'All the Fraudulent Horse Girls' comes to Melbourne Fringe Festival
After their success at the Australian premiere season as part of The Blue Room's Summer Nights festival (2023), the team behind All the Fraudulenet Horse Girls is bringing their new play to the Melbourne Fringe Festival.
Written by Michael Louis Kennedy and directed by Mitchell Whelan, this Melbourne Fringe premiere is set to gallop to Melbourne stages with strawberry kisses and the enthusiasm of new-born foal.
Audrey is 11 years old and telepathically linked to all the other horse girls in the world (by her own reckoning). When she tries to steal a police horse on a school trip as a way of proving the legitimacy of her equine obsession, she is kicked in the head and thereafter finds herself in the Mexican desert; in a Cormac McCarthyesque fever dream wherein she must fight her way back to life. From the award-winning company that brought 'WHAT OF IT' to life (Theatre Works, 2023), 'All The Fraudulent Horse Girls' is the queer coming of age story of your childhood.
The show's writer, Michael Louis Kennedy, spoke with Theatre Thoughts about the production and what audiences can expect. Book your tickets now via the Melbourne Fringe website.
All the Fraudulent Horse Girls has a unique and intriguing premise involving a young girl named Audrey who is telepathically linked to other horse girls. What inspired you to create this unconventional story, and what themes or messages do you hope to convey through Audrey's journey?
We are inspired by a long lineage of queer art that is effectively a pop cultural collage. Audrey's telepathic connection to all the other horse girls in the world is heavily reminiscent of Cerebro, the telepathy amplifying machine used by Professor X in X-Men (another icon of the queer canon). The show also often references Audrey's love of the 2014 film Lucy with Scarlett Johansson, in which Johansson plays an omnipotent telepathic action heroine. It is camp in the best way imaginable, in that it's supposed to be tonally serious and doesn't quite execute it. Effectively, we wanted to tell a story of a weird lonely girl on the autobahn to queer womanhood. In order to create a tone that was queer and also reflective of the inner life of a pre-teen we decided we would go ham on the cultural references to build her character and demonstrate her interior life. And what better way to discuss the pain of not having physical friends than through the prism of an infinite capacity for telepathic friendships with other international weird kids.
The play combines elements of comedy, drama, and surrealism, including Audrey's Cormac McCarthyesque fever dream. How did you approach blending these different genres, and what do you believe each brings to the storytelling experience?
The best art often walks between genres. I think in some ways it's a very Western thing to perceive works as being one clearly defined genre or another. One of the reasons I love contemporary Korean cinema so much (including the films of Kim Jee-woon and Bong Joon-ho) is because they often jump from comedy to drama to horror all in the one scene with such deftness and grace. People's lives are complex. Often things that are sad are also really funny and vice versa.
We approached the emotional landscape of the work with a view to reflecting the profound transition that is experienced by kids around 11. Their perspective is often very funny, but stretching of their worldview and realisation of the complexity and often unfairness of life lends itself well to surrealism. And the growing pains and loss of innocence that come with leaving ones childhood behind are a tragedy in their own right. When it comes to Cormac McCarthy . . . Audrey is an avid reader and given McCarthy's propensity for 'horse content' she's secretly devoured his books. The loneliness of the vast desert environments and motifs of stoic strangers in hostile environments gives her a language to understand her own longing or connection. Also I wanted to parachute an 11 year old into the desert. Sue me.
Loneliness and the experience of being an outsider seem to be important themes in All the Fraudulent Horse Girls. Can you elaborate on how these themes are explored in the play, and why they resonate with you as a playwright?
I was an extremely weird kid. I'm sure that's very hard to believe. I'm very interested in the way strange kids with their hyperfixations struggle to communicate with their peers outside of the prism of their own niche interests. If you believe in your heart that trains are the most exciting thing in the world of course you wouldn't understand why your classmates aren't impressed with your train facts. I wasn't interested in trains personally, but I was a little gremlin in other ways.
It goes without saying that our experiences as children affect us in our adult lives; and the yearning for companionship and camaraderie is something that is almost universally shared. Being socially rejected is extremely hard to shoulder, particularly at a tender age when you don't have the emotional maturity to understand and process those feelings. This is often felt doubly by young queers, for whom the idiosyncratic manifestations of their queer selves often begin to emerge before any actual queer sexual attraction of gender journey begins. Many kids, myself included, are likely ostrasised in part because they present as queer before they even know it themselves.
They manifest in the play because Audrey has no friends. But it's also a tale of loser-on-loser violence, as often the case in schools. She's desperate to be friends with the other horse girls (also probably losers, but losers with friends), but they want nothing to do with her; and she viciously spurns the only other girl in school who does want be her friend. Loneliness isn't always logical.
Can you share more about the representation and inclusivity present in the story and how it contributes to a broader conversation about identity and acceptance?
The story is ultimately about Audrey accepting her 'essential strangeness' and that can be coded in a lot of different ways. Definitely a burgeoning queerness but some audience members have also read Audrey as a neuro-divergent character. We made a conscious decision not to make any declarative statements to this effect in the text itself, as we feel there is power in allowing the audiences to see themselves in her struggle without approaching the character with any preconceptions. While the characters in the play are certainly not meant to be emblematic of any community, there is definitely joy to be found in the awkward loneliness of many of us in the LGBTQI+ community have experiences as a pre-teen . . . foal.
The Melbourne Fringe Festival is known for its diverse and innovative productions. How do you believe your play fits into the festival's artistic landscape, and what do you hope audiences will take away from your performance?
We are big believers in fringe as a festival, a genre and an aesthetic. Audrey's understanding of the world is not emotionally developed; and her perception of the desert is gained entirely from books, never having left the West Coast of Australia. To represent her worldview's complete lack of depth we've made the setting as flat and constructed as we possibly could; borrowing on fringe and pantomime traditions. We're not at all interested in realism in text or design. Just like her perspective, our magnificent set designed bySam Diamond would be put in serious danger of falling over by a cool breeze (figuratively speaking. The set is actually very sturdy. He's a very good designer). It's also classically twisty in a fringe way. It's a one act play with three acts. And a solo show for four actors.
Finally, what advice would you offer to emerging playwrights and producers looking to create thought-provoking and unconventional theatre experiences like All the Fraudulent Horse Girls?
Do not immediately try to write as though you're working for a mainstage theatre company. The majors are great but if you're interested in writing silly things, write those silly things and find ways of putting them on yourself, whether it's through programmed indie venues, fringe festivals, or putting it on in a pub and inviting your friends. If you do it enough times people will start to come who aren't your friends. It's rough and expensive and often not very accessible, but it's also the engine of a lot of interesting work and will give you a high degree of creative freedom when it comes to the text.
And as much as you can, see other people's theatre. Fun, exciting, genre bending stuff. Go watch Vidya Rajan, THE RABBLE, New Ghosts Theatre, Betty Grumble, Christopher Bryant, Roslyn Oades, Andrew Sutherland, Merlynn Tong, The Last Great Hunt, Nat Randall and Anna Breckon, and many more.
All The Fraudulent Horse Girls
Dates: 18 - 22 Oct
Time: 6:30pm, 5:30pm (50 minutes)
Venue: Festival Hub: Trades Hall - Quilt Room