7-ON has a new publication in the pipeline: Sharp Darts: Chamber Plays by 7-ON. It’s a collection of fifteen short scripts reflecting our very different voices, but all of them love-notes to the theatre. Written for professional production, they also hold plenty of appeal for drama students, auditioning actors, community companies, reading groups—anyone who wants to experience myriad worlds between two covers.
Coming soon to an online or bricks and mortar bookshop near you.
Looking back through my 2020 diary, it’s a sea of crossings-out: performances that got cancelled, writers’ festivals that didn’t happen, rehearsal periods that never began. Yet as the year wore on (and ‘wore’ feels like the appropriate word), things picked up and I was busier than ever: mostly at the development end, but also with other human beings in theatres, no matter that we were masked and slathered in sanitiser.
The first of these was a week of dramaturgy for National Theatre of Parramatta, working with director Dino Dimitriadis on Monikka Eliah’s Nana and Berta. What a thrill to be off Zoom, and in a room! Later in the year, I had the pleasure of dramaturging Chris Bendall’s Black Sun, Blood Moon.
Next came a workshop of my new play Deviants, directed by Damian Ryan and commissioned by producer Michael Dengler. Our hope is to bring it to life this year or next. I’ve written about it in an earlier post, as I have about the musical Alphabetical Sydney: All Aboard! A collaboration with composer Greta Gertler Gold and designer Antonia Pesenti, Critical Stages will produce. We presented it to the world via Zoom, with songs sung by Justine Clarke and Luke Escombe, and are now charting its course toward production.
With composer Luke Styles, I’ve been writing songs for our Annette Kellerman Project. We received a grant from the Inner West Council to further develop it, with a free public performance slated for the coming winter.
In October, Ben Winspear directed the premier production of Perfect Stranger at the University of Tasmania. I couldn’t travel to see it, alas, but it was exciting to hear how the company made a virtue of the many constraints and created a beautiful site-specific work.
I’ve dipped a few toes into the world of film this past year. I spent much of the time working on a treatment—more to come as things unfold. I was engaged by the Sydney Opera House to write House Play, eight short episodes designed to inspire children to make theatre at home—write, direct, act, design, compose, light and produce. This was filmed in December, and should be online soon. And my play Splinter was optioned by Playground Films.
A Christmas Carol, for the Ensemble Theatre, had its season cancelled. But there’ll be another Christmas and, with luck, another Carol this year. Let’s hope we’re in a better place by then.
So the first thing and the biggest thing is that I have been doing a PhD in scriptwriting. This second half of the year I was ‘confirmed’ which makes me a proper PhD student.
Actually ... I have been ‘confirmed’ before, not in an academic way, once a catholic etc etc, which means (among other things) one must choose a saint for one’s very own. More than that, one’s saint name can then be attached to one’s own as an extra middle name. Does this still happen? No idea. Having done my First Communion years earlier, in Penang, Malaysia, I was confirmed when we were living in regional NSW, along with my younger sisters (mum assumed we could be a job lot) and so, as one might do with one’s younger sisters, I found myself arguing over saints. Cut to the three of us dressed in best clothes, still arguing as we waited in line to meet the bishop. This is what happens in this kind of confirmation, one meets the bishop and one is introduced via one’s special saint name.
Except, I didn’t have a special saint name.
I was confident however and when the elderly priest asked me surreptitiously for my saint’s name so I could be introduced, I said … I don’t have one, I’ll just be Vanessa.
The priest goggled at me, what about Mary, he suggested. No, I said, that’s my sister’s saint name. Fine, he muttered, Elizabeth? That’s my other sister’s saint name, I said. You can’t have Vanessa, he muttered as I came face to face with the Bishop. But, I stared hard at the priest, you said we could take our own name, I distinctly remember. Anne? The priest tried once more. No, I hissed back, Anne’s already my middle name. I would be Vanessa Anne Anne and that would sound stupid. Flustered, the priest gave in and thus, I was so confirmed and now I am indeed my own saint.
Anyhoo, my point is, I have been doing the other confirmation and researching scriptwriting and creativity and being brown. And I love this! I am doing a Practice Based Enquiry, so as part of my thesis I am also writing a television series about a half Filipino, half English girl growing up in Penang and regional NSW. It’s called HalfJar and it’s, well, funny and warm and sad. And I love this too!
In playwriting during Covid times, I am still writing The One with The Ensemble theatre (development in a couple of months!), and smaller pieces, some in response to pandemic life, like Mrs Shakespeare draws A Line for atyp and further pieces, for a group of playwrights who met regularly online in 2020 (Every Monday).
Oh and once again I was a playwriting mentor for atyp’s National Studio with the utterly fabulous Mary Anne Butler, Chris Isaacs and Jane FitzGerald. But this time, it was all on Zoom eeek! the lecture, the playwriting group writing sessions, the one-on-ones and the actual readings of the works written by an extremely clever cohort of emerging playwrights.
I have started work on a new play, Valentine’s Day, and two narrative comedy television shows Troubled Youth and LoveLife with co-writer Ross Mueller.
And finally, I have moved house and that as everyone knows could try the patience of a saint.
It’s been a long six months. It’s been a long 2020. Although it did end on a high note when Trump was voted out.
On the writing front, after a fallow beginning, the year gathered momentum. I wrote a new monologue-cum-performance essay, The End of Winter. With Siren Theatre Company and support from Critical Stages we had a workshop and four work-in-progress excerpts were filmed for Critical Stages Screening Room #ActOnClimate. You can see ours here. I’ve written a new draft since we recorded those excerpts, but they give you an idea of the piece. It was such a joy to work with real people in real, physical spaces. With key collaborators, Kate Gaul (director), Jane Phegan (actor) and Nate Edmundson (sound designer/composer), the fantastic team who brought Good With Maps to theatrical life.
Following a number of theatrical outings since its 2008 debut, Trish, my very short (5-6 minutes) monologue was produced for ABC RN Fictions and broadcast in November. Download it here. Staying with audio, Experiment Street, which I researched, wrote and co-produced for ABC RN’s The History Listen, won the 2020 NSW Premier’s History Awards Digital History Prize. You can listen to or download Experiment Street here.
I have an essay in the just released anthology from Brow Books, Dizzy Limits: Recent Experiments in Australian Nonfiction. My contribution, Lemon Pieces (Quelques Morceaux en Forme de Citron), was first published in 1998. It was an interesting experience looking at something I wrote over twenty years ago. I had to resist the temptation to rewrite it completely, and instead approach the revising process with a light touch, as if I were editing the work of someone else—which is what it felt like.
For Canberra’s That Poetry Thing I did a reading from my collection Scratchland (UWA Publishing Poetry Series)—yes, on Zoom.
Finally, I was about to start work on a new project when out of the blue I got a gig writing a narration script for a short audio visual work which will go on overseas later this year. I can’t tell you any more because I’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement. First time I’ve ever had to do that. First time for everything.