It's time to introduce you to the last of our 2018 Fine at Fringe winners, Jake Matricardi!
A performer and writer, Jake graduated from the HFAS Full Time program in 2016, and we recently had a chat to him about his debut solo show for the Melbourne Fringe Festival, The Gargoyle.
Q. Hi Jake! Can you tell us a bit about your show?
Jake: It's a script I've written and developed myself, called The Gargoyle. It's a one man performance about a stone gargoyle who has come to life and lives under a bridge. He wakes up to see the audience watching him and starts to tell anecdotes about his life and his mythical lineage.
Q. Where did the idea come from?
Jake: I wish I could say where the original spark for this specific show came from, but I honestly don't know! I just remember originally wanting to play a monster who lived under a bridge that came out to tell the audience his life story. It has since developed into something quite different, but I hope more interesting and surprising.
Having said that, I have always been fascinated by mythical creatures; the origins of their stories and the symbolism behind them. So I wanted to make my own version of a monster-as-metaphor story. I was originally going to try and draw parallels with my lived queer experience but it has since developed into a more general exploration of otherness and the reasons why we have been telling stories since the dawn of time. I've been writing stories since I was a very young child - certainly much longer than I've been acting - so I suppose I've always been drawn to storytelling as a means of self-expression. The Gargoyle is, among other things, an exploration of why that is.
Q. What was your process for developing the script?
Jake: Developing the script was largely a solo process. However I deliberately wrote it to be malleable so that when I brought people into rehearsals, the ideas that were thrown around helped morph and change it for the better, so there was an element of collaboration as well. This collaborative aspect mostly took place in the physical scenes that don't translate to text so well.
Q. What sort of physical work did you do in rehearsals?
Jake: I worked with a movement coach, Danielle Cresp, on discovering the character's specific way of moving and holding himself through various weird and wonderful exercises. It raised lots of great questions that have deepened the character's inner life - i.e., having been made of stone for centuries, he's still getting used to his flesh body, so how does this affect the way he carries himself? Spending a lot of time observing humans but not being one himself, how much does he try to emulate their movement and behaviour?
I also created a playlist on Spotify, and when I'm rehearsing alone I like to put that on, try and turn off all preconceptions and specific story ideas and just move to it, improvising and following my impulses and seeing what happens. It sounds strange, but that kind of exercise has opened up so many pathways that I wouldn't have discovered by just sitting down at a computer and writing. If I look back on writing I used to do as a teenager, some of the most productive and fun moments I had were when I got up and moved and improvised what the characters would say or do. I've always been a fusion of performer and writer, and I think I would struggle to do one without the other.
Q. You were recently in Europe. Did the history there provide any inspiration?
Jake: SO MUCH! I had the show passively brewing in the back of my mind the entire time, and so I found inspiration everywhere!
The trip was almost perfectly timed, and I completed a solid working draft while I was in London (even though the trip did punch a big hole in my potential rehearsal time, I wouldn't have traded it for anything).
For example, visiting St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague was so inspirational in terms of its grandiosity. There is a scene in my script that takes place in a church, and I will be using the interior of St. Vitus Cathedral as my image because it was such an awe-inspiring monument. There was also a three-metre tall gargoyle on display in the Prague Castle museum and I just stood there staring at it for about fifteen minutes because I was so fascinated by its structure and grotesqueness. Not to mention the hundreds of statues all over the exterior of the building as well. As I was in the Czech Republic for the Prague Fringe Festival, I also managed to see a lot of shows that pushed boundaries and did things I'd never seen before, which has given me permission, in a way, to make something new and unconventional as well.
Another specific example was the Etruscan Bronze Age statue of the Chimera. I went to the Archaeological Museum in Florence specifically to see it, as I'd seen a photo of it online and wrote a whole scene based on it. It was wonderful to see that statue in the "flesh" and really absorb the way it writhes and screams even though it's a silent statue.
My favourite place in terms of getting inspiration from history and art was probably this open-air mini-museum in the Loggia dei Lazzi, also in Florence, which displays a collection of Renaissance-era statues depicting mythical stories. I loved the brutality of Perseus brandishing Medusa's grisly head and trampling on her body, as well as another hero wrestling a centaur to the ground. The sense of movement and struggle was palpable in these centuries-old statues. It felt as if they could all come to life at any minute, which was endlessly exciting to me and something I hope to infuse into my show.
It is interesting that a bulk of my show in inspired by Ancient Greek mythology even though I never actually went to Greece!
Q. In the training at HFAS, we work mostly with naturalistic scripts. How have you approached working on a non-naturalistic character like the Gargoyle? Have you been able to apply many of the lessons from your HFAS training?
The training I received at HFAS has been invaluable, and I've found it surprisingly simple to apply. For all the show's strangeness, at the end of the day this creature is just like any other character - a soul with wants and needs, a history, a Who Am I, likes and dislikes, an environment in which he lives that affects him. He feels love, fear, empathy, just like humans do. To use the lingo, his "super-objective" is simply to find connection, and to overcome loneliness, something I think is intrinsic to the human condition. This manifests in lots of talking directly to the audience as if they were a fellow scene partner. As such, the performance depends so much on the audience's responses and the moment-to-moment reactions of the gargoyle in return; a skill I might not have been able to flex without the HFAS training.
Thanks for taking the time to chat to us Jake! The Gargoyle is playing at The Butterfly Club from September 17 - 23, and you can get tickets by clicking here. You can also follow Jake on Instagram, where he will be sharing teasers for The Gargoyle, as well as a retrospective of his theatre work over the last six years - @jakematricardi.