Unit 4: Behind the Scenes with Kate Fryer

by Reginald

We sat down with Kate Fryer from Dislocate who directs and performs in Unit 4 and found out what it’s like to be constantly viewing the world from upside down…


Who is Dislocate?

Dislocate was founded by myself and Geoff Dunstan in 1998 as a vehicle to create physical theatre that breaks boundaries by combining risk taking highly skilled circus feats with stories. Our productions contain a mix of circus, satirical comedy, romance and movement.

Unit 4 came from a much shorter piece that Dislocate performed in the 2008 Short&Sweet Festival. Can you tell us a bit about that particular show and why you decided to expand it into a full-length work?

We were invited to be a part of the independent ensembles week of the short and sweet festival and kicked around a few ideas that would work in ten minutes. The concept for Tea For Two…? was one I had planned as an outdoor festival work, set under a street lamp with two characters on New Years Eve. A clown piece in essence, one performer having to support a seemingly very drunk friend, dancing with them, throwing grapes into their mouth and acrobatically manipulating them through New Year Eve’s revels. Slowly as the piece develops you realise the other performer is not actually dead drunk but dead.
With this inspiration, Tea For Two…? developed, still with a dead body on stage but the other character became two, who are actually two sides to one persons psyche, dealing with the death of a loved one in very different ways. The piece resonated strongly with our peers and we were inspired to begin work to grow this short piece into a full-length production with Tea For Two…? eventually become the opening scene for Unit 4.


Unit 4 is described as “darkly humorous”. Is it difficult to produce a humorous work about darker themes such as death?

It certainly has its challenges and there needs to be great care taken not to be insensitive. Setting the piece in a real environment but with surreal and absurd situations, using aerial skill and clown has been our way in.

As a performer/director when was it that you decided to work predominantly in physical theatre and was it hard to make the transition from “straight plays”?

Initially I trained as an actor and worked a lot in children’s theatre, being 159cm had something to do with that I’m sure. At the 1996 Adelaide festival I saw and English Company DV8 and a Spanish company, La Fura Del Baus, both who were performing incredible narrative works using stunning physical skill. I was completely entranced and on my return to Melbourne immediately started training in circus skills with the sole desire of creating 3Dimension theatre. I never looked back, probably helped by the fact I was crap at auditioning for film and TV and I couldn’t play 12 year olds forever!

When devising a work what comes first – the narrative, music or moves?

We always create the storyboard first, a scene-by-scene breakdown of the show. From here we have very clear boundaries to start improvising within. Acrobatic and aerial content are considered in the development of the storyboard but often change when we hit the floor and realize a different apparatus or skill base enhances a scene and aids the narrative better.

Not all of Dislocate’s work includes dialogue. How do you decide when dialogue is necessary for a piece?

There is no point doing and saying the same thing. If dialogue can be used in juxtaposition or as subtext to the physical or vice versa then we use it. If it is superfluous we don’t. 

Dislocate is renowned for its “highly skilled risk taking circus feats”. Would you describe your shows as dangerous? Have you or another company ever been seriously injured whilst rehearsing or performing?

I recently ripped my ACL and had to have a knee reconstruction (moral … don’t do pitched back saults 4 months pregnant). Geoff also had a bad knee injury a few years ago. Acrobats and football players seem quite prone to knee injuries.

What will you be doing on your days off while in Sydney?

Hanging out with my kids!

Unit 4 runs until 15 October. Grab your tickets here.