A Strategic Plan: Uncomfortable Humour In The Arts
The reality is that for a lot of folks out there, office work is inevitable.
Sometimes that ain’t so bad – those jerks at Pixar seem to have a pretty sweet deal – but peer behind the curtains of your favourite music label or theatre and, well, the commercial practicalities of bringing art to life can be rather humbling. Maintaining your sense of inspiration and creative optimism is tricky when the photocopier is jammed with actual jam and your boss is about as efficient as a startled otter, yet somehow, magic still happens. Enter Griffin’s A Strategic Plan, a new black comedy spearheaded by performer Justin Smith.
“It’s a really wordy piece. A lot of quick-fire, overlapping dialogue,” Smith says in a break between rehearsals. “It’s smart and kind of sassy, and getting it to the right point has taken a lot of deconstructing and putting back together again. Particularly because it’s a new play. What was submitted to the theatre initially was very different to what we’ve ended up with as the final working script we have now. It jumps around in time, so we have to make that clear to the audience, but I also need to find my way through it across the four or five different time frames, knowing where I am in the journey. That’s tricky.”
For fans of The Office, or Office Space (really, anything that has ‘office’ in the title), A Strategic Plan might just be the ideal way to kick-start your working year. Described as a satire about office life and arts management, it might not immediately sound like the kind of production that leaves you breathless – but then, black comedies often have the most unexpected of laughs.
“Ha, it sounds kind of sterile when you put it like that!” Smith laughs. “But it’s really funny, particularly the first two-thirds. My character goes through a lot, but the characters surrounding him are hilarious. It’s a clever, really biting comedy. But it’s also sympathetic, and is quite moving. It’s a satire looking into a world where…” Smith pauses. “Think of the people who would go to Griffin shows, who appreciate theatre but may not know what goes on behind the scenes. The [reality] of trying to run a company like Griffin, what people go through to get the art in front of an audience. There’s that side of it. But ultimately, it will hopefully be a moving journey for my character and the audience’s relationship with him.
“It’s definitely black humour. It’s not for everyone – I always hesitate using that reference. [If] people enjoy uncomfortable humour, my guy is in amongst it, in that maelstrom of working with people manipulating things for their own ends.”
At heart, A Strategic Plan is concerned with the compulsion to create art in the first place – what drives us to showcase and produce, and how artists persevere when it seems like such an uphill struggle. There are manifold reasons why artists keep fighting the good fight, but in the end, Smith believes it’s a matter of principle.
“It’s that old thing of holding a mirror up to our own selves, and seeing part of yourself in the story. Certainly art reflects the time, what concerns us at the moment. I think the creative industries in Australia are really struggling. I read something today that university enrolments for the creative and media degrees have dropped seven points, because there are no jobs out there. But I think this is a time when art needs to step up and actually reflect the collective consciousness of what we’re all struggling with now.”