An intimate look into the creation of Fringe shows past, Fringe Talk speak with Tammy & Kite
Fringe season is a backflip away, and in the coming months Fringe Talk will revisit some artists who’ve previously presented work at the festival, both to reminisce about past shows as well as probe into how different artists labour on their projects for Fringe audiences.
Our first throwback is to Tammy & Kite by Hannah Cox and Caitlin West, produced by Montague Basement for the 2016 Sydney Fringe.
Performed by its creators, Cox and West, Tammy & Kite unfurled the intimacies, hilarities and tragedies of the bond between two young siblings. Though a darkness lay at the centre of their story, the production avoided dipping too long into that shadow, allowing audiences to have “delicate glimpses of sorrow” in a “remarkably sensitive...portrayal of childhood and innocence” (Suzy Wrong). This tender work resonated with audiences, young and old, and Tammy & Kite was developed further with Australian Theatre for Young People and director Olivia Satchell into a second version in 2017.
“We began with conversations around what we wanted the show to say and look like,” West says of the show’s development, “meeting up in libraries and cafes in between uni classes to draft snatches of script and throw around ideas.”
For both creators the initial spark was the link between child’s play and their grief, which is experienced differently to that of adults.
“When we wrote Tammy & Kite,” says West, “we wanted to access something more broad and universal than just one kid’s experience with loss; we wanted to affirm and open up discussion around experiences young people have of difficult emotions.”
A key part in opening up such a discussion among audiences was the intimate performance space: a small room in the Erskinevile Town Hall that left little room to withdraw from the sometimes raw and exposed emotional lives of the eponymous sisters.
“We had a number of people say they felt they were sitting in Kite’s bedroom with her,” recalls West, “people would come up to us and say ‘that was exactly like my experience going through my parents’ divorce’ or ‘that’s how I felt when my mum had depression’.”
Producer Imogen Gardam, of Montague Basement, was very careful to maintain this level of intimacy while collaborating with Cox and West on the show.
“I think the most important thing when approaching new work in a Fringe context, from a producer standpoint, is to creatively resource your artists as much as possible,” says Gardam, “for Tammy & Kite, this meant figuring out who would be good artistic sounding boards for Caitlin and Hannah and lining them up to feed into the process.” Though, Gardam adds, without disrupting the need for Cox and West to spend a lot of time working on the project alone, in their own way.
The tight production budgets, egregious squeeze on affordable rehearsal venues, and general absurdity of Sydney living expenses meant the team had to be very creative in how they brought the show together, including calling in a lot of personal favours.
“It's a big ask, but the rewards are enormous when it works out,” says Gardam, recalling, “it was a joy watching the threads of the piece come together into what is a really beautiful and affecting show. To go from an initial read to watching an audience be moved by the final piece is incredibly special.”
For now Cox and West are taking a break from Tammy & Kite, but following interest from several high school drama classes, they are keen to develop the show into something that tours to schools as well as other Fringe festivals next year. As for Montague Basement, they are currently based in Melbourne and hard at work developing an auto-tuned electropop version of The Threepenny Opera for future Fringe appreciation.
Words by James Dalton
Photos by Zaina Ahmed