Pre-Post Post: A Chat with Carly Milroy

Posted on 08 September 2014

This blog has always been about the processes that go into creating live comedy. As such I enjoy my chats with people who are willing to reveal what it’s like on the inside of this business. In this manner I show others the many different ways people get at the funny, get at the truth, and engage audiences. It’s not all one safe path. It’s a million different paths, one for each person taking the creative journey.

Carly Milroy and Harley Hefford are opening a new show at Melbourne Fringe Festival entitled Post Post. It’s about a couple of desperate postal workers who “set out to reignite the lost art of letter writing by whatever means necessary.” Milroy was willing to take the time to come up with delightfully insightful comments about her show and how she and Hefford brought it together.

Is your show in part about nostalgia?

Considering the themes of the show, it certainly could have veered that way! Yes, in part I think it is about nostalgia, but it is only a small fraction.

In the early stages of developing Post-Post Harley and I were pretty adamant that what interested us most was exploring possibilities of ways people could be interacting and relating to one another differently, as opposed to focusing on how that has been done in the past. It would be easy to pine after the days when romances were documented in long handwritten letters and everyone stood singing around one communal harpsichord (or such is my understanding), but actually Harley and I aren’t super nostalgic people. We both really appreciate technology and, like most of us, use it daily to connect with others (give up Google docs, are you kidding?!).

Our goal with Post-Post was to revive some of the values, or I suppose sentiments, of the past and haul them into the present. One of Harley’s most prominent characters in the show is this gorgeous man, Stanley. Stanley is one of two displaced postal workers and probably best represents that idea of bringing some nostalgic sentiment back into the present. He insists on describing everything in a very poetic way, and tries to impose close friendships on the townspeople around him. This becomes equally heartwarming and infuriating.

The show plays with the possibility that letter writing could be integrated back into our lives, along with all the other exciting and convenient digital platforms we probably exclusively fall back on now. I guess in that sense Post-Post is much more hopeful than wistful.

What do you think we are losing with the loss of physical missives?

GUH! We considered this question for so long before even deciding on a firm storyline for the show. Our conversation kept circling back to: who cares if people stop writing letters altogether? What do we actually stand to lose? Does this even matter?

We eventually concluded that what physical letters really offer us is this kind of accountability for our words. Letters become artifacts and heirlooms; they’re unique, they can’t be replicated and I know I have at least five shoeboxes full of them in my closet. We agreed that a totally different depth of thought and consideration is put into writing a letter than an email. Emails can be saved, copied or forwarded in a click of a button. Expressing our thoughts or perspectives with some level of accountability for how they will be received and read potentially years later certainly alters our depth of writing, and probably makes us put more thought into what we actually want to express.

Then there’s a whole list of other things that we stand to lose, like the disintegration of that whole handwriting thing (which I’m guessing took a lot of effort to really get off the ground), and the entire postal service industry/thousands of jobs globally.

You seem to be dealing not only with the post-post world, but also the post-employment world. How much do you grapple with these political aspects of your show?

While I wouldn’t say Post-Post engages in a great deal of a political analysis or exploration—ultimately we knew we were writing a pretty absurd comedy—the idea of post-employment absolutely forms a big part of the conflict in the show.

When our two postal workers, Stanley and Elma, find out they’re going to lose their jobs, a string of other characters are introduced: The Courier, The Milkbar Owner, The News Anchors, among others. Their identities pivot pretty much entirely around their professions. Obviously, this is an exaggeration but also not too far a stretch from how so many of us see ourselves or our place in society.

Harley and I wanted to create a town with values that are magnified versions of the values we live out every day. That is, the cultural celebration of very specific kinds of measurable societal contributions (“Earn or Learn”), until our sense of who we are becomes so tightly connected with what we do for a job. You see this mostly through Elma, who is hit hardest when she faces losing her identity in this way. It becomes the trigger for the entire plot: Elma trying to salvage her sense of purpose at the post office.

Post-employment is definitely a device for the story, and in the post office context, it’s a springboard to look at drastic changes in our communication styles. Maybe it’s something we will want to look at more thoroughly in another show down the track!

I have a feeling my questions may make your show sound dark. My sense is that it’s a good-natured romp; it just happens to have its feet grounded in a little reality before launching into surreality. How does this help to communicate your ideas?

That’s absolutely right! Harley and I are both of the strong opinion that comedy can be a more powerful tool to engage an audience in social concepts than tragedy. Showing people the silliness of reality often leads to change, or at very least discussion. That has always been a big draw card for both of our passions for comedy, and something we knew we had in common when we set out to create Post-Post.

Also, the style of the show lends itself well to some audience interaction (which we love!), so that we can give you a postcard and a pen in the show and actually start inspiring some immediate letter writing!

How much improvisation and how much straight writing went into the creation of this show?

When we started developing the show, we were convinced that we wanted to improvise and play to create the characters, stories, everything! And for the most part we were able to do that. We then realised the various characters’ stories would need to become so interlinked, it became more of a process of improvising together then going away to write tighter versions of the scenes. Harley has a terrific background in impro, whereas most of my performance experience has been from the script. It’s a process we have both participated in before and it’s fast becoming my favourite way to write.

Where are you wanting to go with Post-Post. Are you building yourselves up as an ensemble? Are you hoping to tour?

Touring and developing this show after Fringe is the most likely goal at this point. We have created a sort of umbrella production group, Two Noses Productions, for this show that we hope to start investing in establishing as a very small company so that we can experiment with other performance ideas as a duo. It’s been a terrific experience so we both want to see what else we can create as an ensemble.

If you could invent a new flavor of TimTam, what would it be?

In this junction in our lives it’d have to be “Coconut Surprise!”, to combine two of our favourite things.

Post Post
Court House Hotel
Cnr Errol & Queensberry St
North Melbourne
17-26 September

Peace and kindness,

Katherine


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