Saturday, 19 January 2013

What we did July—December 2012

The latter half of 2012 has been a time of upheaval and change for me. The writing highlight was a nomination of The Sweetest Thing for the NSW Premier's Prize for Drama (co-won by Vanessa with her Porn.Cake, as you may know from previous posts, so a win-win situation in the end). And I had a reading, through the indefatigable Parnassus Den, of a current piece, The Ice Season

I've moved states, back to the bulk of my family in South Australia. It's been quite a mind-challenge, mostly in a very good way. Consequently, although I've been writing quite a lot (mostly prose and poetry because I found it really, really hard to settle to the cut and thrust of even the thought of theatre) I don't have anything definitive to show for it. Apart from that, I'm going into the new year with several new pieces taking shape, mostly working with other women writers on biographical pieces, two with definite performance outcomes, one strictly an adventure to see where it takes us. And I'm re-acquainting myself with the bewitching South Australian landscape, which has always been the underpinning of all my literary work.

So in life terms it's been more-than-busy. In writing terms it's been a pause to renew strength, a refilling of the well.
The Splinter ran through August and September at STC’s Wharf 1. A very happy experience for me, working with artists of such a high calibre both onstage and off-, and watching the play land with different audiences. I missed the final show, which was a shame, but the offer was too good to refuse: the Big Sky Readers and Writers Festival in Geraldton, WA. I was the playwright among a group of writers of prose, poetry, essays, and a wonderful illustrator. The big thrill was our night on the Abrolhos Islands, site of the seventeenth century Batavia wreck, where we communed with wild sea-lions.

I couldn’t get to Adelaide in November, unfortunately, to see the fruits of four years’ work, Take Up Thy Bed And Walk. This was a collaboration with Gaelle Mellis, Ingrid Voorendt and a hugely talented ensemble of performers, about the portrayal of disability in nineteenth-century literature for girls.

I continued teaching throughout the year at Griffin, including a new course in writing radio drama, as well as at NIDA and elsewhere. Thanks to an Australia Council New Work grant in October, I have a play to write in 2013. And with a gratefully received set of deadlines from Merrigong Theatre, I’ve just finished a draft of a musical for children and adults called, Do Good And You Will Be Happy.
*I ran a one day 2 part workshop at the NSW State Drama Camp on Monologues—the joys therein.
*I was a tutor at the atyp National Studio at Bundanon, teaching clever young playwrights about stuff like Character. Eek. But my, it was grand. Inspired by all the energy and ideas and also working alongside fellow playwrights Ross Mueller and Lachlan Philpott and UK dramaturg and teacher Ola Animashawun.
*In October I got an Australia Council grant in to write a new play in 2013 called The Source Of All Joy—HUZZAH!
*New work on stage: This Train (1 and 2) which were part of  A View From Moving Windows - a multi-writer show directed by Augusta Supple at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta.
*My play Every Second was selected for a SHOWCASE READING in Washington DC by the National New Play Network in November/December! WOOT! This required me travelling by myself from Newcastle to DC and later from New York back home. Yes I know. Shut my whinging mouth. But people, I did it! And it was the MOST AMAZING EXPERIENCE! (The showcase and being in DC and NY. The traveling alone bit was scary.) And I came home and wrote a whole new play! (see below)
*Also in CAPS-WORTHY NEWS, Porn.Cake won the NSW Premiers Literary Award (joint winner with Joanna Murray-Smith’s The Gift) YAY!! 
*Finally I managed to finish a NEW PLAY by 1 January and get that into the Griffin Award. It was really tough because basically that is a stupid time of year and while I had two monologues and a scene written, it was not a play until I got back from MAGIC PLAYWRIGHT’S LAND (which is what I shall call DC and NY for the next, oh, three months, let’s say). But my point is this … writers write and so if you get a play done by deadline, even if it is a bit wobbly and first draftish (ahem!) then you need a cold drink and a BIG CLAP ON THE BACK. Because, as we all know, that shit is hard.
In the last six months I’ve worked intensely on a 90-minute radio play. It’s an experiment for me—a character driven narrative. Yes—“Character”, “Narrative”—those terrible un-buzzy words! What a nerve! But I do believe when character is action a play can carry a charged electrical force, (proviso: when done successfully). So I’ve given it my all and I’d love it if those words “electrical force” rang true for this work. And I’m sure now you are just dying to hear it. But as noted in this blog and everywhere, the ABC has demolished Radio Drama, so the future of my radio play is very uncertain. All is not lost, I own this work and can adapt it freely and will and I’m positive I will enjoy the process whatever the outcome. Concurrently I kept up on my new visual arts series of work Resolution:Sublimate, it’s just about ready to go out into the world and a couple of pieces were accepted in a curated show called The Great Unknown (Featuring Un(der) Represented Artists) at Artsite Gallery as part of the Official Sydney Fringe Festival as a taster. I’ve also begun work on a multi-platform project (buzz words!) it is under wraps but is very exciting, political, brutal and funny and will pull together both the visual and literary aspects of my energies.

I also had the pleasure of experiencing my new play Gifted read. It was organised by the generous and passionate Augusta Supple and a cohort of wonderful, utterly devoted actors. It made my year and left me quite stunned and moved. I wasn’t expecting how affecting it was. But it also became clear where the play needs work. But like many playwrights now I want to write in rehearsals towards an imminent production, things get solved quickly, there’s total engagement. So many of us have been trapped in development hell for way too long. We need productions and that’s what we are aiming for. But where, how and what are the pathways to breathe life into our works?
The last six months was pretty relentless in terms of deadlines and turn around times, and while I'm happy with what I did, I hope the next six months allows for more breathing space and time to regenerate and take stock.

Most significantly, I signed off on the rehearsal drafts of two big projects which have been years in development: Monkey and Jump For Jordan. Monkey, commissioned by Kim Carpenter's Theatre of Image, was workshopped in August with the Bell Shakespeare Company. Kim and John Bell led an awesomely talented group through physical and musical exploration of the form of the piece, which of course then distilled the story, making my rewriting job much clearer. Fat suits, fart jokes, fight scenes. It was writer heaven. The workshop convinced everyone of the centrality of martial arts, parkour and live music in the production, which is not scheduled until mid- 2014, unfortunately. Still, I'm wrapping up the rehearsal draft this week, and can hand over the majority of the work now to other members of the production team. Here's a link if you want a bit more info. 

Jump For Jordan, another gargantuan undertaking, also reached rehearsal readiness before the start of the new year. It's unsolicited, a passion project, slowly making its way out in the world. Go well, my dear.

I also was part of the 25th anniversary celebrations of Powerhouse Youth Theatre. Unbelievably—where has the time gone?—on the 19 January 1987, I ran the first workshop for what would become the first youth theatre in Western Sydney. 25 years later, the company operates out of the Fairfield School of Arts, supporting emergent artists and companies, nurturing ensembles, delivering projects across Australia's most culturally diverse region. I was so proud to be part of this wonderful lineage, and touched when young people came up on the night of our party to thank our generation for starting PYT because it is their home. As an emergent artist, it was my home too, and I'm so glad PYT is still there creating space for people to step into their talent and fabulousness.

I contributed 3 short pieces to A View From Moving Windows, a multi-writer project at Parramatta Riversides Theatres, produced and directed by Gus Supple; always a treat to be part of a Gus production. I continued to work on my doctoral thesis. I taught scriptwriting at Wesley Institute to some very switched on drama students, and gave my first ever stand and deliver one hour lectures at the University of Wollongong. I won an AWGIE for writing for radio, and lamented sorely the cutting of drama from the ABC and the end to my practice in an artform I love. And I continued to be part of the solid generosity and intelligence that is 7-ON—this mob keeps the writer in me buoyant.
The last six months have been challenging to say the least. My book, Playground Duty, was launched in March in Sydney and in May in Melbourne. I spent a considerable amount of time since then trawling around bookshops asking shop assistants if they had it and offering to sign copies if they did. This brought a variety of responses, some quite positive, others disconcertingly negative. Writing Playground Duty was one of the most enjoyable writing experiences of my life. Flogging it has been another matter entirely. In equal parts humiliating, excruciating and exciting. It requires endless patience and the hide of a rhinoceros. As an playwright and an actor I am quite used to promoting work but nothing in my experience touched what I endured promoting my book. On more than one occasions I said to myself, ‘OK. Once more unto the breach and then I’ll put it away. Literally and metaphorically.’

This was how I felt when I approached the Byron Bay Writers Festival in early August. ‘One last fling and then I’ll move on,’ I thought. After each panel we were asked to go to a tent for ‘signings’. I dutifully made my way to the tent with John Marsden who’d been on the same panel. We passed a tent where Kerry O’Brien was interviewing Bob Brown. Not surprisingly there wasn’t much demand for our signatures. I was reconciled to the fact that maybe I’d sell ten or so books and call it a day. Then I was involved in a very lively panel with Jane Caro and Mary Delahunty. I went to the signing tent and sat down fully expecting there to be no-one there. To my surprise there were people lined up (in a very orderly fashion) and some of them even asked me to sign my book. If that wasn’t enough of a shock I then discovered that there weren’t any left. My book had sold out. Byron encapsulated my experience selling Playground Duty. It’s like being on the big dipper. Up you go and down you crash and you never know when you’re going to get off.

Writing plays doesn’t prepare you for this. Plays are performed over a finite period. The season ends and maybe it’ll be published and maybe it’ll sell a few copies but you can prepare yourself for the ride. What I’ve discovered with my book is that it never ends. It’s nearly a year since it was published and I’m still talking about it. As well as banging on about Playground Duty, I’ve written a new play, had my adaptation of Women of Troy recorded and aired by ABC RN, done some teaching at Monash and done a ‘guestie’ on Neighbours. It’s been quite a six months!
I kicked off my University of Queensland/Arts Queensland Creative Fellowship with the first trip to Brisbane in August. Started work on Scratchland, the new play commission that’s a part of the Fellowship, ran a workshop for postgrads, staff and local writers, Fieldnotes for Performance (generating writing from maps, geography, a place or places, rather than plot or character), and got to know—and like—Brisbane. Especially enjoyed catching the CityCats up and down the river, to the university, or into the CBD. Also in Brisbane I presented my performance essay Loose Gravel—a poetics, a piece I premiered in Sydney as part of Serial Space’s ‘Time Machine’ project in July. In November I presented another performance essay, Hardheads & Woolly Thinking on the opening night of the NonfictionNow 2012 event at RMIT in Melbourne.

My radio drama, Random Red, won the AWGIE Award for Best Original Radio Script, and I’ve been working on a couple of other radio scripts these last 6 months, both features. My theatre outings have been shorts (you can read one of them, Godzilla’d, here) and a Bollywood-style song as part of  a multi-playwright project A View From Moving Windows at Parramatta Riverside Theatre.

I wrote almost no poetry in the last half of 2012. But I’m getting back to it in the Year of the Snake.
We continued to spread the word about our collection of monologues for drama students, No Nudity, Weapons or Naked Flames. And 2012 ended with a closed door reading of Platonic at NIDA. It was a work-in-progress, with everything that accompanies that term, but this outing did show us its potential as a surprising, soulful, and funny riff on the theme of friendship—the forms it takes, what it means in our contemporary world. We’re extremely grateful to the actors, and director Gus Supple, who got together and got the showing together in such a short time. Big thanks.

No comments: