Working with Words: Andrew Sutherland
We spoke with writer and performance-maker Andrew Sutherland about fanfiction, the knowledge that RuPaul is fracking and finding silliness in high art.
What was the first piece of writing that made you laugh or cry?
I don’t know if I can remember firsts, but something that I missed as a child and discovered as a deeply unprepared adult: I had never read or seen or been aware of Charlotte’s Web, and then a few years ago my close friend played the spider in a big-budget theatre production in Singapore. So I saw it at maybe 10.00am one weekday morning and I was most definitely some kind of hungover, and the audience was probably just me and hundreds of primary-school-aged children, and I think the kids were on the whole like, 'this is fine', but I was an absolute fucking wreck afterwards. I was not ready. Every time I see a spider web I still want to cry.
Did you write during your childhood and during your teenage years?
A couple years ago I was looking through my old primary school diaries and I found this picture and poem about, I guess, a sexy vampire? I sort of pity the Year Five teacher, marking my homework and realising he had a young Anne(drew) Rice in his class.
Then, as a young teenager and a new gay of the early noughties, my most passionate memories of writing were of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfiction on Buffy-themed internet forums. It was actually a really generous and weird space to write in, because you could practise writing within a set of known parameters and characters, you could use creative fiction to really express your love for something, and there was this super-cute and shadowy community of people both critiquing and encouraging one another. I don’t think I’ve read fanfiction for about 15 years, but I still think it’s a wonderful phenomenon. And I guess nothing really changes, because nineties vampires and Buffy keep coming up in the work I’ve been producing lately. Everything old is new again, etc.
[Fanfiction is] a really generous and weird space to write in, because you could practise writing within a set of known parameters and characters.
What day jobs have you held throughout your life, and how have those experiences influenced your writing?
I’ve had a lot of side hustles, and front hustles, to supplement the crawling slog of being a writer, performance-maker, actor, etc. One purgatorial year was spent teaching kindergarten speech and drama in the mornings and MCing club nights ‘til whatever-o-clock.
Lately my primary day jobs have been public sector contracts and teaching performance through a number of theatre companies. You get a sense of narrative, of the narratives you consume and your relationship within or adjacent to them, as something momentary and uncertain, something that slips away or belongs to you only through flawed, associative links. The things that I most like to take from other jobs into my creative practice are confusion and fuzzy financial management.
If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
I already do a lot of things instead of writing. A couple of months ago I decided I would watch every episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine instead of writing. I’m about halfway through, and I feel like at the end of it I’m either going to produce a mind-blowingly good treatise on Cardassian politics* or look back upon the wreckage of a truly dated waste of writing time.
*Cardassians are the scaly guys with the outstanding necks and hammy acting.**
**This is probably not important information.
What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?
Not advice but manifesto material: recently my longtime performance-making collaborator Joe Paradise Lui said something along the lines of 'we make tragedy and dipshittery', and I think that’s absolutely beautiful. Take seriously what people think of as not serious or lesser, and be open to the silliness or stupidity in high art and serious lit.
Have you ever kept a diary? Do you keep one now?
Yes – I think it’s a great and useful idea that I don’t always adhere to. I’ve struggled this year to keep to the practice, but in 2019 I used it a lot to make sense and non-sense of the passing days. I just opened up to a page of my 2019 diary and the entire day’s entry was 'DUCKS. Ducks get the bread??', which I guess is not a great example. Step into my mind palace; there’s a lot of room in here.
Which classic book/play/film/TV show do you consider overrated? Or which obscure, unsung gem do you think is underrated?
I would never dare call her overrated, but late last year I read a 30+ year anthology of Mary Oliver in one endless, verdant sitting, and by the end of it I really found myself resenting nature? Not overrated, but advice for your reading habits: space out your nature poems.
Take seriously what people think of as not serious or lesser, and be open to the silliness or stupidity in high art and serious lit.
Also, I don’t know where to place this info, but recently I have been watching a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race after years of never really noticing its existence, and my enjoyment of it is both tempered and, perversely, exponentially increased by the knowledge that RuPaul is fracking. I don’t know whether that makes RuPaul’s Drag Race over or underrated. I just know that sometimes I think I’m watching a lipsync battle and suddenly everything’s a poisoned wasteland as far as the eye can see? I wish Mary Oliver were here to write a poem about it.
Which artist, writer or character would you most like to have dinner with?
I would like to be eaten by the tiger spirit from Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s film Tropical Malady. We’d talk about how much I love the film Tropical Malady. That, or me and every Liv Ullmann character in every Ingmar Bergman film would have quite possibly the saddest light lunch in history.