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The Bitches’ Box duo on five years touring the nation’s woolsheds, and finally bring their show to town

Amelia Dunbar and Emma Newborn have spent the last few years touring their show The Bitches’ Box around the country’s woolsheds, but now they’re back in the city with their new show: Sons of a Bitch.

Comedy co-editor Sam Brooks had a chat with the pair about their touring experiences, and what keeps people coming back to their show.

Sam Brooks: So what’s the show?

Emma Newborn: So this is the sequel to The Bitches’ Box. With Bitches’ Box we did did three shows for Auckland Fringe five years and then we wrote the sequel beginning of last year and then, we were like, we’ve gotta take it to the city.

Amelia Dunbar: Yeah, the first one was very much a look at country dogs and it was sort of a spotlight on the farm and the different dogs you have on a farm, and so that was, yeah, we took it to sort of rural communities and then we thought ‘actually, maybe we’ll try Edinburgh,’ and obviously we tried the Fringe up here and it went well and it had a really warm, urban response.

‘A warm, urban response’ is such a great phrase.

Amelia: And so yeah, we took it to the Melbourne Fringe fest, Edinburgh Fringe and yeah, we were surprised at how well it translated so we thought, right we’ll do the second one and I think that this is actually probably more of a–

Emma: This one takes place in the city–

Amelia: It takes place in the city. It’s kind of through the country dog’s eyes but I think people will be absolutely fine in getting it. These are city dogs that we’re shining the spotlight on. We went to Meola Reef Dog park to research!

Emma: Yeah, we sat there and felt like paedophiles!

Amelia: “Hello doggies, how are you today?!” Just observing the way they interact, they were so different to the rural dog!

So how do you set up a tour around all these spaces that don’t actually have heaps of shows going to them, how does all that logistically happen?

Emma: We pull out a map and Amelia gets on the phone really.

Amelia: Initially, I suppose with the second tour we kind of, we’d road tested a wee bit, but initially we tried to evenly space ourselves around. So, going to woolsheds, it’s generally nowhere near a town so yeah, it’s choosing a community that you think would have a reasonable network. And rural communities tend to be like that, you know you can take it to one persona and they spread the word and it’s not quite like a city marketing campaign. You know, generally if you get one good talker in the community then word gets out, doesn’t it?

Emma: Yeah!

Amelia: And so we picked areas and then I pretty much said ‘Dad, Mum, who are your woolshed contacts in this area? Who do you know who’s got a farm over here?” or you’d ring someone or call a shearing contractor, d’you know? I mean it took an absolutely bloody age to be honest–

Emma: Because then it’s the dates negotiation as well–

Amelia: “Are you shearing at that time? Oh, you are, okay…”

Emma: Oh, you’re actually using your woolshed for the thing it’s supposed to be used for!

How rude!

Emma: It would be a ring around and and ask people who do you know who would be be down in Dunedin and so on and so forth.

Amelia: So with the second tour people started coming to us which was really great, and they would say, “ Oh you should have come to us, we’ve got a great community, we’d love a fundraiser for our school, come to our woolshed!”

So how do these communities respond to the show?

Emma: Well, they love it!

Amelia: Naturally!

Emma: I remember thinking when we first started this tour, and obviously – this is way back when – and obviously I could not have predicted its success in in way back then, but I kind of had a feeling that it didn’t matter what we were putting on stage – it was the event that we were creating and these communities that would bring people that would bring the success and I still think that that’s the guts of it.

I think now people do come and they know that they’re going to be entertained because they’re going to see a Bitches show but it’s everything, it’s the bar, it’s the barbeque – it’s getting everyone together to have a party and I think that’s what people respond to more than anything.

Amelia: Yes, very much, but possibly downplaying the fact that it is a show written very much for a rural community and they saw themselves in it – or they saw their dogs in it.

Emma: Yeah and it’s a story for them. Which is why it’s always nerve wrecking when we do bring it into urban spaces, because when we do sit down to write, we know exactly who we’re writing for in the woolsheds.

Amelia: I’m excited about this though, because I suppose our portrayal of the urban characters is through the eyes of the country dogs so it’s more heightened, grotesque, and possibly not so favourable!

And how do you sustain the energy of a show for a tour like that over such a period of time?

Amelia: We are not that rock and roll!  We pretty much abstain from alcohol the entire tour, it’s terribly boring, but we’ve got to get to bed!

Emma: But in terms of the show I guess it’s always just about pushing each other and playing and trying to find new moments and remembering that, the audience, it’s the first time they’ve seen it, so trying to always bring something new to it, trying to surprise each other–

Amelia: Yeah, and maybe because we’ve performed together so many times now we do actually take great enjoyment in catching each other out or making each other laugh, she’s very good at it and I hate it!

But the audience gives you so much energy and it’s impossible to slomp along if the audience is giving you such a warm response but it is definitely quite fun to mix up for each other and try to catch each other out. The number of times I’ve laughed in this show on stage is embarrassing!

Emma: It’s the best!

That’s so evil.

Emma: I love it, I love it!

Amelia: But in terms of actually doing five shows a week for four weeks we do have to be pretty responsible and look after ourselves and eat well and rest well.

Emma: That’s when we’re on tour; the Comedy Festival is a bit different, because we just have to show up and do the show!

Yeah, shot, home, drink!

Amelia: And then sleep most of the day! And it’s so exciting to be part of a festival when there’s so much other exciting stuff going on and be part of that buzz which we miss out on completely when we’re wandering around woolsheds!

Emma: Yeah, it can get a bit lonely out there sometimes!

And last question, what is the best touring story that you both have.

Emma: I knew you’d ask that. My favourite is an old one and it still is my favourite. It was on the very first tour and I think it was on the second or third show and we showed up to a woolshed and there was, the show was starting at six, and there was a full shearing gang, like full flow. And like, shearing gangs, I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a woolshed to watch them?

No, funnily enough.

Emma: It’s like hardcore house music, like pumping music and these guys are just like brawn and muscle, they’re just like sweating and pretty rough around the edges because the work is so tough and we were just like, “Aaaaaaaaah!” and they cleared out at around five and we packed in in like, record time, and there were like, little bits of blood on the stage and it stank like sheep’s piss, which is such an extraordinary smell and it was so amazing and I loved it! I was just like, this is so incredible, it’s a multi-use venue!

Amelia: Oh goodness, I have to work my way through the woolsheds. We just talked about this one earlier, but in Wairoa, when we did our first show, it was just such a surprising thing, because, you turn up to a new venue every night and you’re meeting new people..

Emma: You don’t know these people…

Amelia: You don’t know these people at all, you don’t know any of the audience. And we turned up to this beautiful property in Wairoa and we were just pottering away and then this burly old chap who kind of mumbled and grumbled and was all scraggy went into his car and pulled out this beautiful wooden sign that said ‘The Bitches’ Box’ made out of bent horseshoes. And he had made this gift before even seeing the show–

Emma: Before even meeting us–

Amelia: It was just really, really special..

Emma: I just burst into to tears!

Amelia: And we’ve still got it, hopefully it will be part of this show.

Emma: Yeah, we’re gonna hang it in the theatre I think.

Amelia: Yeah, just really humbling things like that. I think probably the overriding thing with the our show is just the extraordinary characters in this country that we get to meet. Just warm, wonderful people everywhere you turn.

Emma: Like that farmer that put everything that died on his farm into like cured meats? That was also an experience

How?

Emma: So we showed up to this farm and he was just this wonderful man and he drank like a fish, he drank his own rocket fuel that he’d made himself! And he had this extraordinary selection of cured meats that he was adamant on handing out before the show so I was running around with the tray handing out this stuff and one of his neighbours was like “I wouldn’t eat that, anything that died on this property goes into those meats.”

Amelia: But gee, it was tasty!

Emma: Possums, birds–but he also had his family cat’s skin in the freezer

Amelia: He taxidermied a lot!

Oh great.

Emma: So he had been preserving this skin to turn into something, where was that, Hunterville?

Amelia: Yeah, Hunterville.

Emma: We’re not dropping any names though!

 

You can book tickets to The Bitches’ Box: Sons of a Bitch here.

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