Friday, 27 July 2012

Summing up the first 6 months of 2012

Here’s what the 7 of us have each been doing the first 6 months of 2012:

When not wrangling the script for my adaptation of Monkey, Journey to the West for Kim Carpenter's Theatre of Image, I've been either working on a new play Jump For Jordan, or on my doctoral thesis. And you know how some projects end up being way more ambitious than you had anticipated? Well, it's been a time-gobbling brain-stretching summit-climb on all three. But I did what you do in such cases: dug deep, bought time, ate chocolate, and managed the crumpling effects of the sitting marathons with lots of yoga. Happily, the agony-ecstasy development threshold of pinning down the first draft is more or less complete in each case. We've assembled an outrageously talented cast to workshop Monkey in August, and I'm so looking forward to putting this mad epic tale on the floor. 

The strands of the thesis exist in broad form, giving me another year to pull it towards intelligibility and completion. And Jump For Jordan is ready to workshop, thanks to two astute dramaturgical butt kicks delivered by Lee Lewis and Cath McKinnon which rightly shifted it from domestic tragedy to black comedy. The importance of timely peer feedback, and not identifying too closely with your characters, is duly noted. Other than that? Being swept up by 7-ON's super power for self-organisation as we saw our book, No Nudity, Weapons or Naked Flames, through to publication in March. Liaising with the indefatigable Gus Supple on the development of Platonic, 7-ON's next production. Developing a mini musical for children with Sally Sussman called Caylee's Ukulele. And rejoining the board of Powerhouse Youth Theatre which this year turns 25 years young. 

After two productions opening within two weeks of each other at the tail end of 2010, 2011 was a year of lots of teaching and mentoring for me, which was both delightful and frustrating. Delightful for bringing me in contact with the people I got to meet and work with, inspiring for the loveliness of this upcoming generation of writers (I’m a big fan of Gen-Y, you smart, savvy, amusing lot!), and, since I was also working with a particularly engaging group of older writers, let’s hear it for the older chaps, too. Frustrating in that I’d rather be writing and earning my crust that way. I guess it has ever been thus, and perhaps, in this time of intense competition for such a narrow range of opportunities, inevitable. Public forays of my work were occasional—short pieces as parts of group shows. This is valuable experience both when those shows work, and when they don’t. Even the tough experiences will teach you something, and every time you engage you extend the number of peers whom you get to know. 

In an overview like this, I can’t not mention the publication (by Federation Press) of 7-ON’s book of monologues, No Nudity, Weapons or Naked Flames. I did the editing for this and it was a great experience to be working so closely with the texts of my fellow writers. We are all very proud of the subsequent book.

Nailing runner–up in the Blake Prize for 2011 provoked a furious burst of poetry writing. Lord knows where that is leading, but it’s intensely satisfying. I have a reading at Parnassus Den (to be directed by the wonderful Sarah Goodes) on 5 August this year of a play I’ve been working on for yonks, The Ice Season. After winning the Open Section of the Inscription Prize, this play has done the rounds a bit and I am having to exercise faith that it has the potential for a memorable theatre experience that I think it does. I hope a few of you out there may come along to the reading and give me some feedback on it. I have other pieces in development but mum’s the word there in case I hex them!

One of the peculiarities of this profession is that you can spend many years toiling away with nothing to show for it, and then all at once it all bears fruit. In February, Black Swan/Perth International Arts Festival produced The White Divers of Broome, a play I’d been working on for four years. Even so, I must have written twelve more drafts over the rehearsal period (poor actors!). It was a big cast, very high production values, in the largest theatre I’ve ever played (the Heath Ledger), so it was a steep learning curve—thus the many rewrites. Kate Cherry’s production was beautiful, meeting such demands as underwater diving, Japanese lantern processions, and a ball.

In March I had two one-acts to write, commissioned by Kambala School. These were Ugly Beauty and Connectivity, produced in June. Congrats to a cast that is also juggling debating, netball, soccer, violin, homework …

Last month I was in London, where Victim, Sidekick, Boyfriend, Me played at the National’s Cottesloe Theatre. It was commissioned as part of their Connections Programme, along with nine other plays (see my earlier post). Angela’s Kitchen, Paul Capsis’ one-man play co-created with Julian Meyrick and myself as associate writer, has just been published and is on the road for a six-month national tour.
And presently, The Splinter is in rehearsals at the Sydney Theatre Company, opening on August 15. I describe it as a Gothic horror puppet show, though that really doesn’t do it justice …

When I look back at the first 6 months of 2012 I’m surprised to discover how much time I spent in libraries and archives (bricks and mortar as well as digital). My partner was a Visiting Fellow at Yale, and I piggy-baked on her trip to spend March and April in the US and England. My brother lives in New Jersey, so I met my lovely niece and nephew for the first time (in person), and visited New York, also for the fist time (loved it). In Hew Haven I took advantage of Yale’s fabulous Sterling Library to research nineteenth century travel narratives of South America for a non-fiction piece Darwin’s Thistles—a Cautionary Tale (published in Mapping South, out soon). I also fretted about the huge disparity between the Haves and Have-nots in America. I just don’t understand why ‘blue-collar’ and low-paid workers vote against affordable health care and taxing billionaires. But that’s another story—maybe even a play?

My poem Once Upon a Tiger won a poetry competition in the UK. Seeking Mr Freud, a one-act black comedy, was broadcast on 89.7 Eastside FM Radio. I did a week-long environmental history workshop at the ANU; kept working on The Book of Thistles; kept writing and developing performance essays. Good With Maps had a Parnassus Den reading directed by Kate Gaul and performed by Heather Mitchell. (Not all my performance essays lend themselves to this kind of double life with an actor, but GWM really does.) I just presented the latest performance essay, Loose Gravel—a poetics in Sydney, and will be doing it in Brisbane late August. Am going to be spending a bit of time in Queensland over the coming year or 2, thanks to an Arts Queensland/University of Queensland Creative Fellowship.

2012 has been a pretty crazy year, and that’s saying something given the past few years. It began with the publishing of my book, Playground Duty. I spent 2011 writing it. Full time. For the first time for fifteen years I wasn’t trying to juggle writing (and acting) with a full time teaching job. It was bliss. So, in early 2012, I was sitting at home wrestling with a new play when there was a knock at the door. A kindly face from Australia Post was standing there with a satchel. I knew what was inside. I didn’t know what to do. I took it inside and put it on the table and looked at it.

“What will I do now?” I asked myself.
“Better open it”, came the reply.

So I did. And there it was. My brand spanking new book. I took it in my hands and it felt … well, good. The house was empty. I didn’t feel like talking to myself anymore so I just stared at it and wondered what to do next. It was a very weird feeling for someone who writes plays. I was used to seeing my work come alive in the company of others. It was the beginning of a very different type of journey. And it’s still ebbing and flowing.

The play I was wrestling with is now almost fully formed, except for that most elusive of things, an ending. I am loving being able to give it my full attention rather than making it fit in where I could grab a spare minute. I’ve also finished an adaptation of Women of Troy for ABC Radio National. It’s being recorded in a few weeks. And the icing on the cake has been the publication of 7-ON’s No Nudity, Weapons or Naked Flames. I wonder what the rest of the year will bring?

The last 6 months have flown fast and it’s a matter of keeping up now. I’m off away for a long weekend to live, breathe and intricately plot my new piece for ABC Radio. After an excellent reading with a large (luxury!), insightful cast and director it became clear that the script either has to go longer to 90 mins or needs to be cut significantly. I know where it’s headed and the ideas are flowing and hope I can bring it together. It’s exciting but there is very little time to get it up to speed so the need for a total retreat is urgent.

I’m also very much looking forward to a reading of my new play gifted early next month. Augusta Supple read an earlier draft and kindly offered to organise a closed reading at the Arts Platform. Very grateful as I think I’ve made it clear in my earlier blog how much I value the process. Producers—wake the fuck up! There’s a virtuoso role for a brilliant actress in her fifties! (That’s my new self-promotion voice talking—Is it working?) Oh and then just the other day another Platonic play-let fell out of my head and onto the page and into the mix for the production at the end of the year.

But amongst all this I am creating paintings, sculptures and mixed media works for an exhibition called Resolution: Sublimate. For me all the art forms cross-sect, fertilize and, and, I thought I’m not going to follow that analogy but let’s face it … it could either turn into a tree or some monster from the black lagoon—both reasonable responses to this wild inexplicable experience of consciousness.

January—Eat chocolate. Think about stuff.
February—I took my play ‘Every Second’ to the PlayWriting Australia National New Play Festival in Melbourne. Two weeks of rewriting, working alongside actors, director and dramaturge to refine the work and eventually stage it as a moved reading for … well other playwrights, directors, actors and dramaturges plus theatre practitioners from around the world. 
March—rewrite. Eat chocolate.
April—Eat Chocolate. Write new stuff. Think. Rewrite.
May—My play The Magic Hour (directed by Chris Bendall) premiered at Fremantle’s Deckchair Theatre—a beautiful production starring Ursula Yovich, a caravan and a glow in the dark beanstalk. I was able to spend time in March working with Chris and Ursula on the script and then have that final time of rehearsal to hone the piece still more and the whole experience was great.
June—Shannon Murphy’s hilarious production (at the Griffin theatre) of Porn.Cake. I remember sitting on a couch in rehearsals with producer Michael Sieders and we both gasped at the same moment, laughed, and covered our faces at the same moment. This told me that we were on the same wavelength. (Porn.Cake has been recently nominated for a 2012 AWGIE.)
July—short play I wrote, about love and sacrifice and gnomes: Small Hard Things went on at Tamarama Rock Surfer’s Bondi Feast directed by Scarlet McGlynn.

This year I am PWA Writer in Residence with Griffin Theatre in Sydney. I have been working with three emerging playwrights (but actually they are all quite accomplished and established in their own ways), attending Griffin meetings and learning about the nuts and bolts of this much loved theatre. As well, we worked (and wrote) with the Griffin Studio gang to make a one night only site-specific work in Kings Cross entitled Lovely/Ugly.

Publishing wise there has been the thrill of our 7-ON monologues produced in No Nudity, Weapons Or Naked Flames and another monologue of mine First Light was published as part of the atyp anthology The Voices Project (Currency). Plus assorted teaching gigs with writing students at NIDA, atyp, NSW State Drama Camp and Newcastle Uni. So, busy first half of year … big move to Newcastle with partner and child, acquisition of vegie garden (small) and dog (largish). Life balance juggling agogo. And of course … more writing and rewriting, more dreams, more discussions, more plans for more projects and lots, lots more chocolate.

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