OH DEER! IT'S LARA THOMS
A chat with an artist who’s pulling the stuffing out of the orphan trope at RISING.
APHIDS is a Melbourne/Narrm-based artist-led organisation that’s been pushing boundaries for nearly 30 years. Lara Thoms became co-director in 2019. She’s been helping lead their new era into urgent places that prod and tickle social norms and power structures. From feasts inspired by radical library texts to collaborative choreography with Uber drivers, it’s art that’s never hemmed in by what art is ‘supposed’ to be.
We got in touch while Lara was touring the US with acclaimed APHIDS show The Director, to talk about their new RISING work OH DEER! and what it has to say about death, and adventure.
What’s OH DEER! ? What people can expect?
It’s mumblecore meets a blockbuster movie audition meets creepy choreography—we have 15 people on stage and there’s something for everyone.
The ensemble will be made up of performers who’ve lost a parent. What’s the response to the artist callout been like so far?
The people in OH DEER! are an amazing real mix of ages and experiences. Some lost a parent when they were a child, and others more recently. Many haven’t done any performance training which brings a rawness to the stage. The response has been really lovely, allowing a group of us who are fairly different to connect and look at something quite dark in our lives in a more playful way.
With The Director you go behind the curtain of a funeral home to look at the industrialisation of death. With OH DEER! you're looking at the blockbustification of the orphan trope. Why are you drawn of themes death and grieving, and how they relate to capitalism?
It’s gotta be my own personal experience negotiating the system through the death of my parents over a decade ago. I found the subject is talked about so little that when a death happens, people feel very out their depths. I, of course, became attuned to those around me who had lost a parent. We’d nickname ourselves the DPC, the Dead Parents Club.
When I worked out that there is this very common trope in movies and books of characters who experience the loss of a parent to go on a rollicking adventure, I wanted make the comparison with people’s real-life experiences, which are stranger and more complex. The result is actually quite absurd and funny. Many of us use humour to think about this part of our lives.
You’ve talked about death cafes—informal meetups where people can chat about death over cake and tea. Why do you think death cafes have become popular?
It’s for people who are looking at their own mortality or that of their loved ones and recognise it’s a subject matter we rarely indulge in. There is also Dying To Know Day which encourages more recognition around the matter in order consider the end-of-life care you want and reduce fear of death.
How might OH DEER! form its own kind of community of care around death?
I think the cast have been bonding, but also the show may allow people who see it to talk more openly about their shared experiences and futures.
The costumes look pretty camp so far. How does OH DEER! connect with ideas about the contemporary queer family?
The costumes by the amazing designer Verity Mackey have a cheeky, bedraggled style and are uniquely designed to reflect each person’s personality. For example, Dumbo’s ears are made out of the same denim the performer wears most days.
The queer notion of the chosen family is about the connection between those who may not be blood related but take on familial roles for each other. Tony Yap, who’s in the show, speaks about becoming a mother himself after losing his parents to several men in their twenties who sought his guidance and support.
How does the idea of death inform your life, day to day?
Depends if I’m touring or working on a show about death! Most recently it's been looking at the concept through the eyes of my kid and how curious they are at dead animals and the like, rather than grossed out or fearful.
If you could sum up death in a single word, what would it be?
Like a 2009 Facebook relationship status: ‘It’s complicated’.
OH DEER! — THU 15 — SAT 17 JUNE
Melbourne/Naarm experimental theatre-makers APHIDS make a lively new space with adults who’ve lost a parent, that pulls the stuffing out the orphan trope and embraces the idea of the chosen family.