Adelaide independent theatre space Rumpus is launching its 2021 season with a new work from theatre-makers James Watson and Mary Angley.

The play, The Triumph of Man: A Comedy in Two Acts, looks at how truth is constructed through art and media – a timely piece as we navigate these post-pandemic times.

“It [the play] uses this sort of fictional dictatorship where two actors are kidnapped and forced to make propaganda for a cruel dictator,” says Angley, the director.

“It takes that scenario and uses it as a bit of a metaphor to explore the role that art and media play in constructing and maintaining unequal power relations.”

Watson reveals that he started writing the play as a homage to the medium of theatre and it quickly evolved from there.

Playwright James Watson.

“It came out of a place of, firstly, wanting to celebrate theatre and something that really came from the heart and played with the medium a bit,” he says.

“And then as I was writing the story, all these themes of the battle between art and propaganda and why do we make what we make and who’s influencing those sorts of messages started coming through.

“Where does entertainment end and what’s our responsibility as audience members?”

In order to present the play to its fullest potential, Watson and Angley applied for a 2020 Helpmann Academy Creative Investment Fellowship. Supported by the James and Diana Ramsay Foundation, the fellowships are valued at up to $10,000 and assist in funding large works or significant professional development programs.

Angley says that the fellowship, along with support from Arts South Australia, has also enabled them to employ a number of creatives during a trying time for independent theatre.

“It means we can pay our artists, which is really, really great. It means that we have the time and the space to really explore the work that we’re putting on. It means we get to work with a lot of other fantastic emerging creatives.

“And it comes at a vital time both in our careers as emerging artists and as emerging artists coming out of a pandemic. So, that’s been really essential.”

Watson adds: “This, to date, is the biggest production that I’ve put on in terms of professionalism, budget, number of people involved. That means a lot to me.

“It feels like I’m really growing and really progressing and really getting somewhere because you want to really break out of that space, just being a university student, you want to start being able to call yourself a professional theatre-maker.”

With Watson currently studying a Master of Fine Arts (Writing for Performance) at NIDA and in lockdown, and Angley residing in Adelaide, this work is a COVID-19 production in the purest form.

Despite the distance between the creative duo, they have been making it work with constant Zoom meetings and by keeping their eyes on the prize: that currently rare experience of gathering a group of people in a space to witness new art as it unfolds in real time.

“I think that’s what got me into the medium and what keeps me in the medium, just the absolute joy of making it and collaborating and, barring COVID, being in the room with people and really discussing it and putting it together,” says Watson.

“I like theatre because it’s communal and I think that’s really important, more than ever, at a time like this when creating communal theatrical experiences has been so challenged and tested.”

The Triumph of Man: A Comedy in Two Acts will debut at Rumpus theatre from September 13-26. You can purchase tickets here.

The 2021 Helpmann Creative Investment Fellowships are currently open, offering up to $10,000 for large projects and substantial professional development programs.  Applications close on Monday 6 September 2021. For more information or to apply, go here.

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