Emma Beech and Ashton Malcolm

Vitalstatistix spoke to artists Emma Beech and Ashton Malcolm about what they hope to get out of their yearlong residencies with Vitals this year.

Both Emma and Ashton are Adelaide-based theatre makers and actors who have a continuing relationship with the company. This year Emma Beech is Vitalstatistix’s Shopfront Studio artist and Ashton is one third of Points in the Plane along with Josephine Were and Meg Wilson.

Vitalstatistix: Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re hoping to develop with Vitalstatistix this year?

Emma Beech: In a change for me, I am looking not to develop a new work but to develop some new ideas and new ways of engaging with Port Adelaide and its people. I’m also looking to see how Vitals and its Port location could interact creatively with other companies internationally. What are those Port towns across the world doing? How can we speak with each other through art?

Ashton Malcolm: We are hoping to come out of this year with a clearer idea of who we are as a performance making collective. We love working and experimenting together, and have been collaborating as a trio for the past few years. So it feels like the right time to focus on our identity as artists and how we would like to shape our work and our collective going forward. And maybe we’ll even come up with a name!

V: What does it mean to have a yearlong relationship with the company?

EB: It means supporting the company, it means bringing a new set of eyes with a lot of fondness and seeing what myself, Emma Webb and all the others in the mix can cook up for the company in the present and in the future – in these highly un-plan-able times. How can we keep bringing what we do and the place we do it (Waterside) to life? The year is a chance to have one hell of a long conversation.

AM: I am so excited and feel very lucky to have a yearlong relationship with Vitals. Vitals have always been a shining light for me. Ever since I was at uni studying drama, Waterside was a place to see experimental work, to meet contemporary artists and to build new ideas. It is also where Josie, Meg and I first collaborated, so it feels very fitting (and rather romantic) to be there again this year, as we grow and develop into a more established collective.

V: Emma, how do you feel now you’ve had some time since Life is Short and Long wrapped up? And how do you think using the shopfront will shape your engagement with the Port this year?

EB: I feel like I’ve done the very best I could with the artistic process that I have, and I have now come to the point of putting my practice in a very attractive box and putting it on the shelf. I’m proud of what we made and did, and now is the time to soak up ideas, put out some ideas and work with others on what they are doing – to allow some space for me to come back to my practice at another time.

I see it as a whole year of working for and with the company, doing what needs to be done as guided by [Vitalstatistix Director] Emma Webb.

The shopfront: from working in that space during Life Is, many people passed the door to ask me where the shops were, what was I doing, to collect mail and gain access to the hall. I think the presence, any presence, will remind people that this space is very much alive and kicking and even kicking goals. I’m excited to be the interface.

V: Ashton, how do you juggle collaborating and working independently? 

AM: It is always a matter of pulling out diaries and finding any time to be together that we can! We are all very driven and hardworking, which is part of why we work well together, but it also means that we are all very busy! Usually though, we block out some time throughout the year to develop new projects and to present work. Applying for grants together is helpful too because it forces you to plan timelines well in advance! The best thing though, I think, is how honest we are with each other and how much we support each other’s individual careers. When independent work comes up we tell each other, we celebrate our personal joys, and we do our best to be flexible and make it all work.

V: How do you balance the competing demands of your creative work with non-artistic pursuits?

EB: Ahhh, I don’t really. I’m writing this after a big day on the home front with my eyes bulging from their sockets. So I wouldn’t say balance. I’d say it’s the thing I have to do, want to do, and so I squeeze it in and around the other incredible life I have running around at knee height. So I don’t balance, I squeeze.

AM: I am in a very fortunate position at the moment in that I spend most of my time working on creative pursuits. When I’m not acting or making work, I work at the Starlight Children’s Foundation providing positive distraction for sick kids. That is highly creative too so all of my different worlds seem to compliment each other quite well, which helps. I’ve also had to become very good at compartmentalising – every morning I check my diary and whatever I am doing that day gets my full focus. If I think too much about balancing it all, it just gets way too stressful!

V: What do you get out of working with Vitalstatistix that you don’t get out of working with larger companies?

EB: A sense of continuity, a sense of community, a sense of possibility, a sense of being regarded and a sense of building something together. But also sometimes, a sense of how much harder it is for small company to have to pull together outcomes that are of as high a quality as the big companies. A sense of struggle. I do value that challenge.

AM: I’ve worked with Vitals a lot over the years and what I’ve always loved is the incredible freedom to take creative risks, to make brave work and to be unashamedly who I am. The great strength of a smaller team is that you get to know everyone very well. Vitals gave me my first big acting job out of uni (Cutaway: A Ceremony) and I’ve always felt like myself there.

They allow artists to be all that they are, to develop and grow, and to embrace their complexity. As a young woman, this kind of space can be a very hard thing to find- both at work and just generally in the world.

V: What else are you working on this year?

EB: I’ll be working at the SA Museum, I’ll be brushing up my straight acting skills because I love the idea of someone handing me a script instead of conceiving the script, writing the script, getting funding for the script, and then performing the entire script. I’ll be working on getting fit and eating really well and being nice to people.

AM: It’s going to be a very fun and busy year! I’ll be working with Vitals again in May to develop Rebecca’s Meston’s new work, Drive. I’m also making and performing in Patch Theatre Company’s new work, Yo Diddle Diddle, performing in a return season of McNirt Hates Dirt in the Dream Big Festival, and touring Grug with Windmill Theatre Company.

V: Do you see your art and processes as political? What do you think is the role of arts is in politics?

EB: I never have seen my process as political; I see it as social. Social may well be political but my first call is social. Social, because talking to people is connecting and connecting to strangers in this way is not a regular daily thing for most people but the practice of it – for all and sundry – could bring some big changes in the way we all do things.

People say the social is political but I think the political is social, and if we really knew how to speak and if we really knew how to listen, we could be doing a few things quite a bit better.

I don’t know if art does have a role in politics – art is art and it can be political and the act of making art is counter cultural, but where politics and art meet for me is uncut and unclear, and relates differently to different artists and different artworks.

AM: Yes. Especially the work I make independently, and with Meg and Josie. I am and always will be a fierce feminist, so that undoubtedly comes through in all of my work. I actually think it is kind of impossible to live in the world as an aware, engaged, human and not have that affect your work. If you are a politically engaged human, who is making work for a contemporary audience, then it can’t help but be of this world and time, which means it is bound to be politically and socially engaged. I think the role of arts in politics is to playfully provoke, to question, to open conversations. In my dream world, people would see a show and then spend the rest of the night in the foyer bar not talking about how good the actors were or how big the set was, but rather about the ideas raised.