Andrew Gillanders on Parasocial Parallax and the Redemption of Live Shows in 2022

Chelsea Ryan

@chelseaaryann_

Scratch That alumni Andrew Gillanders talks about his upcoming interactive stageplay, Parasocial Parallax and the importance of interconnectivity. Andrew’s play is being held at Wooloongabba’s The Cave Inn on May the 5th, 7th, 13th, 14th, 19th and 22nd. 

1. Thank you so much for taking the time to be here. I am interested to hear about Parasocial Parallax and the connection to Scratch That’s very own Nexus Brew from Issue 7.

Parasocial Parallax is connected to Nexus Brew through people. The writing team of Parasocial Parallax is composed of alumni of Nexus Brew, and of course, both projects are led by the same person, Me! It’s also connected with Ben Carey and the lessons we learnt in writing Nexus Brew. Ben Carey has a doctorate in interactive storytelling, achieved at QUT, which was instrumental in how we approached writing Nexus Brew. The lessons Carey’s thesis contained, combined with our experience of balancing writing coherent segments with our varying voices, meant that Nexus Brew was a delightful springboard into the mind-bending experimentation that this show involved.

2. I am so excited about the interactive element that Parasocial Parallax gives us. Can you tell us about the importance of this live aspect of your show, and what it means for the audience?

Parasocial Parallax cannot be put into a book, nor a movie, nor a video game – not even a social media live stream. I had the idea years ago of creating a choose your own adventure stageplay and a theatre maker I trust asked me, ‘Why does it need to be a stageplay?’ A simple question, but the tone she used shattered me. She had seen through me and executed my darling, seeing it for the gimmick it was. Years later, after Nexus Brew, I knew I had to revisit the idea – but this time, no gimmicks.

Parasocial Parallax is fundamentally a story about performance, about a social media star’s performance, about her dependent husband’s performed insecurities, and an audience’s performed affection. Parasocial Parallax needs to be in a theatre, because when you’re sitting across from your mates and the time has come to vote, feeling the eyes of the insecure husband gives you an experience you can’t get anywhere else.

3. I think over the past two years it has been more difficult than ever to form meaningful social relationships, and I love how your play aims to develop a Parasocial interaction with the audience. Was this idea for the play spurred on by the effects of COVID, or something else entirely?

I don’t think the show is a Covid-story but I think it is fundamentally created for a post-Covid world. It’s not that epidemiology is in the dramaturgy of the show, rather it is fiercely an in-person experience. The idea began percolating after I watched Shelter by Indiah Morris last year, it was returning to theatre that sparked the inspiration to give bold interactive theatre a crack.

4. The arts industry has taken a massive hit recently and particularly live performances. How have you been challenged as a writer and performer in the arts over the last 2 years? Are we starting to see redemption for live acts again or do we still have a long way to go?

I stopped writing for live performance. I had a show killed by Covid in March 2020 and I gave up and pivoted to radio plays, short stories, and screenplays. Obviously, many of my collaborators and theatre colleagues couldn’t pivot like I did, and have fared a lot worse. I don’t want to be apocalyptic, theatre has been dying as an industry for 2000 years, we’ll cope.

But, Covid has shown the powers of government intervention and displayed inequalities hidden from the average Australian. I think the exodus of arts workers is one of those inequalities, before Covid most artists were overworked and once lockdowns came, many workers have left the industry in hopes of a liveable wage. And if you dig into the data, they haven’t returned since lockdowns were lifted. I think the conversation should shift from filling up live venues post-Covid, and to reimagining the arts industries in Australia so those who are making cultural artefacts are supported and celebrated for the important work they do.

5. How does the play investigate the themes of hyper-connectedness in the digital age?

My relationship, and consequently the show’s relationship, with social media is filtered through my aspirations to be a postmodernist. I look around the information age and I find the postmodernist lens of rejecting all absolute truths is the closest we can get to a moral life. I look to social media, to a world being shrunk by quicker and quicker communication and also see the skyrocketing rates of clinical loneliness in young people. We must see Zuckerberg’s empire as both a beast of surveillance capitalism consuming democracies in its expansion, and a juggernaut platform used by civil rights champions and those defending against the Kremlin’s war criminal. We must see both because it is both.

I have described myself as an essayist who wraps himself in fiction, and Parasocial Parallax is included in this. However, to be a postmodernist is not to be neutral; after all, it is the seminal postmodernists that wrote resistance to Nazism in 1940s Paris. I want audiences to connect through live performance and question the nature of their social media connections. Is it wrong to connect with a star, is it a delight that should be grappled with, or perhaps the fundamental structure of the relationship needs to change? You tell me.

6. How have you found that QUT has prepared you for this stage play?

QUT did bugger all! QUT doesn’t offer any serious dramatic writing units – the theatre and screen equivalent of writing units are basic introductory units that few writing students would benefit from. It’s a pity there are no advanced units investigating the nature of dialogue or the structure of drama narratives.

But I would be amiss to not acknowledge the teachers of QUT that have helped me extend myself. Every tutor I approached accepted scripts instead of prose for assessments, and their individual feedback has let me cut my teeth for drama. Then there is ScratchThat, where I was able to create experiment after experiment. Fundamentally though, I have taught myself dramatic writing through prose classes, which is a pity because I know there is so much about the craft I have little clue about.

7. What do you think of the importance around getting audiences to return to see and vote in the play subsequent times? What can be said for having these different experiences each time?

If you see Parasocial Parallax only once, you’re missing out. As I’ve mentioned this show is designed from the ground up for interactive theatre, and at times it flirts with truth. The whole team, Stanley, Jamie, Rory, and I have spent a long time ensuring exploring the endings is satisfying – and if I can say so myself, the way endings reveal truths hidden in each other is the most exciting part of this show.

8. Are there any spoilers you can give us in regard to what sort of decisions the audience will be having to make for Mack and her family? Or are your lips sealed?

Oh, I’ve gotta give ScratchThat a sneak peek. What I’ll say is this: Mack doesn’t even know the decisions we’ll be making for her. Perhaps the better question is: what are the sort of endings we will see?

And although I don’t want to spoil any ending – maybe I can let slip that there are secret endings – and you can’t unlock them if you do what you’re told.

9. So, Parasocial Parallax will be performing as a part of Anywhere Theatre Festival at Woolloongabba’s The Cave Inn across the month of May, where can people go to get tickets?

Through Anywhere Festival! Buy your tickets at https://linktr.ee/andrewgillanders

Chelsea Ryan is a third-year Bachelor of Fine Arts student. She writes to explore the complexities of human nature, whilst focusing on relationship dynamics. She explores her own thoughts and beliefs through creative writing and usually does this through fiction, however, is enjoying experimenting with memoir.

Steph Blinco is a third year Bachelor of Fine Arts student. A local Brisbane emerging artist, her practice makes statements about everyday life through collaged imagery. Intertwining psychedelic patterns to create collisions of colour and era, Steph draws influences from autobiographical contexts, ranging from her childhood to her experiences now as a young adult. You can find her on Instagram @stephblincoart.