The Dancing Plague will make its debut at the Adelaide Fringe Festival 2023 tonight!
Fancy a bit of historical-led comedy? Let The Dancing Plague take you back to the Strasbourg, the summer of 1518 for an evening of dancing through the streets. Presented by Brotime Broductions, the play will make its debut at the Adelaide Fringe Festival 2023 tonight. We caught up with James McLean and Matthew Hadgraft of Brotime Broductions to unpack the production.
The Dancing Plague is a comedy based on the events that occurred in Strasbourg that summer, during which all efforts made to stop the plague from spreading only seemed to make things worse, and a small nearby chapel became a haven of healing. Despite how tragic and horrifying this all must have been for the people at the time, it seemed a brilliant starting point for a farce for McLean and Hadgraft of Brotime Broductions. The duo have worked on the production from its inception, together creating the script, original music, costumes, hand-drawn digital backdrops, and animations.
The Dancing Plague runs from Thursday 16 March - Saturday 18 March at Prompt Creative Centre, Adelaide / Kaurna Country, as part of the Adelaide Fringe Festival 2023 program. Tickets are on sale now!
In your own words can you give us a brief synopsis of the play?
The Dancing Plague based on the true and very strange story of the 1518 dancing plague of Strasbourg. One day, a woman begins dancing uncontrollably in the street and soon dozens of others have become infected. A corrupt church official teams up with a terrible musician to offer healing (for a price), while the mayor makes things worse and local business owners try to profit from the carnage.
You explore themes that could very well fit into today's societal landscape, things like disease and how politics come into play. Can you walk us through the themes present in The Dancing Plague and the importance of portraying these ideas?
We really explored corruption, and one of the characters is very recognisable indeed. I guess you could say we flexed a bit politically, but you gotta say something right?
This is far less a play about disease and more about the selfishness of people and their enterprising ways - everyone except the artist!
Tell us a bit about your roles within this production…
We’re really proud to have built this entire show from the ground up. I (James) came up with the initial idea as part of a writing project at university, and then expanded on the script with Matt to turn it into a show. I was keen to include some multimedia elements, and put together the small animations and hand drawn digital backdrops, and Matt composed a bunch of awesome original music. We’re also the producers, directors, and performers.
The lead up to any show can be thrilling, and your own company is presenting this play. Are there any key moments that stick out to you as memorable as you approach opening night?
The first time you run through an entire show from tip to toe is always an exciting moment. It’s a chance to take a step back and appreciate all the work that you’ve put in, and feeling confident that it is actually good. Along the way were some delightful fits of laughter as we came up with new ideas or identified a plot point that would be awesome.
It’s a comedy about dancing and the plague. How have you approached weaving all these elements into one production?
By glossing over the plague bit! It’s not a relative of the Bubonic plague by any stretch: rather that’s the name that was given to the phenomenon of the poor suckers in 1518 who started inexplicably dancing and couldn't stop. To weave comedy through this, we concentrated on anachronisms like improbable reactions, people being selfish, characters and what motivates them - character traits we’re confident people will recognise.
Why was it important to add a comedic take in this tale?
It’s such an unusual story, and gives truth to the adage of “fact is stranger than fiction”. It’s inherently weird and a bit funny, and since we’re so far removed historically, we had freedom to create original characters loosely based on people who were or may have been there. We both love to entertain and make people laugh, so doing a comedy was a no-brainer for us. There’s enough depressing stuff going on out in the world without going to the theatre to see it. Plus we’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t love a good laugh.
What made you want to write this particular story? What is the significance?
It simply jumped off the page as being unique. We considered going out on a limb and writing a musical cabaret about a love life gone wrong but thought “yeah nah.”
Comparing your development/research for the play to living through a pandemic how did the process form? And can you give us a bit of insight into the background of your development?
You won’t have to be too alert to notice the parallels between political events during the pandemic and what we’ve put in this! Most of the creative process transpired after the pandemic, but we’re still referencing things you’ll recognise. We’re aware people may be “over” the pandemic but it’s always important to laugh at trauma where you can. Also we were both living in Melbourne so boy did we suffer. James luckily escaped to Adelaide for a little bit but then got back to Melbourne just in time for the really long lockdowns.
Do you have a scene that is your favourite in the play and why?
There’s a climactic scene in a church that lets us put our ‘farce hats’ on for a few minutes, and is a lot of fun. We’ve enjoyed rehearsing the whole show though, which is a good sign. Certain lines have grown close to us, though in the days and hours leading up to the opening, we’re both like, “they had better laugh at this.”
You’ve taken a very hands on approach starting with the script, on to the music, the costumes, the hand drawn digital backgrounds and animations. How important was this choice to not only feature onstage, but take on creative roles behind the scenes?
We each have really complementary skill sets and felt that we could do everything that needed to be done. Having a sense of ownership over our shows is really important to both of us, and we love that it’s something we put together ourselves. It gives the show an originality and authenticity that would be lacking if we didn’t do everything ourselves. Also Matt has a music degree and James was studying multimedia and it gave us an opportunity to dust off our skills and put them to work. And it saves a lot of money not having to pay extra people.
Could you tell us a bit about the significance of performing at the Adelaide Fringe Festival and why it was important to you to choose this medium?
Adelaide Fringe is such a special festival. It’s the second largest of its kind in the world, and is the perfect place to cut your teeth as a performer. It’s a wonderful festival where anything goes, and gives a space for performers to spread their wings, be themselves, and try something totally new. It attracts performers from around the world but still has a uniquely Australian flavour. Sadly we’re only doing a short season right at the end of the festival this time around, but look forward to experiencing the full offering in future years.
We’d love to discuss your production company Brotime Broductions, what is your mission and ultimately what makes you tick?
Brotime Broductions is a tiny little production company, with this being our first show together. Our mission is to produce original shows that are entertaining and engaging, give people a good belly laugh, and let them walk away feeling good. As long as people have had fun, we’re happy. And they had better laugh at the joke we loved.
Is there a message you hope audiences take away from the play, and from these characters?
We’re not trying to say anything profound with this show. We just want people to come along and have a fun time for an hour, away from their phones and various other screens. If they then go on to tell every person they’ve ever met to come and see us as well, then that would be great too! And we hope the theme tune gets stuck in their heads as it did ours.
Describe the play in three words…
Original, silly, fun.
The Dancing Plague runs from Thu 16 Mar - Sat 18 Mar at Prompt Creative Centre, Adelaide / Kaurna Country, as part of the Adelaide Fringe Festival 2023 program. Tickets are on sale now!