An interstellar beanbag journey with Ryan Good

We got cosy with Ryan Good on some beanbag beds, to have a long and rambling conversation about sex, feminism, and getting over a broken heart. Ryan tells stories that are humorous and heartfelt and will take you along for the journey. He's verbose in the best possible way. Fringe audiences will remember Ryan from Sex with Animals and Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, and this year he brings us Cosmonaut and Mustardseed.

What’s your flyer pitch for Cosmonaut?

Ryan Good: Cosmonaut is the interstellar, space-themed journey to find the worst sex tip ever written by Cosmopolitan Magazine. And that whole mission is as a means to try and get over a broken heart.

I read 50 years of the magazine for any sex tips, anything feminist or really anti-feminist. We did a lot of research on it – it’d be a hell of a PhD project.

So is your whole understanding of the female experience based on that Cosmo research?

RG: [laughs] God I hope not. But it certainly changed my understanding. Going through some of this content, I thought – shit. I don’t have to deal with a lot of the things women do. So let’s compare Cosmo to GQ and Playboy, right? Naked women, music reviews, a couple of news articles and tips on how to tie a tie. The flipside being – here’s all the outfits you need to wear, here’s everything you need to do in the bedroom, most of which is focussed completely hetero-normatively, and on pleasing a man, not on your own personal experience.

Do you consider yourself a feminist?

RG: Yes, I think so. Goodness knows that is a complex term. When I first started this project I was getting frustrated with trying to understand feminism. But of course, it’s a complex idea with multiple sides to it. Much like religion, or different interpretations of Hamlet. (I’m a giant Shakespeare geek.)

What does it mean for you to say you’re a feminist?

RG: Right now I’d say I’m a feminist toddler, so I’m still not able to confidently state my viewpoints. But what I’m trying to do in Cosmonaut, and my other work, is not to lay out my point of view but just ask us to all open up our eyes a little bit, and look at whether we’re as far along as we could be.

Are you worried about mansplaining feminism?

RG: Yeah, big time. But the goal is to ask questions rather than try to explain things. Our job as artists is to show, not tell.

Will you be showing us anything else this Fringe?

RG: Yes, Mustardseed at Tuxedo Cat. It’s inspired by my child. When she was a pre-person I just called her Mustardseed and it kind of stuck. The name comes from the fairies in Midsummer Night’s Dream. The show is an immersive, interactive bedtime story for grownups. We build a pillow fort together and create a story together. It’s an interesting test to see what happens when you give an audience a different place to settle into, physically and mentally.

Is doing things differently important to you?

RG: I think so. But I don’t like to do different for different’s sake. You want the story and the form to match. That’s when magical things can start to happen.

And do you have anything in the works for next year?

RG: I have another show called Ménage, which I did in Edinburgh this past year and we’ll hopefully bring to Australia next year. Over about a year and a half I interviewed sex workers, turned it into a monologue, and cast two brilliant actors in London who’d go in repertory to deliver it to an audience of two in a flat in Edinburgh. I’ll rework the script with the interviews I did with women here, so it’s more Australia-focussed.

What drew you to the subject of sex work?

RG: I’ve always been interested in that. I mean, I’m interested in sexual worlds full stop. But in terms of Ménage, there was a law change in Edinburgh that was putting sex workers at a greater risk because they had to operate by themselves. And one of the women was attacked. When that happened it was like, OK, it’s important that we need to do this right now. It needs to be said.

So what is it about sex that interests you enough to form the material for all of your shows?

RG: I guess it’s a large part of my adult life. I’m polyamorous, so there’s that joke that swingers fuck and poly people talk, and I think that’s kind of true. I’ve spent a lot of time discussing and negotiating sex, so I thought – I may as well make a profession out of this, and it ended up on stage.

My first fringe success was Sex with Animals, which was very much about non-monogamy and non-traditional relationship structures, and trying to give people a different way to look at things. If people left that show going, “I never really thought about whether I want to be totally monogamous or not, and now I have thought about it and I do.” Then that’s fine! All I wanted was a little more thought going into that decision rather than it being a de facto one.

With that show’s focus on your sex life, did a lot of audience members crack onto you after seeing it?

RG: Ah... occasionally! All of my shows are very revealing – physically and emotionally – so people definitely get to know me, and not just the best parts of me. So if someone meets me through seeing my show then wants to go on a date, they’re probably five dates in already, in terms of their knowledge of me, and I don’t know what kind of precedent that would set for the dynamics of the relationship. I’d always feel a little bit behind. But I never kiss and tell.

Last year you were here with a team – the Neo Futurists – presenting Too Much Light Will Make the Baby Go Blind. How do you find the process working on a solo show versus working on a group show? Do you have a preference?

RG: It’s an interesting question because actually it’s in a different order. I was in the Neo Futurists for almost ten years, doing Too Much Light in New York, then helping to set it up in San Fransisco. Then I broke off and started to do the solo stuff, and I was terrified. I was lucky to have a very sweet tech in Edinburgh for my first run. He could just read the fear in my eyes. Is that a whisky need fear, or do we need to get you some food? He was as much my carer as he was my tech.

In Mustardseed, it feels like a solo show but it’s really not because there’s only fifteen of us in a tiny room – we’re in it together. And that’s the case every time I get on stage. We’re in this thing as a team. Some are just more or less tipsy than others.

So, about the breakup that inspired Cosmonaut. Have you found writing and performing it a cathartic experience, or are you now just getting a bit over the whole thing?

RG: I’ve definitely got that cathartic experience out of it, but from where I am now, there’s other things to occupy my mind. It’s amazing how having a child will make you not worry about your own feelings. I allude to this in the show – heartbreak isn’t a thing you get over. Certain things will poke at you in a lot of ways at different times. I don’t think we really ever get to zero. And one’s capacity for sadness kind of equates on the flipside to one’s capacity for joy.

And hey, you got a show out of it.

RG: Yeah, I hate to think what I’d write about if my life ever got boring!

Do you worry about that?

RG: Actually I have aspirations to push my work into a less autobiographical space. I don’t at all mind getting up and telling my story, but I don’t want it to be a necessity to my ability to create interesting work. Mustard Seed is allegory, rooted in my own personal experience, but I think it’s common to everybody.

What do you love most about coming to Adelaide Fringe?

RG: I think it’s probably the different types of willingness in the audience. There’s a huge swathe of people in this town who are just up for it – they’re like yeah, this is weird, it’s different, I don’t know if I’ve seem stuff like this before, but I’m open to the idea of it. Then there’s the other thing that happens in the Garden where there are folks drinking and partying, who might not necessarily be as up for it but come along for the ride anyways, and that is a really cool feeling. You know, we could all stay in our pods and just perform for the people who know and love our work, but that would be really boring.