Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The first half of 2014—what we did

It’s been a while since our last post—longer than we’d like—but we have been out and about as well as sitting at our computers writing. Here’s a summary of what we've been up to January—June 2014.

For the last 6 months of my writing life I feel like I have been filling in one big Application Form. In fact, I’ve been filling in countless Application Forms. One after the other. They’ve all sort of blended into one. I’ve filled in so many of the buggers that half the time I can’t even remember what I applied for. Which is handy because then I’m not heartbroken when I don’t get it.
“The standard this year has been of an extraordinarily high … blah, blah … ”
Into the bin.
To be brutally honest, filling in Application Forms isn’t my favourite form of writing. I love writing. I just don’t love writing Application Forms. I’d rather be writing the play/film/book I’m applying for some dosh to write than the form to get the dosh. If you know what I mean.
But, necessity being the mother of all invention, I persisted and bugger me dead if one wasn’t successful.
Knock me down with a feather.
So … now that I live ‘Interstate’ I’ve managed to score a PWA State Exchange Project and will be travelling up to Sydney to work with Lee Lewis and Nick Schlieper on my new play Tsunami.
So there you go. It was worth it after all.
Now I can focus on writing The Play.

It was a good thing I started the year on a yoga retreat because, before the first week of 2014 was over, I was in the thick of rehearsal for Jump For Jordan which was produced by the Griffin Theatre Company in February-March. Having had only two days of script development, all of which was table work, rehearsals inevitably doubled as script development. The entire process was a juggernaut. A crucible of good will and artistic differences. By the time we previewed, all I had were fears fears fears. However, audiences got it, met it, welcomed it. Week after week. My first ever dream run. The months after the production have been spent reflecting on the process for my thesis which, I can finally say I am enjoying. It has required the cultivation of an entirely different writer’s voice, but I think I am getting there.

Other than that, I had a wonderful stay in Canowindra in March, courtesy of Legs On The Wall, mentoring local writer Julia Sorby Andrews for The Silos Project, a site specific performance to be staged in the grounds around the decommissioned grain silos. That landscape, that night sky, those sculptural structures, will make the most majestic backdrop to an event that could end up involving half the population of the district. I really hope it comes to fruition.

And then there's Monkey: Journey to the West. In the pipeline for six years, puppeteers and costume designers are right now putting the finishing touches on to their creations. Rehearsals start next month. Another juggernaut? We shall see …

And so another half year rolls around, Year of Snake becomes Year of Horse ... OK so this first half of 2014 has been hard work and lots of um galloping in pastures green. I was Director of the 2014 Playwrights Festival for the NSW Writers’ Centre and this was both very jolly and very challenging to my rather ahem chaotic sense of organisation. But it was a very good day and lots of brilliant playwrights (including many 7-ONers) and other theatre makers took part and talked plays and playwriting and ate lunch and drank coffee on the lovely sandstone verandah. And it was sunny. Which was extra nice. Meanwhile, I had two full length plays in production first half of this year which seems rather amazing to me ... Every Second (directed by Shannon Murphy) at the brand spanking new Eternity Theatre and The Magic Hour (directed by Chris Bendall) which toured from Queensland Theatre Company down the East Coast and inward and outward and down to Victoria and will end eventually in Darwin. It is a truly magical thing to have a play in production as we well know, to have two productions that take your breath away and make you smile and shake and cry a tiny bit is kind of a whispery message from the goddess and here’s what she said to me: “Theatre’s a long game sweet pea, so keep playing. Keep  writing, keep believing, keep tapping away on that tin-pot computer. Keep creating. Everyone has a voice and a unique journey, like fingerprints or snowflakes or DNA. No one can write your voice or your story like you, and everything you write is a building block in your wall of life, a limb on your body of lurk.” At least I think she said ‘body of lurk’, she might have said ‘work’ but it was all a bit noisy, and frankly a bit of lurking is probably quite useful at times. In July, I also had a short play called The Source on at Bondi Pavilion (directed by Scarlet McGlynn for Rock Surfers Theatre) and auditions were held in Newcastle for Stooged Theatre’s upcoming production of Checklist For An Armed Robber (next update) and finally I had a holiday. In Winter! Up in Port Douglas! On A Beach! It was sunny! And I snorkelled! Me! I KNOW! SHUT THE FRIGGIN’ DOOR! Now excuse me. I have to keep playing. Or lurking. Or both.

Started the year—on Christmas Day, actually—writing a letter to the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection about our terrible treatment of asylum-seekers. Decided to write to him every Wednesday for the next 6 months. Dear Scott— is the performance of that (mostly) unrequited correspondence. I’m now looking for a place/company/context to present it. Have been thinking a lot these last few months about how you get work into the world. The writing is one thing, getting it out there is the hard part—despite all the rhetoric about borderless knowledge and the democracy of the digital economy. 

In March I contributed a short, Night Hymns, to Subtlenuance’s High Windows Low Doorways show at Sydney’s Tap Gallery. Wrote Playing Awkward, an essay about Dorothy Hewett’s The Chapel Perilous, for Currency’s Cue the Chorus online/ebook initiative. Finally finished my radio script The Other Polish Explorer for ABC Radio National (it’s being recorded/produced next month), and have resolved to try and stop over-researching.

And then came that prize … A fellow winner said she felt slightly unhinged when she learnt she’d received a 2014 Windham Campbell Prize, and I feel the same. When I think about what I’ll I write with it, this favourite line of Gerard Manly Hopkins keeps popping into my head: ‘All things counter, original, spare and strange.’ More prosaically, I’ve got a long list of possible projects, mostly performance, but also poetry and prose … so I guess we‘ll see.

January feels like a long time ago ... I need to get out my diary to remember that far back. Oh, that’s right! OK, so 2014 kicked off with a very exciting gig. I adapted The Seagull for Geordie Brookman at State Theatre Co of South Australia. He directed a beautiful production for the Adelaide Festival, performed in traverse in the theatre’s scenery dock, which resonated with the play’s world of playwrights and actors, artifice and histrionics. And to bookend the six-month period, I’ve just opened my script again as Black Swan rehearses their ownproduction of it, directed by Kate Cherry. What a rare gift, to hear one’s words (though full credit of course to Chekhov) spoken by two different casts, in different theatrical and imaginative worlds, six months apart.

In between, I finished up my Patrick White Fellowship at Sydney Theatre Company with the first draft of a play called Make All The Girls Pretty. I spent a joyful week rehearsing for a showing of my musical with composer Phillip Johnston, Do Good And You Will Be Happy, under the auspices of Merrigong Theatre Co. I’ve been teaching for Griffin, I collaborated with composer Andrée Greenwell, got involved at the Sydney Writers’ Festival with AlphabeticalSydney and worked with a number of very talented playwrights on their own work. I’ve just painted my floors. And after three years of trying to get around to it, have finally changed my email address.

I’ve been gathering—and am continuing to gather together—the pieces of a new play. At this very early stage it feels like gold, but if I’m honest it’s as elusive as quicksilver. The search is on for the resonating question: ‘What unspeakable truth lives within the work?’

This six months has felt furiously busy, with very little currently to show. Much of the time I’ve been travelling, mostly for work, and a little for pleasure (which segues into work when you (1) write and/or (2) work in the theatre).

By a strange confluence of coincidence I am working simultaneously on three military-related projects. The one taking up most of my time in this last period relates to the Vietnam War. In January/February this year I was up in Queensland, travelling from Brisbane to as far north as Hervey Bay to interview a number of the veterans of the 1966 Battle of Long Tan for a semi-verbatim theatre piece on that ferocious topic (6RAR, the regiment concerned, was largely drawn from Queensland).

I’ve been stunned, and humbled and moved and intrigued to talk with these men (and a few of the women in their lives). Most of us live in a medium-level day to- day, each with our own sorrows, and many carrying damage from childhood or strong events. But few of us are exposed to what I am calling, for now, the ‘breath of Kali’, the monstrous Hindu goddess of death and destruction. These men have been. So I am trying to bear witness to that.

Thus, in April, I also went to Canberra, to the Australian War Memorial, to research their archives and to talk to more veterans. All this material and these contacts have led to more and more people and information. I’m hoping very much to go to Vietnam itself in October, after which I’ll write my play.

But I’ve also been in the UK for a whirlwind two weeks, in which I saw a lot of theatre and spent time with a lot of people in the theatre there. There’s not space here for much about that—productions carried from the deeply felt, but dated, to the sublime (well, one only, Ivo von Hove’s utterly faithful and utterly riveting production of Miller’s A View From the Bridge at the Young Vic. If you’re in London during the run, run to it!).

Mostly it was useful from the point of view of being immersed for a minute in a viable and muscular industry in a way that is no longer possible in Australia. It’s not that challenges don’t exist there—a 40ish playwright of my acquaintance was complaining about ageism (!)—but writing is still central to the art-form as a whole. The conversations seemed to be about content, as opposed to effect.

It also felt, for the first time ever to me, a bit like one’s own backyard. It’s probably not much use to me, or writers of my generation, but I would urge younger Australian writers to think of the UK as an extension of their natural writing arena. It is not closed to you. You will, however, probably need to plan to spend some regular time there (yes, I know, practicalities and all that) to learn the jungle. My reasoning is that I doubt very much if most writers can have a sustainable playwriting career—I’m thinking a whole life-time’s worth, as opposed to those occasional wonderful periods of advance—in Australia alone. And intellectual property is under threat, so royalties, too, will wither as an income stream. But there is a multiplicity of production houses in the UK looking for really good writing for the theatre. So … put it on your list.

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