Q&A: Margot Tanjutco & ‘Romeo Is Not the Only Fruit’
“Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit is the satirical lesbian pop musical Australia doesn’t know it wants, but is the one it needs right now.” We spoke to Margot Tanjutco, who plays Juliet, “the sweet, wide-eyed half of the show’s romantic pair”, about the musical, and bringing joy to queer people and people of colour through theatre.
How did the idea for the musical originate? What made you decide to make it a musical, instead of any other kind of production?
A lot of us were into musical theatre already but queer female representation in musicals are surprisingly sparse so we thought this would be a great chance to combine two things that meant the world to us.
I co-wrote/co-directed (and played Juliet in) a very early version of the show at Melbourne University’s Union House Theatre alongside Romeo’s current writer/director/lyricist, Jean Tong. Alongside a few other peers including current cast members Sasha Chong and Pallavi Waghmode, we formed theatre collective DisColourNation, through which we wanted to put on shows created and performed by people of colour as a response to the very white productions that pervade both student and professional stages.
I’m a strong believer in approaching world-domination through comedy. There’s a quote that goes something like “If you want to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh or they’ll kill you” and it’s so true. Jean Tong has a naturally sharp eye for satire and she has made Romeo the hilarious, sometimes weird, always bitingly real show that it is.
The strongest cases of political and social criticism aren’t necessarily from essays or textbooks anymore – they’re coming from the vibrant array of comedy, music, sitcoms, films, and pop culture that we love.
What’s the musical about (loosely), and why do you think it is important for this particular story to be told?
Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit is about young queer women fighting for a world that will see, love, and accept them for who they are. Through a Dead Lesbian Chorus and two adorable lovers, we screw with tropes and the literary canon – embracing them, criticising them, making them better.
The world, this country is in crisis, and we need a space that is uniquely ours and on our terms. It’s a fun way to reclaim a canon by centring people of colour and queerness.
Photo Credit: UA Creative
What obstacles have you faced trying to put this on?
There’s the fun creative challenges of working with five actors within The Butterfly Club’s nine square metre space. Jean and our totally kickass set/costume designer James Lew are working tirelessly to really play with and cleverly maximise the space.
Our biggest obstacles though are the obstacles of any independently produced theatre production – especially a piece of musical theatre where the creation then coordination of its musical element is a whole other worry. It requires more rehearsal time from an entire team of people who already cannot be properly paid for the hundreds of hours of labour that it takes to put a show on. The coordination of schedules for that many people is extremely hectic. That goes for all the actors, the director, the composer, the dramaturg, the producer, the stage manager, the set/costume designer…a whole bunch of people who have to take time off work and get less actual money; a whole bunch of people who are exhausted trying to make it all work. Our ACF campaign is really for us to help ourselves create the work we believe in. We hope people can understand and appreciate the effort it takes to produce quality theatre.
What’s it like to work with a truly diverse cast? How does it compare to other productions you’ve worked with/in?
Besides our cast, the bulk of our creative team are also people of colour and it’s so nice. It’s definitely a far cry from being the only or one of very few people of colour in a creative project. At a day to day level, it means we get to just do our jobs without being bogged down by weird racial microaggressions or having to contend with the white gaze – we get to just make great theatre.
What do you hope audiences take away from the musical?
We want to celebrate and bring joy to the queers and people of colour in the audience. Our opening night coincides with the release of the postal survey results and we want to offer some sense of relief and recognition that we are here with you.
I want people enjoy themselves, then recognise that we are hurting, that our people and communities are hurting, but we are still creating work that is full of hope.
I’ll be writing and creating more of my own work, especially after writing/performing/self-producing my solo show, Estrella Wing, Showgirl, at Melbourne Fringe Festival this year. There will also just be the usual auditioning for different things, and then finishing my Bachelor of Communications at RMIT next year. (I’m gonna take this opportunity to put out there that I have 80 hours of unpaid media intern labour to give so if you have any leads, send them my way…)
Romeo Is Not the Only Fruit premieres as part of the Poppy Seed Theatre Festival at The Butterfly Club on 14 November 2017. They are also nearing the end of their Australian Cultural Fund campaign, so get on it, if you haven’t already (all donations are tax deductible!)
Header photo credit: UA Creative.
L-R: Pallavi Waghmode, Sasha Chong, Nisha Joseph, Margot Tanjutco, Louisa Wall.