From Flood to Fringe

I Can't Stand Lorraine
NQOMT will present I Can't Stand Lorraine as part of the Northern Fringe Festival

Townsville will host its inaugural Northern Fringe Festival this July.

It’s the first time the city has held an ‘open access’ arts Festival, meaning anyone who would like to stage a public performance or arts experience can do so. The idea is to enliven every nook and cranny of our city with imaginative ideas and ‘if it’s legal, it’s allowed’, according to the website.

North Queensland Opera and Music Theatre (NQOMT) is one group rising to the challenge, with their original show, I Can’t Stand Lorraine. Writer, Brent Lammas was inspired by the unique ‘personalities’ of February’s rain and floods, deciding to capture them in a piece the whole community could enjoy.

How did your idea for a Fringe performance begin and evolve?
February’s whole weather event impacted everyone, either directly or indirectly through family and friends. It was almost like the whole flood event had a personality, the way people spoke about it. I started to think about it as if it was a person and how you would tell the story in a different way that we can resonate with but also laugh with.

The rain was so welcome to begin with. Everyone was so excited that finally, FINALLY it was going to rain and then it just didn’t stop! I started drawing analogies with this idea of a house guest who everyone is so excited is coming to visit, but then she won’t leave, and the sudden impact she has on their lives. So of course, that gave us the character of Lorraine, who starts off nice and sweet, but then the manners go out the window, she’s messy and she really doesn’t care. Floody is Lorraine’s truck-driver boyfriend who she invites around and he parks his semi right across the property, so no one can get in or out, they’re stuck there and he’s just making things worse. He doesn’t care where he goes, what he does, what he says. And of course there is a plethora of great songs about rain that lend themselves to this show including the title song which is of course, ‘I can’t stand the rain’ (Tina Turner), but beginning with ‘It’s Lorraine again, Hallelujah’ and of course right at the end ‘I can see clearly now Lorraine is gone’, with a host of other things intertwined along the way.

Your script is a bit of a collaborative process with the whole team. How does that unfold?
I’d written the arc of the narrative and some dialogue before casting, but in a sense, it’s a lot easier to write for a certain actor than it is for an abstract idea of a character. One of the things I love about working collaboratively with actors and a production team is the amazing ideas that come out of the process of playing and exploring scenes. We come up with ideas, and sometimes we think ‘Ha, let’s never do that again’, but other things are pure gold. I guess it gives everyone involved – the cast and the production team – a richer experience in the course of preparing the production, because it’s not ‘I’m performing in this’ but ‘together we are creating this’.

Did you have any pleasant surprises in casting that caused you to change course?
Actually, one gentlemen who’s been part of the theatre scene forever – and he’s quite an elderly man and hasn’t performed for a number of years – came along and said ‘look I think this is really exciting, I want to be part of this’, so we decided to write Grandpa into the script because his energy and his enthusiasm for the project is just wonderful. I think it’s great that we have the room to do that.

What role do shows like this play in the Townsville community’s flood recovery?
Laughter is such a freeing thing and it’s going to be a very funny show – if I do say so myself. There’s something very cathartic about being able to take a traumatic event that we’ve all experienced differently, put it on the stage and be able to enjoy that. I guess it’s also part of the much bigger story of something I’ve seen time and time again and that is just how resilient people even when they’ve lost so much.

I want it to be a real celebration of the resilience of the community and it’s ability to band together in the midst of something so challenging. I have had a couple of people say to me “Is it too soon to do this? Some people might not react well to this” and I think there’s a danger to that, but I think that there’s also this side of it that provides an avenue where people can continue to share their experience of the whole event with other people. That stays important for quite some time in the healing process.

How are you feeling about Fringe?
I think it’s really exciting. I’ve always been a fan of edgier little productions, I love cabarets and I see them as amazing vehicles for inviting people to discover performing arts. For some, theatre just isn’t on their radar yet time and time again, during Fringe events, people who attend something like this walk away going ‘that was fantastic, I want more of this’. For me, part of it is about being able to reach out to people who wouldn’t normally connect with the performing arts and discover just what an enriching thing that can be for their life. Hopefully we can build new audiences this way.

What has been the biggest challenge in putting together a show for Fringe?
One of the challenges of this – and in a sense, it’s a really good challenge to have –  is the fact that Fringe is coinciding with so many other fantastic events. Jesus Christ Superstar is happening and Heathers, and so many other bits and pieces around the place. That’s actually made it a little bit more challenging to pull together a cast and a production team for this, but what a great reason to have that challenge. That we are so rich in such quality performers coming out of the community, is really exciting to see.

NQOMT’s I Can’t Stand Lorraine on 5 – 13 July at the NQOMT Hall, Pimlico. For times and tickets, click here.

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