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"Bravery Inspires Bravery - Build A Fabulous Team Around You"

21 Nov 2023

There's no 'I' in team - but EBKM might as well spell collaboration. Powerhouse theatre-making duo Eleanor Bishop and Karin McCracken combine for some sage words they'd want to share with their younger selves.

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A Big idea contributor
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The ladies who put the EB and KM into EBKM. Photo: Supplied.

2023 is winding down, but Eleanor Bishop and Karin McCracken are just warming up.

The prolific pair behind EBKM - the Director/performer combo that has the Bruce Mason Playwriting Award and multiple outstanding performance gongs under their collective belt - are about to add to their impressive body of work that includes Body Double, Jane Doe and Yes Yes Yes.

They release Heartbreak Hotel (28 November-2 December) in collaboration with Q Theatre this month - incorporating Bishop and McCracken’s signature style of mixed-method storytelling - while Yes Yes Yes is being performed in Serbia at the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People, ASSITEJ Artistic Gathering 2023.

With their next work Gravity & Grace set to premiere at the next year's Aotearoa NZ Festival of the Arts (7-10 March) and the Auckland Arts Festival (21-24 March) - it's all go for EBKM.

The duo have been through their ups and downs - and as is fitting for their collaborative approach to their mahi - combined to give some sage advice to their 22-year-old selves.

Karin McCracken (KB): Ok, Eleanor - I’ve got one that might work for us both but I’m curious what you think: stress less.

Eleanor Bishop (EB): Are you thinking of Edinburgh in 2017 when I thought I saw Lyn Gardner from The Guardian and someone at a party had told us we should approach reviewers if we saw them in the street and beg them to see our show and so I followed her into the bathroom and then was so panicked about approaching her that I dropped my phone in the toilet? 

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22-year-old Eleanor Bishop. Photo: Supplied.

KM: Good god, I laughed remembering that. That whole day was a disaster from memory. 

My Edinburgh stress story would probably be the one where I walked off stage mid-show, made my way up to you at the back, and calmly told you I couldn’t feel my legs and that I was going to have a panic attack. I’m not sure “stress less” would have solved that one. Maybe “get on Prozac sooner.”

EB: Who could forget? I was 31 then, though. I’m trying to remember where I was when I was 22…

It was my final year at Victoria University and I was directing my first show - Cleansed by Sarah Kane. I watched the show from the grid bridge because someone needed to be up there to drop the yellow daisies down from the sky and that was me - because I had neglected to find a stage manager. 

Advice from that? Build a fabulous team around you - in art and in life - it will make the ride so much easier. I think that’s why I breathed such a sigh of relief when I met you. I felt like I had found a person to be on the ride with.

Where were you in your life when you were 22?

Karin McCracken in lawyer mode. Photo: Supplied.

KM: I think that’s beautiful advice from you, building a team in art and life. Also, I always forget that Cleansed was your first show. That’s both loose as hell and makes complete sense to me.

My year of 22 bridged my 4th and 5th years of law school. I think back on myself as being so unsure, anxious, frightened of letting anyone down. A very fragile sense of self. 

My advice would be - trust yourself. Believe yourself when you hear that voice in your head ringing out in joy or alarm. You actually *do* have a gut instinct, but it’s only useful if you trust yourself.

EB: Trusting yourself is probably the most important thing you can do as an artist right? Like, no one can say or do what you can do, how you can do it. 

I remember when you pitched the idea of Heartbreak Hotel to me, I felt so strongly from you this trust in yourself that this needed to happen and this was worthy of your time - our time - the audience’s time. And it made me so excited!

Also, 22-year-old me - have less fear? I was so afraid back then! But not about what people would think - more about whether I was capable of doing the thing that was in my heart. I often think about that 22-year-old feeling of being afraid but utterly compelled to do something. It can be a barometer for me that I’m onto something. 

KM: Yeah, you’re interesting because you identify things you are afraid of, and then make projects that don’t just address them but totally platform them. I’ve always found that amazing.

And in terms of pitching each other ideas - I’m recalling the day you pitched that we should adapt an associative, non-linear, barely narrative pseudo-memoir from a cult feminist author into a large-scale show. 

Panic just kind of shot through me, but I read the book, it was fantastic (of course) and I thought - how the hell are we going to do this, it’s so huge? And yet. Here we are. Because of that wild idea.

Karin McCracken & Eleanor Bishop. Photo: Supplied.

EB: Aww. Well, your absolute doggedness that we could make a show about heartbreak made me want to do it even though I had no idea how. Bravery inspires bravery.

KM: Should we do some lightning-round advice to close this out? You go first.

EB: You’ll resent your parents for firmly suggesting you do a commerce degree - but it’ll come in handy when you have to run a theatre company.

KM: I would personally like to thank your parents for that, given you now do our accounts.

Ok - not every performer needs to be a clown. Maybe you’re just not a clown. Maybe you actually kind of hate clowns. You don’t need to go to Gaulier.

EB: I’m glad you’re not a clown. 

Have your icons but always do your own thing!

KM: Go see work overseas, if you can. In some corner, there are a bunch of people making the exact type of stuff you love.

EB: You’re not a bad director 'cos you don’t like doing warm-up games.

KM: Find a long-term collaborator. Who you can also be friends with. Start a company.

Is that good advice?

EB:…only time will tell.


Karin McCracken and Eleanor Bishop's Heartbreak Hotel plays at Q Theatre (28 November-2 December).