Interview: Laurence Rosier-Staines / A Czar Is Born
A Czar Is Born
What you see is what you get in this madcap, genre-mashing comedy.
By Hugh Robertson
Laurence Rosier-Staines is a busy, busy man. He is a member of super FLORENCE jam, a Sydney band who have been playing shows up and down the east coast for most of this year and are poised to release their second EP; he’s also still at university, and this is the time of year when essays are due, and exams begin to loom. And his debut production as writer and director, A Czar Is Born, is about to begin a run of shows at the Seymour Centre as a part of the inaugural Sydney Fringe Festival.
The show itself – an anarchic musical comedy about reclusive authors and warring publishers, complete with femmes fatale, stuffy ambassadors and litigation – began in a two-week run within the Sydney University Drama Society (SUDS), almost a year ago.
“It’s basically an homage to Marx Brothers films, and commedia dell’arte,” Laurence explains. “But it’s also a combination of a bunch of things that I like – cartoons, different genres that we cram together and then send them up. Film noir, courtroom procedurals, and a variety of ridiculous comedy.” He laughs when I ask tentatively if there are hidden subtexts buried in the riotous meta-farce. “No! No broader socio-political comment. It just sends up whatever it comes across.”
Directing his first show, and a show that he wrote, turned out to be much easier than first expected, largely due to the strength of his cast. “[They would take] what I’d written and say, ‘So it’s like this then?’ And I’d be sitting there, never having thought of it like that, and realising they made it even better. And this time it’s sort of the same as that – a few of our actors are really talented improvisers, but it’s not really re-writing dialogue so much as coming up with a new dynamic for a scene that I hadn’t thought of. So it’s quite organic in that respect.”
For Rosier-Staines, integrating into the vast program of the innaugural Sydney Fringe Festival has not been without its challenges. With his background in student theatre and indie bands, he knows just how many balls everyone is keeping in the air behind the scenes. “It’s been somewhat stressful, mostly as a result of little things – lots of new deadlines, which puts you a bit out of your comfort zone… Also, having said all that, the first [year of a new] festival is always going to be the hardest to get noticed, and to get the organisational aspects happening, and to get the whole feeling and the vibe of the festival to where they want it to be.”
Early on, the Fringe production of Czar had already made itself a famous friend. Through a lucky confluence of events, Rosier-Staines found himself with the chance to speak to Leo Schofield, patron saint of Australian performing arts, who apparently liked what he heard. “He said ‘sounds promising’,” Laurence laughs sheepishly. “So if I wanted a quote [for our poster] I could say ‘Sounds promising – Leo Schofield’.”
Despite the success enjoyed in the past by SUDS- and USyd-backed shows (notables include The Delusionists, Princess Cabaret and Strangelove: The Musical) at major events like Melbourne International Comedy Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe, Rosier-Staines says he has no specific plans for the show beyond this Fringe in particular. “I guess it’s open to seeing what people think of it, and what the possibilities are in the future. Maybe another Fringe Festival in some other city… I’m thinking about any number of things.”
What: A Czar Is Born
Where: Downstairs Theatre, Seymour Centre
When: September 15, 16, 18, & 23