RELAX: EVERYTHING’S F*CKED! by THE SYNDICATE SIDESHOW
Relax: Everything’s F*cked! features the stunts, tattoos and warped minds of :
- Captain Ruin aka Mitch Jones – performer, director, producer, MC and professional unusualist hailing from Melbourne, Victoria.
- Samora Squid – “The stretchy, slimy and strangely sexy sweet-heart of sideshow. Contortionist, sword-swallower, human pin-cushion, musician and genuine Freak”. Hailing from Tassie, the 26th largest Island in the world – it is Wikipedia told me!
- Elle Diablo aka Amanda Miller – ‘Your local fire eating, pole dancing, sword swallowing, sometimes aerialist femme fatale’ – Hailing from the west coast now based in Melbourne Town.
Interview with The Syndicate…
I thought I’d sling them some questions to give us an insight into how the company came about, the show, their process creating work and other insightful things such as what their favourite films are!
They sat around and answered the questions as a conversation, some of them seriously, others……..well you’ll see, Diablo tried to keep them on course!
I’d like to imagine it was in a rundown graffitied Brunswick share house, sitting around a card table lit by a single naked lightbulb in fake-leopard-skin dressing gowns and massive sunglasses, smoking cigars and swilling duty-free whiskey whilst giving each other homemade tattoos, eating delicious freshly dumpster dived cuisine and throwing knives into the ceiling……….but I think those days are behind them! 😉
- The feature pics of that go along with the Interview were taken by me at the Melbourne Fringe Festival 2016
How did The Syndicate come about? What’s the backstory?
RUIN: I was struggling to find arts funding back in 2012 and I found a Theatre and Performance course at Monash University which gave you $1000 towards making a performance outcome to your research. I used that bursary to start The Syndicate with Bam Bam (Amy Broomstick) and Ell Bella (El Kirschbaum). Our first show had strong themes of Magic and the Occult as it followed my Thesis research project about the links between stage magic and traditions of real magic, ritual and the occult. We toured with this line up for about a year, adding Samora Squid when we performed at the Adelaide Fringe in 2014, who then took El Kirschbaum’ position as she decided to focus on other commitments.
By this stage, Amy and I had gotten a bit over the variety/burlesque/cabaret format and wanted to make something that was darker and more challenging. When we were approached by Woodford we decided to make a new show about three kids who had grown up in a cult and then been trapped in a basement when the cult committed ritual suicide. Unfortunately, Amy and I needed to go our separate ways and she left the company during the development of what was to become Bunker. (She’s continued to make great work as Bam Bam, including a fantastic new show called KillJoy, which will be touring next year!) I had met Elle Diablo (Amanda Miller) backstage at a Halloween Titty Twister gig when she was breaking glass and I was polishing my throwing knives.
With only about a month to spare before Woodford, I called her and asked if she wanted to get involved in the project. It must have been quite a wild ride. Samora and I have known each other for 10 years and we have a particular ‘set-everything-on-fire-and-see-what-happens’ kind of attitude towards making shows. For the opening scene of the first version of Bunker Squid and I played blast-beat-grindcore while Amanda emerged from an enormous cloud of smoke in a gas mask and began viciously headbanging as all the ushers (dressed in matching costumes) committed suicide by drinking jelly shots.
‘I think we’ve been banned from Woodford now – they were actually booking the magic show they’d seen at Adelaide Fringe! But hey – when you gotta make art you gotta do it by any means necessary’. – Ruin
We renamed the company and started performing together as The Syndicate Sideshow, including doing the World Sideshow Festival (with Bam Bam as a guest). This new line up started to explore the self-deprecating comedic style that we’re now working in – we got described as ‘The Young Ones of Sideshow’ although I prefer to think of us as ‘TISM in a Spiegeltent’. I’d grown a bit tired of the pantomime combination of Sideshow and massive onstage ego, where every stunt has to be the biggest, most dangerous, longest, thickest, juiciest… oh no wait that’s a different show. Squid and I just wanted to break out of that and be silly so we wrote a sketch called “The Bucket of Shame” where Squid has forgotten his costume and gets punished by having firecrackers blown off on his cock (he loves it). It was really exhilarating to be delivering lines to each other rather than talking directly to the audience and playing with parody and a self-aware style. We started doing music festivals and tattoo expos with a range of new stunts and developing what we called ‘the festival show’.
At the same time, we were also making plans to remount Bunker. In April 2016, Amanda, Samora and myself did a self funded re-development of the show and turned it into a 50 minute silent piece of physical theatre that used traditional sideshow stunts as visceral visuals that advanced the story of these three characters rather than being presented just for the sake of it. It felt like a big step forward for us, as well as for exploring the underutilized possibilities of the stunts. That year we’d also befriended Lucy Frost at the West Australian circus festival. She worked with us on the show in Melbourne and she and I cooked up a plan to present Bunker in London in July as part of a master class series through her associated company The Bureau of Silly Ideas.
Diablo – We fitted right in.
Ruin – She got funding through the UK Arts Council and we did Bunker in an underground railway arch in Brixton where the trains rattled overhead and sent down a cloud of brick dust every 10 minutes, it was perfect. As part of the project we also collaborated with 12 international artists (from places such as Norway, Finland, Germany, USA, Australia, UK, Brazil) to make a once off show called Never Mind the Circus, that drew on the local history of punk Brixton for inspiration, and had a live band led by Samora. Working with a live band was the genesis for a whole range of show ideas that have yet to happen – watch this space.
While in Europe we also toured the festival circuit with our show and started to realize that the style of comedy that we wanted to write was too conceptual for a music festival audience where the venues are loud, the people are wasted, the performances are rushed. We wanted to write these multi layered jokes with sight gags and sarcastic undertones but to do that we needed to be somewhere that the audience could focus on the subtlety and irony of the material.
Samora – Basically our talents were wasted on those plebs.
Diablo – Also – too much ketamine.
So against our better instincts, we decided to register for Melbourne Fringe 2016 and use the festival show as a basis for writing more comedy sketches. We called it Relax: Everything’s Fucked! It went down very well in Melbourne and we started to use radio play voice-overs to try and fit all of the jokes into an already overloaded show, which is an idea that we’re still currently experimenting with. We’re now about to premiere its second season at the Melba Spiegeltent for the Sidesault festival.
Ruin – As a company, we are trying to diversify our output and have two shows working in different areas of physical theatre.
Can you describe the show?
Ruin: Relax: Everything’s Fucked! is based in our festival show, so it’s anchored around big rock n roll sideshow stunts, but we’ve undercut this kind of posturing with a lot of self-mockery and buffoon clowning. The main theme of the work is political satire – we’re trying to find ways to laugh about how fucked everything is, and to remind ourselves that in the end, we’re all going to die, no matter what we do, so we might as well be nice to each other. It’s a philosophy we’ve developed called Cheerful Nihilism. So the show is a deliberately cruel and callous look at the grotesquely cynical world of modern politics.
Diablo – With sequins.
Why Sideshow as opposed to circus and what do you love about the Sideshow form?
Samora – Well sideshow is heaps easier.
Ruin – And you can do it while you’re drunk.
The name of the show and the images you put out are provocative- why so provocative and what reaction are you after?
Ruin – When making my own work, I’m not interested in niceties. Although we work within the framework of entertainment, I think Australian audiences are really pandered to and kept very safe by work that never seeks to challenge them. Coming from a background of punk and anarchist culture I don’t want things to be perfect – I want to push people’s buttons and make them think about things differently. Part of that is being confusing and embracing absurdity! What does the title of the show mean? Maybe nothing! Will you enjoy it? Who cares! Will you walk away and instantly forget what you just saw – absolutely not. I don’t care if people “like” it or not, as long as it makes them feel something. Fuck being safe.
Samora – Yeah. Fuck society man.
Do you work with an outside eye or director? If so how does that process work? If not why not?
Ruin – We have worked with Rinske Ginsberg on and off over the years on different projects and she has been amazing in giving us some of her dramatic training and acting techniques to think about. Mostly we collaboratively devise our work – sitting around talking, trying to make each other laugh, occasionally coming up with something worth writing down and trying on stage. We had a go at me directing the development of Bunker but to be honest it didn’t work so well as the dynamic of performing/directing stops you from being truly outside the work.
Samora – Also we hate it when you’re telling us what to do.
Diablo – That’s true.
Ruin – Yeah fair enough.
Diablo – Honestly we’d love to work with a director more often but as a small self-funded company we just can’t afford it.
Sideshow is often about enduring pain – what’s your approach to it? do you enjoy it?
Diablo – It’s the same as circus – people train really hard to get good at doing difficult things with their bodies. Life is pain, we get used to it.
Samora – It’s also about what you’re most physically inclined towards. Someone becomes a juggler because they have naturally good coordination…
Diablo – Also they enjoy being by themselves
Samora – So do I!
Ruin – Yes you have the personality of the juggler without the abilities.
Samora – What I mean is that we all have naturally high pain thresholds and so it’s logical that that’s what our skill sets are based around.
What do you want the audience to take away from the show? What message do you want them to leave with?
Samora – Brechtian alienation.
Ruin – You don’t even know what that means!
Samora – Fuck off!
Diablo – Guys, this is supposed to be about marketing.
Diablo – The show is going to make you feel great about things that usually make you feel sad.
What does your process look like when your creating routines for the show?
Ruin – we laugh a lot. We sit around, talk shit, throw up ideas.
Samora – we talk about current events, have conversations.
Ruin – So then we come up with a stunt or an image that we want to put on stage, we use this shared sense of humour to create a unique routine.
When your creating work and routines do you strive for a deeper meaning or message?
Ruin – yes?
Diablo – yeah we do – all three of us have strong political ideologies and we try and put that onstage by looking at them through the framework of humour. We want the deeper messages to come through but we want it to be funny.
Samora – What I want is for people to feel that yeah it is actually ok to feel really upset and angry about the world. As Zach De La Rocha said “Your anger is a gift”
Ruin – I think we’ve realized that as entertainers we have a unique opportunity to get onstage and be heard. If you can make somebody laugh they are more likely to listen to you, so it’s a great way to get those messages out there.
How do you think circus/sideshow/performance can create positive change?
Samora – Sometimes I get my d**k sucked after shows.
Diablo – Marketing!
Samora – I Am!
Ruin – Only individuals can create positive change, we’re just trying to plant the seeds.
You’re inherently political in your work – do you feel there’s enough of that in Aus?
All – No.
Samora – I grew up in regional Tasmania where the only touring performers were people like Col Elliot, Kevin Bloody Wilson and Rodney Rude; people pandering to racial stereotypes in order to get cheap laughs without doing anything to challenge the status quo. I want to kick up.
Ruin – Really, we are making the work that we want to see more of.
What are some of the challenges being a performer/artist in this country?
Diablo – The lack of funding to make different work.
Samora – Also the trend of anti-intellectualism keeps a lot of the general public out of theatres and away from the performing arts. Having said that I think that middle class elitism is just as much to blame for this divide between the arts and the people.
Ruin – When we worked in London with Lucy we were able to get a small grant of 5000 pounds on a short turn around application. This kind of quick response arts funding can have amazing results, and it just doesn’t exist here. I feel like we constantly struggle to get our work past the boundaries of our small already established audience. There isn’t anywhere to grow into, unless you’re willing to follow the same well-trodden commercial pathways.
What advice would you give performers just starting out in the scene?
Samora – Children are our future, unless we stop them now.
Samora – Actually, I wish I had spent more time working in different areas of the arts, as Ruin did, doing tech, sound, rigging etc so that I had a better knowledge of how all the different parts function.
Ruin – Yeah that’s a good point. I reckon that a carny is someone who can load and reverse park the trailer at 6am, set up the tent, build the stage, rig the lights, then spruik and sell the tickets, make the fairy floss and popcorn, do the show, then pack it all up again. Don’t get stuck thinking that you’ll be able to do just one thing for your whole career – sometimes the work will be there and sometimes it won’t. The more you can do, the more useful you are, then the more attractive you are to employ.
What advice would you give your younger self now you know what you know?
Ruin – Don’t get caught.
Samora – Don’t wait till you think you’re good enough.
Diablo – Legitimately, stay in school.
Ruin – We talked about this question off the record and actually, we all feel like we could have done things differently to make our lives easier. But at the same time, would we have ended up where we are now if we hadn’t had all those adventures and mishaps? Really, it comes down to wishing that sometimes we had looked after ourselves better as young people.
What is the Sidesault Festival? How did you guys get involved?
Ruin – It’s a Circus Oz sponsored program to support small companies making experimental work. Antonella, who is producing the festival, saw Relax: Everything’s Fucked at the Fringe last year, and when we applied to be part of it invited us to be part of it.
How important is having these types of festivals/backing to the Australian scene?
Samora – That remains to be seen really.
How do you feel having Circus Oz, which has such a family demographic backing the Syndicate? Do you feel you are corrupting them? 😉
Ruin – I feel like they’re corrupting us really – all these questions about safety and risk assessment! We know it’s risky, that’s why we’re doing it!
- NB* Now here’s some quick fire questions which I ‘borrowed’ from the excellent author and interviewer Tim Ferriss. For those who haven’t come across him -he has a fascinating podcast series interviewing high achievers from all types of industries.
Favourite book you’ve read recently?
Samora – British Steel by Judas Priest
Ruin – Squid, that’s an album
Samora – Yeah, it’s got words in it!
Ruin – I’m reading a book called Trinity by Leon Uris about Irish revolutionary history at the moment, it’s really amazing.
Diablo – Geek Love. Such a classic.
HB McCormick pic
If you could have a massive billboard up in a major city with anything written on it, what would it say?
Ruin – Well first I’d cross out “Anything”…
Diablo – Wake up sheeple, parsnips are just white carrots!
Ruin – I’d write THINK FOR YOURSELVES and then cross it out and spray paint “Don’t Tell Me What To Do!”
When you think of the word ‘successful,’ who’s the first person that comes to mind and why?
Samora – Pablo Escobar. Cause he had fuckin…
Diablo – Marketing!
Ruin – That’s true, he had amazing marketing. Why else would you have heard of him?
What is your favourite documentary or film?
Diablo – The Last Unicorn.
Ruin – Fight Club, cause it’s both
Samora – The cook, the thief, his wife and her lover
What topic would you talk about if you were asked to do a TED talk outside your area of expertise?
Samora – Who would win in a fight between the Care Bears and the Transformers
Ruin – I’d watch that.
Do you have a quote you live your life by or think of often?
Samora – Live like you’ll die tomorrow, learn like you’ll live forever, and f**ck like you’re being videoed.
How has a failure or apparent failure, set you up for later success? or do you have a favourite failure?
Diablo – I was supposed to be a doctor…
Name 3-5 things that you always take on tour with you (not props!)
Ruin – Samora
Samora – Diablo
Diablo – My sheep sock puppet
Ruin – Hey!
Do you regret any of your tattoos?
Samora – All of them
Ruin – I just wish there was more of them!
Check out a glimpse of Bunker – Video by Chris Bennet (Underground Media)
I hope you enjoyed those pics and tasty interview morsel from that trio of wonderful delinquents… thanks heaps dudes for the entertaining read, much appreciated. x
Peace & Respect to all,
RELAX: EVERYTHING’S F*CKED Runs from the 15th – 18th Nov at 9:45pm, In The Melba Spiegeltent, Collingwood – Home of Circus Oz.
Go Check them out – Buy Tix Here
More about ‘Sidesault At The Melba’
‘Showcasing emerging and established circus artists in the mirrored splendour of The Melba Spiegeltent. The Festival will present works that challenge and push the contemporary circus artform across a range of disciplines from sideshow stunts to adrenalin charged acrobatics, and styles and approaches ranging from feminist to freakshow. Raw and unexpected, this is an opportunity to experience work at the forefront of the circus arts’ – Circus Oz Website
Find out more about the other shows and buy tickets to Sidesault – Here
Sidesault is Presented by Circus Oz and supported by The City of Yarra.
*If you’ve enjoyed this post (and this magazine) and you believe its adding value to our awesome subculture and community please consider supporting it by becoming a Carnival Cinema Member for as little $1US a month – every $ helps!