Sunday, 31 July 2016

Fine Times...

On the evening of Tuesday last, June 26th,  a quite extraordinary event took place and we Sevens thought we should mark it. At The Pavillion at the Victorian Arts Centre, Carillo and Zijin Gantner hosted a dinner in celebration of playwrights (cunningly timed for just before the PWA Fest, therefore maximising attendance). If you weren’t there, well, you were missed, but for those of us closer to the grave and hence unable to anticipate such a thing ever occurring again in our lifetimes, it was fab.

When we first heard it was on, some of us (no names, no pack drill) were prompted to say, ‘What’s the catch?’ The answer was that there wasn’t one, it was simply an act of generosity by two people who value Australian playwriting and hence…Australian playwrights.

Some of the great and good of Australian playwriting were there. The pollies were there, too, and received some flack. David Williamson gave a few serves in his keynote speech. So we did maintain the rage, as a group, but we did also have a great time meeting and greeting the only other people in the world who know EXACTLY what it feels to write words that other people have to make come alive, and the peculiar intensity of that having been the choice of a way to attempt to make a living.

And Wesley Enoch also gave a speech of great charm and appreciation of the venerable and beloved John Romeril (pictured here with his permission).

Lastly, there was something of a competition to establish a collective noun for playwrights. I lost my suggestion, which was just as well, it being close to the end of the evening. I have two that I’d like to venture, however, stolen from others. Noëlle suggested ‘a plot of playwrights’, which I think is pretty good. Someone very close to me suggested ‘a paranoia of playwrights’. I wonder why he thought of that?


Friday, 29 July 2016

Michael Gow on the Agony of Theatre

If you're at a loose end, why not snuggle up with Michael Gow's Keynote Address? Delivered a day or two ago at the National Playwrights Festival in Melbourne, you can click here to read an edited version printed in Artshub. There's much to love in this Address, including Michael's urging that we playwrights each formulate our own personal canon. Enjoy.

Friday, 22 July 2016

What we did the first six months of 2016

It was an excellent six months for 7-ON. In March Hilary curated the 2016 Playwriting Festival for the NSW Writers’ Centre. Donna, Vanessa, Noëlle and Ned were on the program along with—what would be the collective noun for a group of playwrights? A plot?—of new, emerging and established writers. An all round excellent day.

More positive news: We received a New Work grant from the Australia Council Literature Board for the creative development of our new collective project The Seven Social Sins (working title). We had our first weekend intensive workshop last month. At this stage our plan is for the project to have two iterations: a linked series of seven short pieces, plus a script for an immersive, site specific—or to use our preferred term—open frame show.

In February of this year I started on the first year of what I hope will be a three-year Creative Arts PhD at Flinders University. My supervisor is the fabulous (Professor and theatre director) Julian Meyrick, so how good is that? The topic for my doctorate is (loosely, but do you want a double-barrelled academic title in all its glory? I thought not … )—thus—the title is loosely, ‘Political theatre’. This interest has arisen out of my last few plays, The Red Cross Letters (verbatim), Long Tan (semi-verbatim) and What Has Been Taken (fictional but influenced by a number of terrorist events that have occurred over the past few years).

The first two plays are scheduled for production, The Red Cross Letters (STCSA) opens this August 3rd in Adelaide at The Space, in Adelaide Festival Centre Trust and then tours country South Australia; and Long Tan (Brink Productions), opening next April 4th in Adelaide at The Space. This year has also involved ongoing work on both of them, including in particular a workshop for Long Tan. What Has Been Taken also had a workshop with Playwriting Australia in April, working with a great group of actors, plus creatives, Tim Roseman and Iain Sinclair, and dramaturg Jane Fitzgerald. We had an extremely useful and stimulating couple of days, and I’ve worked on a new draft of the play since then.

For the rest, time’s been at a bit of a premium. Rather unexpectedly, I’ve been writing poetry again these last couple of years and published a poem, Kangarilla, Summer, 2016 in the April issue of The Australian Book Review.

The big thing marking these last six months is the submission of my doctoral thesis under the following title: Dialogic Interplay: a Strategy for Representing Difference and Cultural Diversity on stage, and Jump for Jordan, a play. It has been a pleasure to leave academic English behind, and to get to work on a new play called Flame Tree Street under the auspices of the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre.

I’ve also done lots of scriptwriting lecturing and tutoring at the University of Wollongong and Excelsia College (108 students in total!) and run a Page to Stage workshop for Milk Crate Theatre and people recovering from mental illness. I co-facilitated a second stimulating Play Havoc workshop with fellow 7-ONer Hilary, and look forward to many more.

I began working with the research team supporting Dr David Throsby’s latest report into artists’ earnings, or lack there of, and if you find yourself on his list, do participate, as this evidence will crucially support decisions around our evolving cultural policy. Finally, as a board member of Powerhouse Youth theatre, I breathed a sigh of relief when we received four year funding from the most brutal round of Australia Council grants, and was floored by the sheer number of excellent companies who were tossed out of the tiny arts funding boat.

I started 2016 with the production of Teacup in a Storm as part of The Q/Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre’s subscription season. The show, which blends documentary and fictional material, is about the largely invisible work done by carers. People who care for a partner, parent, friend or family member with a disability or enduring health need. It was beautifully and movingly performed by Marie Chanel and Therese Cook and directed—also beautifully—by Nick Atkins. Let’s hope it gets another outing.

I wrote lyrics for Rose & Burr, a six-song cycle that’s a collaboration with composer/musician Waldo Garrido.

Had a read-though of Good with Maps, a monologue cum performance essay, which has a season this November as part of Siren Theatre Company’s ‘Invisible Circus’ program at Sydney’s Kings Cross Theatre. It will be directed by Kate Gaul and performed by Jane Phegan.

Still the thistles … And did I mention that I’m investigating the rant as a performance form?

I was artistic director for the 2016 NSW Writers’ Centre’s Playwriting Festival, which happened in March. A very pleasurable and rewarding day for me, assembling brilliant minds to address pressing subjects. In and around this, I worked on spreading the good word about my two new books, Numerical Street with illustrator Antonia Pesenti, and The Marvellous Funambulist of Middle Harbour, and Other Sydney Firsts, illustrated by Matthew Martin: presenting talks and workshops for the Sydney Writers’ Festival, the Queen’s Club, libraries, schools, historical societies ... I’m working with seven composers, all women, on Seven Stories, and with composer Andree Greenwell on an ambitious new project called The Prayers.

Some teaching: another happy Play Havoc workshop with Donna and a weekend at the NSWWC; some revising of not-quite-ready plays to next draft. I mentored a young playwright for Playwriting Australia’s Lotus programme, and joined the board of the Australian Script Centre.

And my musical with composer Phillip Johnston, Do Good And You Will Be Happy, has been selected by New Musicals Australia for their first round of presentations, so the coming weeks will be devoted to preparing for that.

Two projects I mentioned at the end of last year were both produced around June 2016. The first was the play Trailer commissioned by Tantrum Youth Arts in Newcastle and directed by Anna Kerrigan. The play opened the smaller theatre space at Wyong’s brand new Art House theatre and later did a week in Sydney at ATYP and then in Newcastle as part of the Civic Theatre subscription season. I was very happy with both the play and the production. What’s not to love?

Around the same time, the second play Basin went on in Cootamundra. Produced by Eastern Riverina Arts, Basin was, strictly speaking, written by seven writers in the Riverina region—I was a kind of facilitating playwright and script editor, weaving tales and characters together in a story about a town on the edge of a lake. It was a great process, me flying up to Wagga and Coota to work with this group, and lots of happiness abounding at the outcome. The play is about to end in the theatre at Wagga and I’m sad not to be there but very happy for the seven writers and the fabulous director Scott Howie.

As well as finishing those I have jumped into the pond with a new play to be written for Barking Gecko—an adaptation of Gabrielle Wang’s beautiful novel A Ghost In My Suitcase. I’ve already done a week-long workshop in Melbourne with the gang and it’s been fantastic, can’t wait to see this come to life.

And there has been teaching—young playwrights for the Arts Unit both in Lewisham and at their brilliant State Drama Camp, slightly older playwrights (and other writers) for Eastern Riverina Arts and older playwrights for Wyong Council.

I received an Australia Council grant, for me to write a new play, a lovely shining thing, and All My Eggs a proposed webseries based on my book about fertility and motherhood, Legs Up And Laughing, received funding through Screen Australia’s Gender Matters initiative. Finally, I’ve played with Play School, writing episodes and thrilled to be part of this, their 50th year.

Back home, back at my old desk, back in my spiritual homeland.

The year kicked off with a 7-ON meeting. One that I could attend. It cemented and highlighted everything I love about being part of 7-ON.

I’ve been working on a novel. Interesting process.

Tsunami has been shortlisted, shortlisted, shortlisted. I have almost given up on it, but I can’t.

I got to direct Hilary’s Victim, Sidekick, Boyfriend, Me at the school I’m working at. I’ve also done a bit of writing in everything from the SMH/Age to Crikey’s Daily Review. And, of course, I’ve been F/B-ing.

I’m very excited about our new project, The Seven Social Sins. I’m also very excited to be back  in my home town.

I am flooded at the moment with creative projects so much so I can barely keep up. I am almost through to a complete full draft of the new play (which has taken years) and enjoying the surprises it keeps on tripping me up on. I love this work as it is a return to a strange exploratory language that is thrilling for me.

I’ve finished the text of a children’s book A Most Wondrous Day however the illustrations are giving me grief. I’d be worried if they didn’t.

I have also worked up the blueprint for a large scale play. Creating this pitch gave me tremendous joy but it’s a shame it didn’t get picked up—the blueprint maybe all I ever experience of it.

The abstract paintings continue and you can see them here.

I have been creating a growing volume of drawings and paintings with a mysterious iconography. They have seemingly come out of nowhere and now I must follow through to see where they lead. And of course the harrowing figurines keep growing. I have called them Relics of the Anthropocene Age. Here’s one—

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Red Cross Letters

Verity: I’ll be opening a new show on Wednesday 3rd August at The Space in the Adelaide Festival Centre. Well, it’s a new-old show, called The Red Cross Letters. It’s the most verbatim piece I’ve ever been associated with, with every word spoken by the actors taken from a selection from 8,000 packets of letters held by the State Library of SouthAustralia. The correspondence is between the (mostly South) Australian Red Cross Information Bureau, and the bereaved relatives of soldiers lost, killed or wounded during World War 1. It’s one of the most comprehensive collections of such letters in the world. A treasure.

The current, fully-staged show (presented by the State Theatre Company of SA and directed by Andy Packer, from the Slingsby Company) has developed from an initial reading, held in 2013. This new version is supplemented by more information about the lives of particular soldiers than was available in 2013; and – this being Adelaide – no sooner had initial publicity started for the show than yet more new information appeared.

One of ‘my’ soldiers was a young man, the longed-for son, born after four daughters to a family in country Mintaro, who, the day after his 20th birthday in October 1917 died as a machine gunner amongst the carnage of Passchendaele on the Western Front. There’s a particularly affecting letter from his distraught, if ever-so-slightly histrionic mother, Julia, where, needing comfort in her loss, she enquires - with heart-breaking innocence – about what his last words might have been and where he might be buried. The boy was, of course, blasted to smithereens along with his co-gunner and their gun.

I’d imagined Julia (‘Mrs J E Williams’ as she signed herself every time except the once when she must have forgotten her formal manners), and I’d imagined her lost Edgar. We do have photographs, mostly from death notices in The Chronicle, Adelaide’s then-newspaper, of some of the young men whose stories we tell, but not many. And we don’t have any photographs of the family members who with such naive dignity sought news of their sons, brothers, brothers-in-law, husbands and fiancés. But in Adelaide there are only, say, two degrees of separation in any social connection and thus – by a series of serendipitous connections – we have now connected with the descendants of two of Edgar’s older sisters, both of whom are demon researchers and…we have some additional images. Below is a picture of Philip ‘Edgar’ Williams, and also a picture of his parents about ten years after his death. Julia must have been a very young mother because, with that dark hair, she couldn’t be much more than in her early fifties. Edgar is still just ‘young’, his face in that slouch hat is still soft and unformed, with its blush of red added to the lips of a sepia photograph, and you have no real idea of the man he might have become; but I have to say, Julia looks exactly how I imagined she would.

I’ve found the show immensely rewarding to work on. The material is so simple, but so sad. The sub-text speaks to the simplicity and modesty of the lives of Australians back then, and the curious innocence of all not directly concerned with the massive slaughter. There is an added piquancy for a South Australian audience in hearing the place names with which they are so familiar in such a different context.

And here are my newly discovered people.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Critically endangered theatre companies and arts organisations

Still reeling from the news that 62 companies and arts organisations have lost their Australia Council funding, 7-ON looked back over our collective history to see how many plays, performance texts (and other writing-related employment) we had between us that had been commissioned, developed and/or produced by those companies once funded by the OzCo, now critically endangered and teetering on the brink of extinction.

Checklist for an Armed Robber was first produced by Vitalstatistix in 2005. The play was nominated for a Victorian Premiers Award and won an AWGIE. It went on to be published by Currency Press and produced by theatre@risk, Belvoir B-Sharp, Deckchair Theatre, Stooged Theatre, ABC Radio Airplay and has had countless schools productions.

Long Tan, Brink Productions. Long Tan received the largest grant possible from the SA Ministry for the Arts. It also received a large grant via Catalyst funding. But the company itself has been de-funded via the Australia Council. Go figure.

Carrying Light, co-production between Vitalstatistix and the State Theatre Company of SA. The chopping of Brink and Vitals could mean—though of course everyone hopes that other funding may be found—that potentially the ONLY professional theatre company producing work for adults in the entire state of South Australia—which includes Adelaide, a city of one million people!—would be the State Theatre Company of SA. Another go figure. How many theatre companies, opera companies, orchestras and so on in a German city of 1 million people? Hmmm.

The Red Cross Letters. I’m working with Andy Packer of Slingsby on another show scheduled for production this year, The Red Cross Letters. This is in fact an add-on to the program of the STCSA, but Andy’s directing the new version. Slingsby survives on 1.4 people, makes new work, has an ongoing international touring circuit of several repertoire plays, launched the career of Finnegan Kruckemayer, I could go on. What more does a small company have to do to get a nod, we wonder?

Madagascar Lily was commissioned and first produced by PACT. It was also produced by St Martins Youth Theatre, and I adapted it for ABC Radio National’s Summer Drama program. The radio adaptation was nominated for a 2008 AWGIE Award, and the stage play is published in a US anthology of plays for young people. Madagascar Lily has also had in-school productions.

Jennifer in Security was commissioned, workshopped and produced by Vitalstatistix.

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Ruysch was commissioned, workshopped and produced by Vitalstatistix, winning the AWGIE for Music Theatre, published by the Australian Script Centre and produced in the USA.

Memmie Le Blanc was co-produced by Vitalstatistix and Deckchair (defunded out of existence a couple of years ago), giving it a life in both WA and SA. It won the Inscription Award and was also produced in Melbourne.

Take Up Thy Bed And Walk, a work I devised with Gaelle Mellis and the performers, was supported and produced by Vitalstatistix.

Cutaway—A Ceremony, a theatrical event on which I worked, was created and produced by Vitalstatistix.

The Bloody Bride was commissioned, workshopped and produced by NORPA.

Milk Crate Theatre Company employed me as a dramaturg on Fearless.

Quest. I lament the loss of operational funding to PACT Centre for Emerging Artists where, as a young playwright, I held a funded year long residency, wrote three shows, and had my first hit, Quest, which brought the likes of Baz Luhrmann and David Williamson to the transformed warehouse in Erskineville, and led to commissions with ATYP and Jigsaw Theatre Company.

I also am really saddened that Milk Crate is in the same boat. As an artistic associate with Milk Crate I have recently worked with refugees and people recovering from mental illness, as well as Milk Crate’s dedicated ensemble, to create space for their stories. It has been a pleasure to accompany Milk Crate as they evolve their inclusive theatre methodology, and it is a social sin that a company this unique and affective, and their vulnerable constituents, have been passed over. 

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Responding to the cuts

It's hard to know where to begin to respond to the recent slather of savage cuts to the arts, cultural institutions, the CSIRO ... While there's money aplenty for submarines, locking up asylum-seekers, and ever more commemorating of Anzac-y things.

This article by Paul Daley tackles the issue.

But wait, there's more ...

The focus to date has been largely on the impact of the cuts on small-to-medium companies and organisations, but as Alison Croggon points out in an article in today's Guardian, ‘this has obscured where the real damage is happening. The number of Australia Council grants to individual artists and projects has decreased by a staggering 70% since the 2013/14 financial year.’

This 70% reduction ‘particularly hits artists such as writers and visual artists, who mostly work alone.

And then a fierce, impassioned article from Richard Flanagan. In it, he picks out a particularly revealing (and chilling) quote from the Productivity Commission report:

'The expansion of the books production industries over recent decades has attracted and held productive resources, notably skilled labour and capital, that have thereby been unavailable for use in other industries. The upshot will have been reduced growth in employment and output in other parts of the economy.

… What they are saying is that without the book industry—which is nothing more than a parasite—the economy would be doing far better. We could all be helping the economy doing real work like, well, being unpaid interns for merchant bankers.'

Read the rest of his article here.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

2016 Playwriting Festival: This Saturday, March 19

Hi, Hilary here.

I have the honour of being Director of this year's Playwriting Festival, to be held this Saturday, March 19 at the NSW Writers' Centre in Rozelle.

Why 'honour'? Because it's meant taking the time to look at what's going on here and now in the playwriting community: what concerns, sources of inspiration, opportunities and shifts in thinking are driving us. Usually, we're too busy actually working to stop and think about these questions. The other fun part was having the freedom to create panels and then to people them with writers - as well as directors, dramaturgs, literary managers - whom I admire and want to hear speak. And also to build panels on aspects of playwriting that are often sidelined, like musical theatre: as a librettist/lyricist myself, I'm happily anticipating a discussion of craft and ways forward between some of our finest practitioners.

Kicking off at 10 am with a keynote address by the brilliant Angela Betzien, the day offers ten panels featuring many of our most celebrated playwrights, as well as an all-day 'dramatic speed-dating' session, where writers pitch their ideas to directors, producers and designers. There is also plenty of opportunity to catch up with old friends and meet new ones, over lunch or drinks at the end of the day.

It promises to be an action-packed day, celebrating playwrights while examining aspects of craft, questions of appropriation, the joys and challenges of working outside the mainstream, and more.

And guess what? It's a bargain! Where else do you get to share the room with luminaries like Stephen Sewell, Jada Alberts, Lee Lewis and Lachlan Philpott, for a mere $50-$90? 

You can read all about the program, the panelists and the fun in store by clicking here

If you're there on Saturday, be sure to come and say hello!