Garry Starr: Greece Lightning Hits The Adelaide Fringe

There’s some stellar shows at this years Adelaide Fringe and one not to be missed is Garry Starr: Greece Lightning. The show was supposed to premiere at Perth Fringe World but COVID restrictions and border closures prevented that from happening. What’s Perth’s loss is Adelaide’s gain! Ever wanted to know about Zeus or Medusa? The ‘overzealous idiot’ character Garry Starr performs all the Greek Mythology that can fit in an hour and will give you a lesson in his version of Greek Mythology that can only be described as outrageous, ridiculous and necessary!

Award-winning writer, producer and performer of live theatre Damien Warren-Smith chatted with Hi Fi Way explaining what his show is about as well as some great insights on how and why we should support the arts and the Adelaide Fringe.

You were supposed to premiere your new show Greece Lightning at the Perth Fringe but due to COVID crazy times it’s now debuting in Adelaide. What happened? What went wrong?
Oh gosh! Everything that could’ve gone wrong! I quite boldly decided to go to Perth even though a lot of artists had already chosen to not even try but I had some time off anyways. My plan was to fly Tasmania and camp around for two weeks then fly to Perth and self-quarantine with some family friends for two weeks. So, all up it would’ve taken me a month to get to Perth Fringe World. At that point it was doable. As soon as the Tasmanian borders opened around Christmas time, they were still letting Tasmanians in but of course the case numbers started going up. I was camping and with little reception I realised too late that I was no longer allowed in. There was about an hour period where they were going to give me an exemption when Tasmania was high risk. The police also were involved and they were like “Yes! We will let him in!” but with in that hour they changed their mind because Tasmania became an extreme risk.

I then flew back to Melbourne to at least perform my second half of the season as borders to Western Australia were supposed to open up on February 5. I was going to fly over on that day land at 11:30am in the morning to do a technical run then open the show that night. Ticket sales were really good and started to take off.

Wow! What a story! That is so unfortunate!  
I’m in Melbourne now but all of my show props and costumes are in Perth! They are currently sitting in a suitcase over there.

Will you be getting them flown over? How are you going to get them back?
At the end of Perth Fringe they will be packed up by some circus friends of mine who are then going to ship them with their stuff to Adelaide. I’m hoping they will arrive! (laugh)

Is it hard to stay positive in these times or do you have ways of pushing through the obstacles?
It’s interesting because I think performing artists or artists in general have been hit hard by the pandemic and I feel there wasn’t a lot of help. Performing artists have largely been ignored funding wise but we are also happen to be people who are so used to disappointment. We are good at adapting to change. I think everyone’s taking it in their stride unlike the construction industry who were up in arms about tearooms. I think performing artists are used to copping on the chin.

I just can’t wait! I just cant wait to do it again! I cant wait to get up there and play. I feel like people are really need this.

Can you tell us a bit about the show?
Initially I started creating a show called Garry Starr Conquers Troy back in 2019 which was going to be about Greek Mythology. So, I named the show and it went on sale. I had all the artwork. Then as I made the show it became something else. It wasn’t really about Greek Mythology. When I decided during the pandemic to have another crack at doing that show I started to listen to podcasts, read books about Greek Mythology it began to grow again in my head. Then it became a completely new show. So, I thought I can’t call this Conquers Troy anymore. It has to be something else and Greece Lightning just came to me. I don’t know where ideas come from. I realised it’s kind of funny that Zeus is the God of thunder and sky that calls himself ‘Greece Lightning’ as a jovial term. It kind of grew from there.

I was working as a delivery driver during lockdowns in Melbourne as I had no other way of working and I had lost so much income. It turns out being a delivery driver is a really good time to dream. So, I just spent the whole time having ideas and writing them down. Then I’d get home and write some more. When you’re on the road all the time it’s just you and your thoughts. It’s actually a fantastic time to create!

In the past I’ve tried to create by hiring a rehearsal space and going somewhere to focus all my attention in creating. What I have found is I’m better if I distract myself and do something else!

So, whenever you need a new show will you become a delivery driver? (laughs)
(laughs) You know what? Honestly, I would do that! When I created my first Perth show I was a spinning (indoor cycling) instructor for a gym in Berlin. I was doing that in Berlin it was a similar kind of thing. It wasn’t taking up a lot of my time but it just allowed me to dream. In all honesty I look to do something different when I’m creating a show because its worked so well.

I guess you have to do a job that doesn’t entail using your brain too much and it be more physical so it allows you to use your brain for creating.
Well, that’s the thing they both have in common; you have brain space. You’re just using your body. Maybe I’ll be a security guard next time! (laughs)

You’ll have plenty of time to think in that job!
(laughs) Yes!

So why Greek Mythology? Were you always interested in it or was it a topic you could make a good comedy out of it?
I knew nothing about it. I knew as much as anybody else but that seemed like the right place to start from because with a lot of my shows, although my character Garry claims that he’s an expert he doesn’t know more than anyone else. That’s what makes this show so relatable is that I stand up there with high status but very low intelligence.  I pretend I know so much more about it.

I think it was really ripe material. The first one I did was all about I do every genre of performing arts in an hour. It was something that was very high brow and people spend their life learning about in a very academic way. This is a similar thing. I think seeing someone try and tackle high art in a very stupid way is very appealing to people. Its like punching up in a way.

I felt that way when I was at the Acropolis one time in Greece. I’m of a Greek background and there were people of non-Greek background there telling me all about Greek history. I know some stuff but I’m not a Greek historian!
There’s this added thing for me as well, which people are not going to know is that because of the way I look with my dark curly hair, I always thought I was Greek. That’s because my mum told me when we were young that she thinks we have some Greek DNA in our family. We didn’t know where we came from. People fled to Australia many generations ago and I always assumed I was Greek. She would show me photos when I was a baby in Greece eating. She would say “oh that’s where you learnt to eat. You love Greek food!” So, I always thought I was Greek. I found out by doing one of those DNA tests that I have no Greek in me at all! (laughs).

It’s funny because in this show Garry thinks he’s Greek! For me that’s really funny because he’s not but he thinks he is and in the same way I thought I was but I’m not!

What is the best part about being in Adelaide for the Fringe?
There’s only a few festivals in the world where you can realistically play an entire month and fill a room. It’s such a creative hub. People are drawn there who want to be weird and wonderful. They can really experiment. You can’t play a whole month in Perth and it doesn’t have the same draw. In Adelaide people come and see shows and your show can grow in that month. It’s a beautiful launching pad for the rest of the year because you go to Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane and if you’re like me you then go to the UK and Edinburgh or Brighton. You can run an entire year and Adelaide is a launching pad.

There are people at Adelaide Fringe who look for shows. My solo show in 2018 and the previous show I did as an ensemble got picked up in Adelaide for Edinburgh. So, people saw my show and said “We want this for August at Edinburgh Fringe.” So, I got myself a prime-time spot and I sold out! It comes from Adelaide. Adelaide is the place where people go to look for what to put on in Edinburgh.  

Tell us why is so important to support the arts and artists during the Adelaide Fringe.
I think that the general public don’t give enough credit to how much art actually enriches their lives. Even if its not this grass roots art, I don’t think they understand how you get the kind of TV shows that you love or the music you love. That world class stuff that you get is as good as it is because of grass roots. People rise to ranks and they are pushed up from Fringe festivals or open mic comedy rooms. If you support these grass roots people you encourage artist to keep going and then you get these TV shows that you love.

There’s probably 80% of the comedy on Netflix is written by people that began in little dingy bars and trying out their material stretching themselves in various ways. It’s also an opportunity to see someone that may become very famous one day! I mean Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) started at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. People remember seeing him when he was just this guy putting on this physical comedy show who went on to be Mr. Bean.

I just think it’s so important to support that. Art really is the thing that gives life purpose and joy. So much of what we enjoy in life is either directly art or influenced by art. Art as a word can seem quite pretentious but I was talking to my mate the other day who is a construction worker and he was talking about his new Ute he bought. I asked him “Why do you like it?” He said “I just love the way it looks and the way it feels.” I said “You know that was designed by an artist? If art didn’t play a part in the creation, then all Utes would look the same.”

What are three words to describe your show?
Outrageous, ridiculous and necessary!

Interview by Anastasia Lambis

Tickets and show information for Garry Starr: Greece Lightning at FringeTix. Grab Ya Tix!

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