Friday, 26 July 2013

What we did the first 6 months of 2013 ...

I’ve had a furiously creative time working across mediums this year. I’m in the midst of the 4th draft of a new play. It’s strange in the sense that it is so big in my mind and yet there really is nothing to say about it while it is being created. I find if I talk too much about a work the energy will dissipate and the whole thing will slip through my fingers …

Alongside that I’ve managed to finally get that promised website up and going, a far more creative experience than I’d imagined. There are some blips that I need to fix but I think in earlier 7-ON blogs I’d mentioned the importance of self-promotion so here ‘tis: and the blog Truancy and the Creative Impulse

In other news I’ve written the lyrics to two songs, painted roughly six paintings, three new assemblages, and completed the first couple of prototypes of a graphic novella My Charitable Works. It’s a brutal satire with images built up with collage. There is also one more secret project and this again is a merging of text and sculpture. The issue now for me is to choose where best each project should go and that’s on my new-list-of-things-to-do.

Finally my painting A Tear Magnified to the Power (as previously mentioned in this blog) was a Sydney Region Finalist of the Cliftons Asia Pacific Art Prize. Only 10 artworks from Sydney were chosen and I was delighted to be included as the Award was open to not only to hubs around Australia but also Hong Kong, Singapore, Auckland and more.

Where did those six months go? As always I began 2013 full of hope. As always my optimism was … well … optimistic. I had three writing projects on the boil. A play. A book. A film. I was reasonably confident about the play and the book whilst the film was a bit of a fantasy. Guess what? The play fell over. The book fell over. The film was given some encouragement. Go figure.

We are used to knockbacks. They are part and parcel of what we do. For some reason my early year knockbacks really sat me on my arse. For the first time, probably ever, I really began to question what I was doing. I was lucky though. I had six supporters who nursed me through the pain. Six 7’s. 7-ON’s. I’m the lucky  7th. Or, more accurately, lucky to be the 7th. I can’t tell you how important being part of 7-ON has been to me staying alive as a writer.

So … the film is underway. As underway as a screenplay ever is. If it ever gets made it’ll probably be in about 2018 and I won’t be as young as I am now. It’s a weird journey. I’ve always written from the heart but I’m learning how to write like a mechanic. This bit goes with this bit and that makes this bit work. That kind of thing. Interesting.

The play is sitting in the vault wondering what happened to it. It knows it’s the best play I’ve ever written. It knows it’s got something going for it. It’s waiting. And so am I. Will I end up producing it and playing the leading role myself? Hope not. Will it see the light of day? Hope so.

As for the book. I didn’t realise how much I’d invested in it. It was a centimetre away from being green-lighted by a big publisher and, even though I pretended it didn’t, it really hurt when it got knocked back. The good news is it’s back on the drawing board and I’m gonna have a real good go at it. And I might even have a publisher on board. It’s a weird and wacky world we inhabit us writers.

While all this was swirling around I was doing a workshop at the RSL in Bendigo with some octogenarians when I got a text telling me my adaptation of Women of Troy had been nominated for the Prix Marulic Competition in Croatia. It’s the Cannes of radio plays and my piece was the Australian entry. Bizarre? You bet. Apart from that I’ve written a few articles, done a few auditions and branched out in the kitchen.

The real highlight of the first six months of 2013 was, though, teaching some Karen (Burmese) refugees playwrighting. I travel up to Bendigo (my new favourite town) every fortnight to teach local and Karen kids. It’s reaffirmed my belief in the power of playwrighting and I can’t wait till they all hit the MTC stage with their plays. 

I’m finding 2013 an interesting year. I’ve been trying a lot of new things, or going back to things I did many years ago, but with a new twist.

So … 2013 has seen me finish a fantasy novel for younger readers. The novel came out of a trip to Morocco earlier this year, and I have promised myself that if it is published I will go back to that fascinating country and spend more time in its mediaeval cities, spacey mountains and enduring desert. I also wrote a children’s audio/video guide for the National Gallery of Victoria’s Monet’s Garden exhibition, which was a fun gig. As I write this, there is currently a production of the play of mine that won the Griffin Prize in 2001, Burning, being mounted by the Mockingbird Theatre Company in Geelong, directed by Chris Baldock and starring Libby Tanner. And I’m about to start work on a presentation of letters between ‘the people left behind’ in the 1914-18 World War and the Australian Red Cross, as those from home sought for news of how their loved sons and brothers and husbands died. I’m shaping this material for the State Library of SA and the SA Tourism body, and it’s due in late August 2013.

So it’s a grab-bag of interests really—the visual arts (something of a late-life passion) alongside a tad of screenwriting; the fun of writing prose (not to be underestimated—it’s so luxurious!); a new/old show; the ongoing deeply satisfying group escapade with 7-ON; and something that digs into the people and history of my home state, which is another area of ongoing interest, as, frankly, it’s underdone as a subject and there are SO many stories!

The first 6 months of this year saw a few things that had been in the pipeline come to fruition. Playlab published Mrs Petrov’s Shoe, and Third Person premiered at Melbourne’s Union House Theatre. Directed by Tom Gutteridge the production beautifully and deftly interwove music and text to realise the essential choral nature of the play.

In April I presented a performance essay How to Eat a Thistle in Newcastle as part of the 19th Australian Gastronomy Symposium. And on the back of that, and my long-standing interest in the culture of food and matters culinary and botanic, I launched a new blog: Eat The Table. Continuing with thistles, my essay Darwin’s Thistles: A Cautionary Tale was published (in English and Spanish translation) in ‘Mapping South’. You can read it here (go to pages 257-267).

On the poetry front, I had a poem in the anthology ‘Women’s Work’ and 2 poems published in Issue #2 of the UK journal ‘Far Off Places’. On a slightly less positive note, my chapbook-in-progress, Ryugyong—an impossible opera is proceeding much more slowly than I’d like …

May I was in Brisbane for the second part of my Arts Queensland/UQ Creative Fellowship. Really enjoying it. Not least because it’s given me space to develop a very different writing process for the play commission that’s part of the Fellowship: Scratchland #. (Scratchlands are the blurred, uncertain spaces where city and bush fray into one another. Jumbled ground, temporary car parks, storage facilities, unofficial playgrounds, overspill, hideaways, etc. Guerrilla ecologies of weeds and dubious regulation.) I started my exploration by picking 2 key musical instruments (bass clarinet and toy piano) and made up a playlist. I then made 22 collages. To each collage I wrote a ‘soundtrack’. Sometimes a monologue, sometimes a chorus of random voices, a fragment of dialogue, a bit of found text, sometimes a soundscape or musical echo. I’m still working towards the first draft of what is shaping up to be a modular, immersive text that could be performed by a small or a large cast—in a theatre, gallery or other space. It may prove too wild and off the wall for anyone to produce, but the process is so rewarding and creatively stimulating that I’m not going to worry about that. At least not yet.

After the bleak look at capitalism that was The White Divers of Broome, the psychological horror of The Splinter, and the dark premise of Victim Sidekick, I needed to be in a different place this year. I wanted to pay tribute to the kind of theatre I most love (“Musical Comedy, the two greatest words in the English language!” to quote 42nd Street). I read Gogol, Moliere, Goldoni, Ben Jonson, and various wonderful adaptations of the originals. The result is Piss Elegant, a play that owes something to all those writers, as well as to the story of the Tichborne Claimant, a real-life Victorian melodrama that played out between Wagga and London. I go into a workshop this month, with a stellar bunch of actors and John Bell directing.

The other project is Do Good And You Will Be Happy, a family musical with composer Phillip Johnston, which Merrigong will workshop in September. It’s about Cole’s Funny Picture Book, an extraordinary 19th-century children’s book created by Melbournian bookseller and visionary, E. W. Cole. I’m also working on adaptations for Black Swan and the State Theatre Company of South Australia, as well as a play for STC as part of my Patrick White Fellowship. And I’m working with Vitalstatistix on Cutaway: A Ceremony, which goes up in November. 

Ah the strange up and down-y life of the writer. Things seem great, then things seem shit, then things seem OK again. After the sprint of last year this year has sort of jogged along and enjoyed the sunshine.

The play I finished at the end of last year was Chipper and it was shortlisted for this year’s Griffin Award (won by fellow-7 Donna!). Chipper was also selected for development with PlayWriting Australia in their National Script Workshop. This was a fantastic two weeks spent with actors (Rob Jago, Sandy Gore, Ella Scott-Lynch and Kate Box) director (Chris Bendall) and dramaturg (Tim Roseman) in a cute little sandstone cottage-thing at the University of Sydney. Anyway, the newest draft is done and dusted and being sent about the country and the globe so fingers crossed.

Also in April I did an amazing project in Mt Gambier, South Australia, with playwrights Caleb Lewis, Suzie Miller and Damien Millar as well as director Rob Marchand and creative producer Steve Mayhew (CountryArtsSA). 'Half Hour Visit' was in many ways a development and indeed an experiment where the four playwrights created characters and dramas based on a prison visit. Each prisoner/character was 'visited' by an audience member. There across the table a drama would unfold. Yay experiments! Yay developments! And yay Caleb and was fab.

I have also written a new play, or at least an early draft, and I’m talking to directors and companies about it now… called at this stage The River When it Ran With the Red Juice Of Rubies which is sort of mad and unwieldy and probably won’t last, except I like it. And, with a grant from the Ozco, I’m also head down and fingers tapping on the play on parenting I’m writing called The Source Of Joy. Yes. That is irony.

Seguing nicely into the admission that my most immediate artistic project is the “Star Wars and Outer Space” party we are having for my just turned 7-year-old this weekend. Am about to make a stick-the-light saber-onto-Yoda game now. Wish me luck.

Well, it's been so great to be part of the swirl of activity and shortlisting and award-winning going on among the Sevens. In my case, winning the Griffin Award for my new play Jump For Jordan was am amazing shot in the arm. That play was a long time in the making, and the thought of packing up both that play and any semblance of a playwriting career had been increasingly coming to the forefront of my mind. While I don't write for the recognition, when it comes, it's a stepping stone along the ad hoc pathway that passes for a career, and a nudge to keep plugging away at a practice I can't help but love.

This semester, I took a break from my doctorate to work on Caylee's Ukulele with the Australian Performance Exchange. This show for children was a quick and collaborative treat which was greatly appreciated after a couple of years working solidly on very long term projects. In March, I began adapting a short story I had written into a script. In April, under the direction of Sally Sussman, our intrepid team of performers and designers took up residence at Bundanon, and explored the content of the play with more than a dozen children from the Sydney and Nowra area. In May, at the Rex Cramphorn  Studio, our team road-tested, rehearsed, composed and choreographed a whole new work of one hour in less than one month. We opened at the Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre in Nowra on the 23rd of May, and our hope is that we can polish and tour the show in the future. I really enjoyed working again to such a tight deadline. So much of my early work was written this way, and I hope I get chances to do it again.

Other than that … I've started a new play. I'm witnessing the touring season of Monkey come together. I was part of the team that recruited Powerhouse Youth Theatre's two new Creative Producers. And I found a new hairdresser who used to cut the hair and set the wigs of the Nimrod Theatre actors in the 80s; and does he have a story or two to tell …

Although we’re now spread across 3 states and regional NSW, we’re in frequent communication—dreaming, scheming and organising. In May, a program of the monologues from our collection, No Nudity, Weapons or Naked Flames, was produced as Week 1 of the Mayday Playwrights’ Festival at the Tap Gallery in Sydney. The show, also called No Nudity, Weapons or Naked Flames, was produced by Augusta Supple (who also directed) and Jeremy Waters. 

We were delighted to receive one of Hothouse Theatre Company’s ‘A Month in the Country’ residencies to work on Platonic—that’s happening in August. 

And we contributed to the debate about adaptations/new work and the place of writers in Australian theatre (see earlier posts).

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