Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The Dag End Of The Year, or Happy Christmas

We're now at the end of another fierce year in play-writing land.

Don't know what it was like in the other capitals but there was much good work to be seen in Sydney. My own highlights (this is Verity here) were the Katona Jozsef Theater Company's production of Chekhov's 'Ivanov' (part of Fergus Linehan's final Sydney Festival), directed by Tomas Ascher, and Opera Australia's production of Benjamin Britten's 'Peter Grimes', directed by Neil Armfield, right at the top of his form. For me, these were both 'compleat theatre' experiences - the drug that keeps you hanging in there even even if you only get the hit once or twice a year.

But there was much else to beguile the heart and mind - 'Wars of the Roses', 'A Streetcar Named Desire' (STC); Back to Back's 'Food Court' (with The Necks);'Kafka's Monkey' (featuring the extraordinary Kathryn Hunter; 'Apocalypse Bear' (Lally Katz with Luke Mullins and Brian Lipson); 'Gorky's 'Summerfolk' (workshop production at Belvoir directed by Eamon Flack) and 'Bagdhad Wedding' (also Belvoir, directed by Geordie Broookman and yes, I'm proud of my boy...I also thought 'Metro Street', 'Knives in Hens', 'Ghosts' and 'Toy Symphony' were fantastic, but I digress...)

The point is - apart from me and my family - which is, I agree, Not The Point, though there do seem to be a lot of them - that any such list, however well backed up by articulate reasons why, will be subjective. I can think of at least one of the titles above that a fellow 7-ONer or two (whose intelligence and acute perception I can vouch for) loathed to high heaven. But that we seek such theatrical epiphanies, and sometimes find them, and that we seek to make such epiphanies, and sometimes feel that we come quite close to making them, is of the nature of our work. It's a cruel work to be engaged in because it demands, and can take, everything.

I had a personal high point in the middle of the year with the chance to work with Edward Albee (through Marcus West's 'Inscription' workshops) on a new draft of one of my current plays, 'The Ice Season'. Again, this is subjective. I think all the playwrights working with Albee were to some degree in his thrall, but I know other people who, after his sell-out 'Conversation' with Jonathon Biggins at the Sydney Theatre, were dismissive. For me he was - utterly - the real deal, the 'compleat playwright', the old magician. I felt connected by him through his wicked subversion and razor sharp readings of persons and plays and above all through his body of work which includes not one but two definite masterpieces and a couple of other possible ones, right back, back, back to the long, long line of exceptional minds that have made and built and shaped and crafted the intellectual inheritance of 'theatre in the Western world'. It was one of the great gifts of my life.

And then we got to the dag end of the year with the furore about women writers and directors being unconsciously shafted in terms of their possible careers and it all became a bit depressing really.

Because - speaking (only too!) personally, I'm also in that other - ah- difficult - categeory of mid-career writer.

Most mid-career writers do make a living between (a bit of) community theatre, some radio work, working with teaching institutions and so on. But most mid-career playwrights I know are also now looking to productions of the plays that they write from their own writerly compulsion - the real ones, the ones they care about and will experiment with and want to push their craft with - in the indie scene rather than on stage in one of the major companies.

We know no one intends to sideline us, no one intends to write off our lifetimes' of thought and feeling and lessons and craft, just at the point where we might be beginning to contemplate our own version of Albee's 'Who Is Sylvia, or The Goat' (written in his eighties - how dare anyone underestimate him!?)

But, sorry folks, that's exactly what you're doing.

I love what The Malthouse is doing for auteur directorial work and combined teams of artists, who were, it's true, selected against in previous years, but lately I am also mourning the old Playbox Theatre, where each year eight or more new Australian plays were accepted, worked on, produced in either a large or smaller space and published, even if in their early rehearsal form, which we all know is not ideal. But if you think about it - Playwriting Australia will present eight plays at their Festival in 2010. It's a great line-up, and even has a good balance between genders, and playwriting types, range and ages. But the presentation of these plays in workshopped versions is basically to allow them (this is cynical but I did say this is the dag end of the year...) to be cherry picked by the theatre companies for possible productions. this is the exact equivalent of eight plays that would have made up a season at Playbox, with all that actual production implies for the development of the craft and careers of those playwrights concerned.

Well and all. I am not finishing on a good note, am I? I will try to find my more pleasant face tomorrow. In the meantime I want to celebrate the fun of working with young and hungry (see, I do love you even as you whizz right past me!) actors, directors, writers in a couple of short-term ventures. It was such fun to 'just do it'. And also my cohorts here at 7-ON, who have made the difference this year in (trying to) stay the distance.

Happy Christmas, and see you next year, fellow-addicts all.

Verity (for herself, and not for 7-ON, though one or two of her cohorts may share - some of - her conclusions - possibly...)

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