Edinburgh Feature: Interview with Scott Wings

What have you done, Hugo?

I interviewed Scotty Wings, writer and star of Icarus Falling.

Icarus what? Why didn’t you just do a review?

Falling. It’s essentially a man baring his soul through an adaptation of the Icarus Myth, using beat-poetry that isn’t just puns and couplets, and physical theatre. It’s nothing short of incredible. Scotty explores issues of masculinity and depression in such an intelligent, nuanced way, and his gifted storytelling and physicality make it a unique and profoundly moving piece. The first time I saw it I was completely hollowed out and unable to form a coherent thought. I went a second time in the hopes of being more objective and wept. It is terrifying in its beauty. Speaking to someone afterwards, she put it perfectly when she described the piece as ‘irritating.’ It’s hard to walk away from. So, to spare you all a useless gush about how much this show means to me, I thought I would interview the guy and do a feature.

Calm down, mate. Where and When can I see it, then?

C Nova (Venue 145)

9.25pm, until August 25th

I mean, if you had to rate it, how many stars are we talking?

☆☆☆☆☆ Obviously.

All right, let’s see this interview then…

I meet Scotty in C Nova after his show on Saturday night. He emerges from the show covered in sweat and looking thoroughly grunge-chic with his sweaty mop and skinny trackies. We shake hands, and on seeing me he compliments my Scott Pilgrim T-Shirt. I do my best not to let out a squeal. I ask him if he’s able for the interview and he says that he finds it helpful to talk and get out of his head after doing the show, and would love to do the interview now despite the late hour. I’m a happy bear in springtime. We wander over to Bristo Square, talking about how the show went before moving on to our favourite Marvel characters and various other infinitely interesting but currently irrelevant things. This dude is amazing. We get tasty burgers at a stand, and I insist on paying – after I publish a terribly edited interview I want him to be able to say “Well, at least I got a free dinner out of that dude.” We sit down in the Assembly Studios bar…

Let’s record and see what happens.

Yee-ha!

Okay man, so you’ve already given me so much gold, I probably should have just secretly been holding a Dictaphone behind my back-

Should’ve. Didn’t. And now it gets awkward.

And now it’s awkward.

Let’s do this!

Okay, so I think, yes, I have the questions written on my hand.

Impressive.

Before we start talking about Icarus itself, I wanted to ask you about writing in general.

Well, I did these skits and crazy little raps and stuff in high-school. Me and my two mates would win the Talent Quest every year ‘cause we were total drama nerds! We would do Monty Python-esque skits, and they always had songs and stuff. We loved Cypress Hill and Wu Tang, stuff like that. So we’d write stuff and I started rapping, and I had this ridiculous American accent. I think the first thing I ever wrote was a song called Gothic Bitches. It was, essentially, about how gothic bitches will devour me – it was totally stupid! But we’d groove and bare and make heaps of work. After that we all kind of split and scattered into the wind, and I was the only one who stayed performing. I did hip-hop for years, so my structure in terms of writing falls into a song and lyric context. I find a lot of comfort in being able to write something that’s like verse-chorus-verse-chorus, and that fell into my poetry when I started doing that about 8 years ago or something-

And I can totally hear that in parts of Icarus Falling. There are those phrases and motifs that keep coming back like choruses.

Yeah, repetition is a useful tool. Repetition is also handy because it lets your audience know when stuff’s going to end. You don’t want never ending Lord of the Rings! As much as it is awesome and I am a total nerd, you have to know when shit’s gonna end! That’s why in Icarus there are three distinct sections where I describe my wings. It’s also good for me, to know where I’m at, and if the audience picks up on that repetition as well, then awesome.

So when did you decide you wanted to ‘do the theatre?’

I did an acting degree at university, I did a couple of plays, but I very much stuck in a realm of my own work. I’ll still audition for shit because I think it’s important to be humbled by that process and realise that… you’re not good! The same as working with kids: I love working with kids because they don’t care who you are or what you did or how many stars you got in that review, you’re still just some old dude who’s got food in his teeth… My high-school years and my early twenties were ruled by theatre and drugs. When I wasn’t doing theatre, I was doing lots of drugs. It was not a good time for me, but once I found music and lyricism and… imagery – that’s the other thing that I write with. I love a picture – an image – just the fantasy of it. I love sci-fi and all that sort of stuff, those huge worlds. Once I found ways to weave that into my writing I was happy, you know? I did a show a few years back, it was a 15 minute street performance called Shooting at Shadows that I wrote for a street festival in Brisbane. It was a poetical play about this lost shadow searching for the human that had cast it. That was my first attempt to bring my poetry, the hip-hop, and my love of theatre together. I’d find shit, like a tree, and I’d try to be the tree’s shadow and fail at that, obviously, and then I’d try to be someone’s shadow. So I was following people around, it was quite interactive. It was so much fun, but it only worked in that context. I tried to do it in a live theatre space, but it just came out really shit, it was like, ‘Mneeeehh!’ – it did not work. But that was the first thing that gave me confidence in my ability to write an extended piece, and that people would be able to follow it. It’s so important in a high-language work to give people the opportunities to come back. If they fade out of the dense writing at any time – get lost in an image or an idea – you need to be able to bring them back to what’s happening. The bits in Icarus that are essentially ‘between the poems,’ or between Icarus’ thoughts, or however you want to interpret it, I had actually written all those bits but then Kate [the director] was just like ‘Okay, you know what you have to say, you know where you have to go, now adlib.’ So those bits are my breathing space, because I don’t have to memorise shit, it’s the audience’s breathing space because I’m just like ‘Yeah so there’s this fucking tower and shit! Mah mah mah explosions maahh,’ and people are like ‘Cool, weird guy doing his thing,’ and then we can step back into that poetical world again.

You said earlier about creating these worlds, and obviously you’re drawing on the Icarus Myth. What was it about Icarus and about Ancient Greece that inspired you?

Greek Mythology is just awesome! There’s a lot of power in it. I love Medusa. Medusa is just such an intricate, interesting character. She’s endured horrible, horrible things to turn her into what she is-

She’s not just: ‘Monster’-

Yeah! There’s all these back stories to all the characters. So with Icarus – I wanted the show to, essentially, be about reclaiming masculinity and discussing gender… and the title Icarus Falling just popped into my head. And I was like ‘Sweet! Great title!’ and then I looked into the Icarus Myth, just to see if it would work. You have the happy stories, where they escape from this tower and it’s like ‘Oh Icarus, silly boy flying too close to the sun!’ But I have this one book of myths back home that really doesn’t fuck around. In it Daedalus gets jealous of his nephew, who creates a saw – like, a hacksaw – and the villagers are like: ‘This is amazing, he’s just like his uncle!’ and Daedalus is like: ‘Fuck this kid,’ and throws him off a cliff! And I was like, ‘Daedalus, you’re a menace! You’re a horrible, horrible person.’ So then I was like ‘I’ve got a dad who’s a dick head, so that works!’ But it’s not as simple as that: Daedalus [in Icarus Falling] is a conglomeration of every misogynistic person I’ve ever met, every male stereotype, all the horrible things my mum has ever said to me, and the voices in the back of your head. Daedalus is everything that’s chasing you in terms of depression. Everything that’s fucking speaking at you. Whether it’s the weight of the outside world or your head inside, that’s Daedalus. And then with Icarus, it actually popped up on Wikipedia – I say this in the show! – that it can be seen as a metaphor for depression. And I was like ‘Boo ya! There it all is, that’s everything that I could possibly want to discuss and more.’ It totally works.

That’s amazing! So, after reading this book of myths as a kid your subconscious was just like ‘Call it Icarus Falling!’ and then it totally made sense!

Yes! High-five Scott’s brain!

So Icarus Falling has quite an episodic structure, with all the separate poems and the bits in between, did you write them all specifically for the show, or were they originally different poems floating around in your head that you decided to use in the piece?

There’s a few that I had had kicking around for a while. I knew Sky would be in there as the backbone as soon as I came up with idea for the show… I really like creating new work, but with the time allocated it was like: ‘Don’t reinvent the wheel, just do what you do best.’ So I had Sky, and I had Circle, and that was kind of it. There were others like Grip Shields that I wrote for the show. So a lot of stuff in it is written specifically for it, and some of it may not have been specifically written for it but it was written so recently that it found its way in there, like This Pen. It’s funny how it all fits together.

You said Kate really helped you in terms of editing, in what ways did she help you in terms of the poetry?

She did a lot of dramaturgical analysis, essentially. We sat down for a few days and just went through each piece that I had or potentially had. Anything that I brought to the table we just went through it and went through it, and she pretty much kept in anything that made me cry!

Oh no!

Not really. I wrote the script about 3 or 4 times and kept bringing it back, and I knew if I wrote too much I could always edit it, but if I didn’t write enough then there would be problems. You can’t edit nothing, so I just had heaps. And once we had it sitting together the order didn’t change. It followed a real arc.

Yeah you’re totally right, it makes so much more sense to have too much and then cut the chaff and have all gold, rather than writing something and asking ‘What is this missing, what do I need to add to this?’ because you can’t know until it’s there.

There was a lot of breathing space that Kate forced me to do. And there’s that scene: ‘Silence. Drink some whiskey. Silence. Drink some whiskey.’ That was just me taking the piss in the script! And she was like ‘Keep it.’ And the same with that bit: ‘Blah blah blah suicidal thoughts!’ Now it’s one of my favourite bits, because it’s like ‘Ooh let’s be profound– No! We all fucking get it!’ I will always try to tread a fine line between tragedy and comedy. Keeping it on that tightrope. So that bit to me symbolises my path, like, ‘Blah blah blah suicidal thoughts avant garde performance-’

‘I’m a fucking poet!’

Exactly! Because it comes at point where it’s like, ‘Fuck, dude, that’s really heavy but that’s really funny, I don’t know what to do!’ I love it when audiences don’t know what to do. But it’s like, whatever reaction you have it’s fine!

My favourite section of the play is probably Grip Shields, and I was wondering if you could elaborate on it, and also on when you said one of your initial impetuses was that you wanted to talk about masculinity?

So, at home I have a lot of artist friends, and they’re great and super wanky and all, and then I’ve got my core group of ‘love friends,’ like, these people will come to my grave. And they’re not artists, they’re traders, or plumbers or steel workers living out in the ghetto in a place called Browns Plains outside Brisbane, and they’re super sweet, tough, manly men. And, when we went to the Philippines together, my mate Nate was talking to me about his depression and his anxiety, and how he’s only just started to come to terms with it and freely discuss it. He’s this huge Filipino boy, like, tattoos on his neck and all – if you saw him in a dark alleyway, you would walk the other way! But he’s also the world’s sweetest guy. And I remember at the time thinking ‘Fuck, you have so much armour, and you’re just now learning how to strip it away,’ and that armour thing was like ‘Great concept Scott!’ And so that was that. Also, I remember watching this sci-fi army flick where they said ‘Retreat? Hell no! Hoo-Ra!’ And that language was fascinating to me. Shiny. You ever watch Firefly?

YES.

Their catch-card is ‘Ooh, shiny!’ Whenever I find nice words they’re shiny to me. Anyway, so I captured that as the Chorus. And then the end: ‘We don’t write eulogies – Hell No! We are eulogies – Hoo-Ra!’ That was one of the first bits I wrote, and I knew that was going to go at the end. That line was essentially, like, our young men are killing themselves, and they’re going to war, and there’s this self-destructive bomb strapped to all our young men. I just felt like it was worth talking about. And I didn’t want to disregard gender conversations in terms of feminism or women’s rights so to speak, and I feel I address those issues directly in La La, but I wanted this show to primarily be about a man struggling with being a man. And Grip Shields is the bit where it’s like, ‘Here you go, in case you didn’t get it, here’s what’s happening!’ And I just feel like it’s so relevant. And it probably always will be… because there’s some sort of fucked up programming in men that forces us to take stupid risks, like driving on the wrong side of the road or whatever.

I think that’s why that section was so overwhelming for me. It perfectly expresses that feeling, like, this is the fucking archetype we have to deal with; this is what, in our society, we say the archetypal ‘man’ is: fucking Tyler Durden. This ridiculous machine covered in armour is what we’re trying to be, and we’re not that, and we shouldn’t be that, but then what else is it? If it’s not that, what is a man?

I originally wanted the piece to thread in with Marvel characters, like, I wanted to do Hulk, Iron Man and Wolverine. Because Hulk, like, people want to be Hulk! They may not express it like that, but it’s appealing for some people: that uncontrollable violence.

So, other than Marvel superheroes and Greek Mythology, what else would you say are your biggest influences?

Ursula Le Guin is my shit. She’s a science-fiction fantasy author in the states; she wrote the Earth Sea Series. She did an amazing science-fiction book called The Left Hand of Darkness, which is fucking gender politics on crack! It’s her total thought process around gender and why things are the way they are. She’s amazing. I love Roald Dahl. I’m not a particularly massive fan of spoken word artists actually, but I quite like Saul Williams. I still come back to hip-hop, and I love a good joke – massive Billy Connolly fan. I really love Joss Whedon’s writing. That guy just creates beautiful characters and then destroys them all and makes everything seem… I don’t know how to finish that!

Dude, thank you so much for this.

Not at all man, thank you!

Just before you go though, I guess we should do like a summary one to end it, like, ‘Why should people come see Icarus Falling?’

Ahhhhhh!

I dunno man, some shit like that!

I don’t fucking know…

Just gimme something!

I dunno man, it’s just, fucking… I dunno how to sell it, but I do know what it means to me. It’s just a true story with a mythical disguise, and it’s just me and my words and my physicality.

It’s just your gift.

I guess so, and the fact that people are coming up to me and saying thank you, or letting me know that it meant something to them is great. It’s just real, you know? If I can continue to give people some real shit, then, sweet.

‘Give people something real,’ there’s your tag line!

Jesus, I dunno man, people are dying!

Okay, let’s sign off.

Thank you.

Thank you, man! Fuck me, like-

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