Interview: Paperbark Theatre Company


After being selected from thousands of applicants, Bristol’s own Paperbark Theatre Company are heading off to the New York City Fringe Festival in August with their show This is Where We Live. Co-Artistic Directors of Paperbark, Shaelee Rooke and Oliver de Rohan, talk to Theatre Bristol’s Simon about how this opportunity came about. They will be doing a follow up piece on their festival experience on their return in September. 

So you’re two performers from Oz, based in Bristol, and about to go to New York. How did you end up over here and how have you ended up going over there?

Shaelee: I’m from Sydney and Oliver’s from Adelaide. We both came to Bristol originally to study at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. There’s a fantastic, collaborative theatre environment here, so we both moved back after graduating in order to develop our practice as theatre makers. 

Oliver: When we moved back here, Shaelee and I agreed that there wasn’t enough Australian theatre being produced outside Australia. We wanted to do something about that and so Paperbark Theatre Company was established.

Shaelee: Paperbark is a type of Australian tree just so you know!

Oliver: We’re thrilled with our decision to stay in Bristol – the access to space, the open theatre networks and the exciting young audience have all been key to us getting to where we are. It’s also where we met our Resident Director, Alec Fellows-Bennett and our very talented lighting designer William Monks who have contributed so much to Paperbark already. 

Shaelee: As a newly formed company we spent quite a bit of time discussing what we should do for our debut production. It needed to be something quite bold, something Australian that would appeal to a UK audience. As soon as we read Vivienne Walshe’s Griffin Award Winning This is Where We Live, we knew we had found the right play. At a hour long, this two hander carries a rhythm and beat unique to the Australian voice. It tells the hilarious yet heartbreaking story of Chloe (played by me) and Chris (played by Ollie), who are experiencing first love – a universal experience we can all relate to.

We ‘met’ with Vivienne (currently based in LA) over Skype to discuss our plans for her play. We explained that we wanted to produce the UK premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe and the US premiere at the New York Fringe, as well as an early pre-fringe preview season at the Alma Tavern and Theatre in Bristol. After a couple of meetings, Vivienne deemed we had the chops and gave us her full support. She has been a wonderful source or encouragement ever since.

What’s the process for any artist in UK thinking of getting themselves into the New York Fringe? Any tips?


Oliver: It’s a fairly detailed application process as it’s a curated festival limited to 200 shows, but the FringeNYC website provides plenty of help and the office themselves are also very supportive. The applications for international shows close in January each year, and our advice if you’re thinking of taking a show over is to do your research about exactly what they’re looking for in an application and also to look closely at the costs. They’re pretty upfront about the festival not being about making a profit for your theatre company, so it’s worth thinking about what you’ll get out of the experience running at a loss.

Shaelee: Once you’ve put together and posted a strong application, if you’re selected then you have to pay a deposit to secure your place, become temporary union members and pay visa fees. But the Fringe office take care of sourcing your venues and scheduling performances, so some of the organisation is taken care of for you. 

How much is this festival going to cost you and how are you raising the money?

Shaelee: All up we need about £7000 to do both Edinburgh and New York Festivals. They actually work out to be pretty evenly priced, but we’re lucky in that This is Where We Live is a two hander that is perfect for touring. We have a few funding applications under way but the bulk of our funding is coming from a Kickstarter Campaign we started a couple of weeks ago. The generosity of our backers so far has been fantastic, but we still have quite a bit to raise. It’s an all or nothing campaign – so if we don’t reach the target by the 19th May, we don’t get anything. You can find out more about us and watch our campaign video at:

What do you hope to get out of it?

Oliver: Mainly, we think it’s a fitting place to do the international premiere of this award winning piece of theatre. We both already have some contacts in New York, and are looking forward to expanding our network and developing a stable platform on which we can produce more Australian work in future. It’d be amazing if this could become a part of Paperbark’s annual calendar. 

Shaelee: We’d love to take This is Where We Live even further on tour beyond New York, and we’re confident that this is a real possibility. We’re also sure that this play will be well loved by a New York audience and can’t wait to get over there and put it on for them.

 Paperbark Theatre Company’s This is Where We Live will be on from the 31st July-10 August at Assembly, George Square in Edinburgh, followed by the New York Fringe Festival from the 14th-25th August.