Friday, 12 August 2011

Brain Food in Byron Bay

 I have just spent five glorious, stimulating days at the Byron Bay Writers Festival. It was so stimulating it's taken me a week to get over it. I began with a Playwrighting Workshop where the oldest participant was in her 80's and the youngest hadn't quite made it home from Splendour. Having spent a lifetime teaching kids Playwrighting this workshop was quite a revelation. For a start no-one looked at me with bored seen-it-all teenage eyes. What struck me was how much fun writing plays can be. How much freedom it gives the writer. I encouraged them to write a short play and send it to one of the many short play festivals.
Next stop was a panel for about 200 schoolkids. I was the Chairman (person).  I quite like the sound of "Chairman Ned" but no-one used it. The panelists were Joanna Murray Smith, Louis Nowra and Cory Taylor. The  first two are well known Playwrights and Cory has just had a book published. We discussed the nature of writing for Page, Stage and Screen. It was pretty scary for me as I'd never been a Chair before and I had really smart people on my panel. And I had to keep the discussion moving along and pretend I knew what they were all talking about. It was going pretty well until rows of kids started leaving at regular intervals. We'd were in the middle of passionately debating the virtues of particular writing forms when a row of kids upped and offed. And then another. And another. Talk about losing your audience. Then it clicked. We had the 1.30pm - 2.15pm. Bus time. Great. We struggled on and I'm sure the kids who remained found it interesting.
My next Chairing experience was way more successful. I was so paranoid about the Schools one I sat up all night preparing questions and clever things to say about my panel. We were discussing "The Word in Physical Space". We were in a Big Tent and there were hundreds of people there. If I said I was nervous I wouldn't be lying. Bunches of kids walking out to get buses was one thing. Hundreds of adults walking out because they were bored shitless was quite another. I needn't have worried. Joanna (again)  and Louis (again) were joined by Brendan Cowell. Quite a combo. Brendan had the audience in the palm of his hand and sparks (good ones) flew. It was stimulating and informative at the same time. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. It was quite a coup to make that topic fun and even funny.
My final panel was Joanna (again - a hat trick) David Williamson and Greg Haddrick (Underbelly and Cloudstreet). "Portraying Passion on Stage and Screen"was the topic. And I had the mother of all hangovers having enjoyed Paul Kelly's concert way too much. was awesome. It kicked arse. And I was the most relieved Chairman on the planet.
What struck me about the whole experience was just how interested people are in writing for the theatre. And how interested people are in writing in general. And how many incredible minds there are out there. And in these odd, rather dark times there is hope that these voices will be heard.

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