Sex education in our country is fraught with misinformation, pained metaphors, and awkward conversations with under-qualified educators. We spoke to Zachary Sheridan about Cookies and Cream, a show which examines just what lingering impact an improper sex-ed can have on us as adults.
Tell us about the show.
Zachary Sheridan: Cookies and Cream is a fast-paced, absurd and comedic tour of a young person's experiences with sex and sex education. Debbie, our protagonist, is reeling from a recent break-up and, like a detective, wants to know where it all went wrong. Somehow this leads her back to her first ever sex-ed class with a PE teacher who compares menstruation to a puppy tearing up a pair of shoes, and we go from there. Throughout Cookies there's nods to Healthy Harold, Blue Light Discos, awkward chats with the parents – lots of things that young Australians will be able to relate to.
What was your motivation in putting the show together?
ZS: The creative team – comprising Elise Wilson, Chris Moro, Amelia Burke, Tamara Creasey and myself – were having a yarn and all shared this bewilderment with our sex-ed experiences. In fact, much of what you see in the show is inspired from real life. For example, Tamara had a teacher once instruct her class to say in unison, "Boys have penises, girls have vaginas," over and over. So this gets featured. In particular, we were interested in the fact that pleasure is rarely spoken about in sex ed. It's all anatomy presented in a mundane fashion or "don't get pregnant" vibes.
How did you go about finding your cast and director? What did they bring to the show that you weren’t expecting?
ZS: We made this show as part of our third year studies at WAAPA (Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts at Edith Cowan University). We'd worked previously on a smaller project and had a good creative energy in the room, and so we wanted to see what would happen on a bigger project with a longer time frame. I came up with a story and we all devised scenes within those parameters which were then scripted.
The biggest surprise on this project – in comparison with the others – was how far the cast were able to take the characters. Elise is simply phenomenal as Debbie. One reviewer wrote that "a star" had been born upon seeing her work. Meanwhile, Tamara and Chris play several characters each – with of each them being completely different, yet equally detailed and hilarious. So, it was great to sit back and simply be surprised by your collaborators' abilities onstage. They're really next-level in this work. And, of course, Amelia is the most playful and open director.
Your production company, PSA, has a clear interest in the relationship between ethics and art. Have you been inspired by any art in particular in this space?
ZS: We're a new company and I can only speak on behalf of me. But some major inspirations over the past few years have included Boorna Waanginy: The Trees Speak as part of Perth Festival and Ecosexual Bathhouse by Pony Express. Both are immersive pieces that deal with environmental change in completely different ways.
Boorna Waanginy is a spectacular large-scale work at Kings Park in Perth where the audience walks through 3D projections and... well, it's almost too hard to put into words. Look it up! When they premiered it a few years ago, over 100,000 people saw the work in three days. Amazing!
While the Ecosexual Bathhouse contextualises the human-earth relationship as a sexual one. It's very provocative. I always wonder whether art has the capacity to change people; whether it needs to. But I know these two works changed me. Within the theatre space itself I take inspiration from Stuart Bowden and local Perth artists like Will O'Mahony and The Last Great Hunt. Rigorous, playful art is always great.
What else are you hoping to get up to while you’re in Adelaide?
ZS: Catching all the fun stuff at Fringe! My friend Abbie is in YUCK Circus – go see! I also highly recommend Orpheus. But apart from that, I don't know, there's so much to do at this time of year! A day at WOMAD? A few Adelaide Festival shows? Maybe I'll go to Alberton and pray for no more preseason stuff-ups for my beloved Port Adelaide. Ooh! I'll definitely be hitting up Cherry Darlings Bakehouse as well as a day trip to the Fleurieu Peninsula – the best place in the world.
And we may be doing some immersive theatre stuff at the Adelaide Central Markets on Friday the 8th of March. Stay tuned.
What are you working on next?
ZS: Finding regular employment so I can try and have some sort of career in this industry. But, no, there a few things in the pipeline for PSA. We have a new work premiering at the end of this year which I'm really excited about. I'm also looking to try and do more theatre stuff back in my home town, Rads.
Cookies and Cream plays at the Noel Lothian Hall in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens from 5th to 10th March, 6pm. You can purchase tickets here.