Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Guidance, Gee-ups, and Such...

In one of the 7-ON email-go-rounds we were discussing texts that we’d each found useful over a lifetime of writing for stage, and in some cases, screen. We also found out that some of us – well, one of us, I think – are stage-writing-manual tragics; and some use a very targeted number of such references, instead turning to other fave texts as support during the writing process. We thought at least some of these references might be useful to other writers out there, even if only to send you back to your own faves with renewed vigour!


So...no names, no pack drill but here’s a bit of a list, plus a few comments.

We had a range of opinion on the ubiquitous Robert McKee (the Story Seminars) and Christopher Vogler (The Hero’s Journey) tomes. I suspect (it’s Verity here) both might be useful reading even if you only do so to move on from; but others of us have found them beside the point. Some of us teach a fair bit. One of us commented that for teaching, she has found the first and second editions of a book by Paul C Castagno: New Playwriting Strategies: A language based approach to playwriting 2001, and New Playwriting Strategies: language and media in the 21st Century 2012 to be indispensable. This is because “(Castagno) assembles a glossary of terms to describe the workings of plays which reject the 3-act structure / the hero’s journey / Aristotle.” She went on to say, “Basically, it was the first book I found that could explain my own work to me. Very liberating.” A quote from Castagno might be apposite here. He writes –  “Problems emerge when traditional terms are applied to new approaches. Because the old terms do not fit, we assume something is wrong with the play... With such widespread entrenchment of (old) terms and constructs it is important to construct a new idiom that will accurately or persuasively represent a different premise or characters" (Castagno 2001 53). 

Another of us offered Bird by Bird by Anne Lammott...which is “not strictly a playwriting book, in fact not at all but a brilliant book for writing with heart.” This 7-ONer stressed that she also reads a lot of scripts and learns from those. Which is something we all should be doing all the time, I guess. Quote: “I just finished the deadset brillo John by Annie Baker...”

Two of us can vouch for The Playwrights Workbook by Jean-Claude van Itallie as a brilliant circuit breaker on the one hand and means of getting started on the other. Another offering was The Playwrights’ Workout: Exercises for the Dramatic Imagination edited by Liz Engleman and Michael Bigelow Dixon. And all of us have a love of/dependence upon Roget's Thesaurus, The Poet's Manual and Rhyming Dictionary and either the Macquarie or Oxford Dictionary (though – confession – this one of us has lately been seen going straight to the web for synonyms and definitions and such!)

Other inspirational titles mentioned included A Journey Through Other Spaces: Essays and Manifestos, 1944-1990 by Tadeusz Kantor, edited and translated by Michael Kobialka. And…another more recent manifesto (2010), not about performance writing, but rather a collage of quotes, thoughts and appropriations exploring the bending of form and genre and the lure of the real. This one’s by David Shields, and the title is Reality Hunger: a Manifesto.

And…I am the manuals tragic. I will read any and every one I can get my hands on. I’m not sure why. I find them all useful in different ways, even the ones that irritate me. One of the ones I found most pompous overall offered me the most useful series of suggestions regarding dialogue that I have met with in my playwriting life. And I will no doubt borrow/buy all of those mentioned by my colleagues here as and when time/libraries/finance permit... My current fave is John Yorke’s Into the Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them. How wonderful to meet such a well-educated, thoughtful and energetic mind. (But yes, his approach is a more or less conventional one, for those who avoid such things). Two others that never fail to inspire (me) are Seamus Heaney’s Preoccupations: Selected Prose and Ursula Le Guin’s Dancing at the Edge of the World. I know. They’re not about playwriting. But for a words person – just so great!

Sunday, 9 July 2017

7-ON ROUND-UP FOR THE FIRST HALF OF 2017

Okay, time for the six-month round-up. I’ve just looked back at some of our previous round-ups. Put together, they provide a fascinating example of the on-going joys, banalities (i.e. Hard Slog! Boring But Necessary Tasks!), large (WOOT!) and small (woot!) triumphs, hopes and expectations, both confirmed and dashed in the play-writing life in Oz in this early part of the twenty-first century. It’s interesting to be participating in an accidental social history….

DONNA

I’ve been working as a full time narrative writer at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse since September last year. I’ve learned the art of writing narratives that convey the voice and experience of survivors, and reckon that I must’ve written in excess of 80,000 words during my time there. The 3500+ narratives that our team have written will be available for the public to read when the Commission’s report is tabled in December.

The need to work full time, and to also juggle teaching and mentoring commitments, has meant no time or headspace for dramatic writing. However, I did manage to clear two periods of about a week to do a writing/research binge on my plays-in-progress The Secret Warzone and Flame Tree Street which exist as prototypes, as rough as guts zero drafts which is the best I can do until time becomes available in the months ahead.

Teaching, mentoring and dramaturgy have otherwise kept me busy. I ran the Page to Stage playwriting course at the National Theatre of Parramatta, and continued to be part of the Artistic Advisory Council of Milk Crate Theatre. I began mentoring a young writer through the Starlight Foundation, and worked as a dramaturge on the Iqbal Barkat’s project Terrorist/Apostate which had a showing at the Riverside Theatres at Parramatta. I also delivered a speech to this year’s HSC Drama Students during the WritersOnStage event at the Seymour Centre which ATYP later published online.

Ending a tortuous era, I graduated from the University of Wollongong with a doctorate in April that evolved my playwriting knowledge and practice. And a couple of weeks ago, I saw the bright-eyed acting students at Charles Sturt University perform my adaptation Tales from The Arabian Nights with a gravitas I did not know was possible.

VANESSA

I have often remarked (whinged, actually) on the up and down life of the fancy free, freelance and fairly fab life of the playwright.  Sometimes you are up amidst the clouds and tweety birds and sometimes you fall so far down it feels like you’re digging out the mud from your back teeth.

This six months is no exception but a couple of jolly things have recently happened which makes things more tweety bird than muddy teeth.

The first is that my 2016 play Trailer just received an AWGIE nomination. Yay. And especial yay because I am in the most marvellous company including my brilliant fellow 7-ONner, Noelle.

The second is that my new play Captain Dalisay has been included in Playwriting Australia’s Duologue scheme which means I get to work with awesome dramaturg Jane FitzGerald. Woohoo!

I’m still working on A Ghost In My Suitcase for Barking Gecko and actually I had a fantastic workshop this year in Perth with Artistic Director Matt Edgerton and the cast and creatives – more please! And I’m writing an adaption of The Magic Pudding which is excellent fun and has honed my baking skills not a whit.

But maybe the thing that is the most tweety bird of all is that it has been 12 months since my sister was operated on for tongue cancer. And she is officially cancer free and doing great! She is so vibrantly alive and so fantastically well and how can I not be flying high and happy as a result?

HILARY

It’s been a Cadbury’s Assorted kind of year so far, with many things going on. The main event has been my musical adaptation of Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree, for the National Theatre of Parramatta. Working with composer Greta Gertler Gold, an old friend who lives in New York, has been a joy. It feels like one of those special projects where the gods smile and things just work. Neil Gooding is directing, James Browne designing, and it features Nicola Bowman and a fabulous band. We have a second creative development in August and open in October: watch this space.  

I wrote the script for a little film for ACON’s website: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4mQPatNFXE&feature=youtu.be A happy collaboration with Maxi Shield, the AIDS Council of NSW and Frost.

Seven Stories, created with Ensemble Offspring, video artist Sarah Jane Woulahan and seven composers, all women, went off at the City Recital Hall in June, and we’re now looking at a future life for it.

This past month I’ve had the pleasure of indulging my fascination with Sydney history on a project with the State Library of NSW. I’ve been teaching for Griffin, the NSW Writers’ Centre and PlayWriting Australia’s Muru Salon. And I collaborated on Justine Clarke’s Look Look It’s A Gobbledygook, now playing at the Opera House, where I fulfilled a long-held dream: writing songs with Peter Dascent for Justine to sing.

NOËLLE

I finished The Book of Thistles and sent the manuscript to the publisher in February. Researching and writing it has been a long haul and a huge part of my life. I almost didn’t know what to do with myself in the weeks immediately following its completion. Fortunately, I had a trip to London booked for March/April and when I got home, there were the various stages of book production to occupy me—editing, proof reading, cover design, marketing blurb, etc. The Book of Thistles is part accidental memoir, part environmental history and part exploration of the performative voice for the page. It fuses essay, monologue, poetry, digressions and archival collage and it will be out in October. Very exciting and more than a little terrifying.

What else? I’ve been working on a radio script for the ABC. Good With Maps had a short Sydney return at Belvoir Street Theatre to help raise funds for its Edinburgh Fringe season in August. And Teacup in a Storm, which was produced last year by The Q/Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, has been nominated for a 2017 AWGIE Award (Community and Youth Theatre). Which is especially sweet as I’ve just started work on a new theatre project with The Q/Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre.

VERITY

My day job during the last six months has been to continue my PhD in political theatre (Creative Arts PhD) at Flinders University, which is both fun and a challenge. But it’s reasonably early days as yet. My Candidature was only confirmed last November, so I have much more work to do before I can feel comfortable in this new jungle.

In April 2017, Brink Productions produced my semi-verbatim play, Long Tan. This has been a long journey for me (yes, I know that’s a cliché!): more than three years, lots of hard yakka, and much learning. But. In the end, we had a beautiful play about a very difficult and complex subject. We were rewarded with great audience and critical response. I was very proud of what we all – director, creative team, actors and production team – achieved. And the response from the veterans who were able to be there for first night was especially meaningful for me.

A poem of mine, Kangarilla, Summer, 2016 was featured in Black Inc’s, Best Australian Poems, 2016. The poem commemorated someone I and those close to me loved very much. If ever a poem of mine were to succeed, I would have wanted it to be this one. So that, too, was a moment.

NED

The first six months of 2017 have been as challenging as any I can remember. I started my third new teaching job in three years. It’s been a wild old ride. Three years ago I surprisingly found myself teaching part time at Melbourne Grammar, of all places. Then last year at the grandly named but curiously administered Australian Performing Arts Grammar School and, finally, this year at International Grammar School.

What has made this year challenging is that at my ripe old age I find myself teaching full time with the most demanding timetable I have ever had. What it has meant is that I have had to abandon a number of writing projects or, at the very least, to defer them. I realised that teaching 31 periods a week along with 3 playground duties and numerous other tasks wasn’t going to leave me much time for writing.

When I say abandoning projects I mean I haven’t had the energy to pursue production options that in years past I would have pursued. Specifically, with Tsunami, a play that I’m very proud of but which I fear will never see the light of day.

I haven’t got the energy to rail against the dying of that light anymore. I have instead focussed on short-form writing that I can manage in the time constraints I am confronted with. These have taken the shape of articles for various publications, mainly focusing on Education and Teaching (www.nedmanning.com).

The one big project I am ploughing on with is my novel. That I will never abandon
Fortunately, school holidays and the odd weekend provide me with time to return to it I don’t know if anyone will ever read it, but I do know that I am loving writing it.

I also know that 7ON remains the beacon of hope in an otherwise personally depressingly dark theatre landscape.

Our new project is going to be a cracker.

On another note, while I was wallowing in self-pity about my playwriting career, I received this note. It was strangely reassuring.

“Dear Ned,
I am the speech and Drama Coordinator at Ascham School in Edgecliff. We run a large program of about 480 students through the school. Every year our students sit Trinity College London Examinations and enter the Sydney Eisteddfod. This evening a group of our 15year olds performed monologues in the eisteddfod. One of our students had chosen a piece from your play Luck of the Draw. It’s a popular choice each year, the girls really enjoy it. I just thought you may like to know that she won first place with her piece, playing Pearl, out of about 20 performances. Thank you for writing such wonderful Australian drama that our girls can learn through.
Kind regards, Kerryn” (Bick)

Where there’s life there’s hope I guess!

CATH
Owing to full-time study, part-time work, making visual art and parenting, this time round Cath is just going to refer you all to her wonderful website http://catherine-zimdahl.squarespace.com

This is less a news avenue, more a glimpse into a wild, free, quirky mind. I can recommend it!

Verity, for 7-ON


Sunday, 18 June 2017

Fair use?

Fair use. It’s a complex issue with advocates on all sides. Of concern to all writers and artists, and certainly any whose work uses collage or remix. There are different points of view out there—and among 7-ON.


Wherever you stand on the question of fair use it’s good to be well informed. So here are links to two articles about fair use, one for, one against.


Saturday, 3 June 2017

Good With Maps

Good With Maps returns for four Sydney shows in June. Part of Siren Theatre Company’s fund-raising to take Good With Maps—together with Misterman and One Hander—to the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

Good With Maps is written by Noëlle Janaczewska, directed by Kate Gaul and performed by the wonderful Jane Phegan. Nate Edmondson’s sound design and composition for the production won a 2016 Sydney Theatre Award.

'an exquisite production, knotty, agrarian and ideologically blasphemous … it is untamed and necessary, lyrical and intense. I found myself hanging off every word and surprised when it reached its end.' Theatre Reviews

The shows are on at Belvoir Downstairs and all tickets are $45.

Performance dates and times are:

Thursday 15 June, 8:00 pm
Friday 16 June, 7:00 pm
Saturday 17 June, 8:30 pm
Sunday 18 June, 5:00 pm.

More information and tickets here.


Should you happen to be in Edinburgh during August you can buy your tickets through www.edfringe.com or through the venue's system which is: http://www.cthefestival.com/2017/good-with-maps

Thursday, 25 May 2017

LONG TAN (the play)


This is after the event and now out of sequence – Hilary’s post about the upcoming Seven Stories (3rd June) should be read first!

I had promised the rest of 7-ON that I would post about Brink Productions’ presentation of Long Tan in Adelaide in April of this year. But…sometimes a show will leave a tidal wash in its wake and then it takes a while to get back to normal life. After three years working on this piece, and the responsibility of accurately reflecting survivor testimony without lessening the complexity of the material in play, it’s taken me a while to get my nose out of that big surf.

So… I won’t go on. The moment for immediate reflection has gone. But I can say that the experience of making this show has probably changed my life and certainly the direction of my career. And how bizarre for that to happen at this time in my life! It was completely wonderful to have some of the veterans of the battle at the show on that first night, and to receive their approbation. We – any show this big – 12 actors, creative team, technical exercise of the presentation being by way of headphones, implies a ‘we’ – it’s a collective commitment – received some fantastic responses, and reviews. So here’s a picture or two (both taken by photographer Kate Pardey) and a link to a couple of the reviews – though for the one in The Australian you might need to be a subscriber to that paper.



Verity