what to expect this time round from SHIT ?

SHIT’s first season was directed by the hugely talented Georgia Martin and assisted by Marcus O’Mullane, and its second season is reimagined by director Liz Chance. Audiences can expect to see the tough and foul-mouthed Billy, Bobby and Sam, but Liz’s interpretation brings new performances from each of us. It also sees a new set, an original soundscape by music producer Paul Pilsneniks (Powderfinger, Silver Chair, Angus & Julia Stone), lighting design by Tone Wand (Splendour, Falls Festival) and choreography by Kate Holmes. 

SHIT happens 12–28 March 2021, Fri/Sat 7.30pm and Sun 5pm at the Drill Hall Theatre, 4 Jubilee Ave, Mullumbimby.

Tickets: $27/$24, and $20 for under 25’s and arts workers affected by the pandemic. Run time: 60mins. Bookings online only at www.drillhalltheatre.org.au. Offensive language and adult themes. Enquiries: 0420 986 570.

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