IRL – The Ultimate Quest For Happily Ever After At Brisbane's La Boite Theatre

A pop culture convention has never been so wild.

'IRL' – Image © David Kelly

There's never a more awkward time than being a 17-year-old – especially when you're also a cosplayer. . . With a mild Disney Princess obsession, and a TV celebrity as a best friend.

Alexei is meeting his long-time internet crush Thaddeus at Supanova, and in a moment of regrettable self-sabotage, Alexei assumes a false identity to test the authenticity of his would-be boyfriend. Meanwhile, Alexei's TV celebrity bestie is beginning to channel the anti-capitalist vigilante superhero she plays on TV.

Lines are blurred and connections are craved.

'IRL' is a world premiere playing at Brisbane's La Boite Theatre. It's written by Brisbane's Lewis Treston and directed by Sanja Simić.

Here, we speak to 'IRL' Director Sanja Simić to learn a bit more about the show.

Tell us a bit about the importance of a show like this in the current day and age.
There simply aren’t very many works, particularly in the Australian canon, that detail the very specific experience of coming out (or not) as a young person. This play centres the experience of a queer teenager and drops us smack-bang in the middle of his quest to find love, acceptance and community. Lewis and I have talked about the fact that this work didn’t exist when we were on the cusp of coming out, which would have been so incredibly affirming. It’s a story written by a Meanjin-based playwright that’s set in Meanjin. Not to mention that it’s exceptional new writing by one of this country’s sharpest playwrights – everyone should see it!

What was your first response to ‘IRL' when you first read Lewis Treston’s work?
I loved it. I’ve been involved in the development of this work since its inception, so my bias is strong, but I laughed harder than I’ve laughed reading a first draft for a long time and every rehearsed reading of this play has been such a hoot. It’s funny and chaotic and full of heart – a tricky balance, but Lewis is a gifted writer of comedy, and this play is such a satisfying ride.

Where did your involvement as director come into play?
I was working at La Boite Theatre when we commissioned this work, so I worked closely with Lewis through the development period – it became very clear, very quickly, that we were going to be close collaborators. I had such a strong affinity with this particular play and I was so excited to support Lewis in bringing 'IRL' to life – I’m champing at the bit to get into rehearsals in a couple of weeks!

Some may not be familiar with the exact roles of a director. What are you mainly responsible for?
It depends on the work, but I often work with living playwrights on new work – this means I tend to be involved from the early stages of development into production. If I’m working on an extant text, where the play is already written, the relationship with the playwright tends to be different but the directorial work is much the same. A director leads the realisation of a production – we interpret the text, select our creative team, work with companies to cast actors, and lead the creation of the work. That means working closely with all the designers to realise all the production elements, as well as running the rehearsal room. Its fundamentally a leadership role – the director is responsible for setting the tone, ensuring a comfortable and safe environment for everyone involved, and being an all round excellent collaborator.

On a broader scale, what attracts you to La Boite and the pieces they select each year?
La Boite occupies a special place in the wider cultural landscape – I’m excited to see what the next few years will look like under new artistic leadership. I align strongly with Courtney's (Stewart) desire to diversify the works we’re seeing and voices we’re championing on our stages, and I hope this translates to more diverse audiences across the board.

What’s one thing you look forward to every single time when you begin to direct a new work?
The alchemy, energy, and generative potential of the rehearsal room. The intensity and focus of production week – leading up to a first audience. The anticipation of a first preview, in front of the very first audience. The laughter that propels us forward through experimentation and failure as we tease out a version of the show that we’re happy to deliver. There’s so much to look forward to and the relationships are always key – I am so excited to make this work with a cracking team of actors and creatives.

In the context of this play, what are you most excited for audiences to see?
Right now, coming off the back of our final design presentation, I’m going to say the set! Designed by the wonderful Anthony Spinaze, it features a hand-drawn element that I am obsessed with (no further spoilers, thanks!). I’m also genuinely excited for what our three actors will bring to this world premiere of 'IRL' – Will, Byron and Rachel are all making their La Boite debuts, and I cannot wait for Meanjin audiences to see them in this work. It’s also the first mainstage work that Lewis and I have created together and I am very keen for audience to experience the fruits of our collaboration!

And what would you say is the ideal reaction/response to the work?
There is no 'ideal' reaction! This is a work for anyone who’s had a crush, experienced first love, been a teenager, loved dressing up, or wrestled with their identity. It’s for people who love being entertained in the theatre, but also enjoy work that’s brimming with heart. It’s for anyone who’s had a great time watching a Marvel or Disney film. We invite everyone to strap in and join us for one helluva ride!

Describe ‘IRL’ in one sentence.
'IRL' is fairytale meeting fanfiction in one teenager’s quest to find his 'happily ever after'.

'IRL' plays La Boite Theatre (Brisbane) 6-25 November.

This story originally appeared on our sister site, scenestr.