Sunday, 27 December 2015

What we did in 2015

Although we were spread across 3 states and 4 cities, 2015 was a great year for 7-ON. Our immersive show, We are the Ghosts of the Future, was produced in Sydney in November to enthusiastic responses from industry colleagues, The Rocks community, audiences and critics. That it got up was due to a tremendous effort of collective goodwill, from us, our producer, our fabulous director and designer (Harriet Gillies and Hugh O’Connor), a committed cast of 15 performers and a hardworking crew.

Under different titles, the piece had been ‘in development’ for a long time, and we’d written several versions of it. The scale of those multiple iterations varied, but our commitment to a site-specific work was constant. We’ve all learnt heaps from the experience and are keen to write more immersive theatre—or to use our preferred term: open frame theatre. (We’ve borrowed that name from American theatre-maker Mikhael Tara Garver who wrote a series of articles On Immersive Theater for Howlround.)

In 2016 we’ll be spread across only 2 states and 3 cities. We’ve got this exciting idea we’re looking to develop, let’s see what the new year brings us …

Much writing. Much travelling.

A stint as dramaturg at the Playwriting Australia Festival working on the lovely Ben Ellis’s new piece, Keith. A bit of a win with a nomination in the Patrick White Awards for a play called What Has Been Taken, about terrorism in Pakistan.

A workshop for Long Tan, one of my two scheduled productions in 2016. This is a verbatim theatre piece about the 1966 Battle of Long Tan with Brink Productions. The production has been on again, off again owing to the Federal Arts funding debacle. Anyhoo … The production is now confirmed for August 2016, the 50th anniversary of the battle, thanks to a major grant from the SA Ministry for the Arts.

Work on a new draft of the other production scheduled for 2016, The Red Cross Letters with the State Theatre Company of South Australia. This will also open in Adelaide in August 2016, and will tour—hmmm, well, a lot of places, hopefully to a theatre near you. Both of these works are military in theme. It’s been quite an education for someone who’s been more or less a life-long pacifist. So much suffering. And nothing, but nothing, is black and white.

A period in France, researching one new and one existent piece. And a lot of writing across a number of genres. Very few of us can make a living from just the one strand of work. I’m no different, so I’ve been pursuing a range of options. We’ll see how they pan out.

2015 was one of those years where you start thinking oh God I have no work I am going to have to toss it all in and grow vegetables to feed the family and/or sign up for midwifery which was something I always wanted to do actually but then, things started to go off like a bunger.

Perhaps that’s a good thing for the arty minded playwright personage to recall; the year may start with no regular wage, no regular hours, no actual job and then suddenly there are deadlines akimbo and the hard work of writing and indeed wrighting to be done. I write for television as well as theatre and this year there was a fair bit of a well known children’s show which in fact I too loved as a small child and as a small teenager and even as a small idealistic uni grad wanting-to-be-an-actor type many moons ago, and so how delightful to be writing the words for the show, which I totally love with all my heart. All this year I was writing for the small child within my soul which luckily was also for other small children too. Yay, the joy.

OK but back to being a playwright. I was commissioned in 2014 by the Ensemble Theatre to write a one act play (Light begins to Fade) about WW1 and ANZACs and this went on (directed by Mark Kilmurray) in April. I was also commissioned by Rock Surfers Theatre to write a monologue set in a car (ShotGun/A Sea of Tranquility) for the Spectrum Festival. Tantrum Theatre gave me a full commission to write a new play called Trailer. The play was further developed through Play Writing Australia’s 2015 National Script Workshop and will be produced in 2016 in Newcastle, Wyong and Sydney. I have also been going to Wagga to work with Eastern Riverina Arts writers on an amazing project/play called Basin. This is still developing but it will be tops and also produced next year in the Riverina. And of course there was 7-ON. Yay the love. There are other schemes which will remain unnamed for now because, as a playwright, naturally, I am hopeful yet superstitious as all get out. Instead let me say that 2015 was a great year in many ways, a shit year in many others, but there must always be hope, amidst joy and love. vbxx

2015 began with Dino Dimitriadis’ rapid-response project Asylum, for which I wrote a piece. I then jumped (imaginatively) from Christmas Island to 1950s Paris, with my adaptation of Albert Lamorisse’s film The Red Balloon, written for Black Swan, and its first production for children.

The ‘children’ theme continued through the year with two books. Following up Alphabetical Sydney (2013), illustrator Antonia Pesenti and I launched Numerical Street in November. A month later, with illustrator Matthew Martin I launched The Marvellous Funambulist of Middle Harbour, and Other Sydney Firsts, a history of Sydney in verse.

I was a lyricist for Andrée Greenwell’s gorgeous song-cycle Gothic—part of Vivid Festival, and spent some months reworking my musical Do Good And You Will Be Happy with composer Phillip Johnston.

I wrote an adaptation of a classic for Black Swan, and a treatment for a TV series. As director of the 2016 Playwriting Festival for the NSW Writers’ Centre, I sent a lot of emails. Alphabetical Sydney reared its colourful head again with theatre company zin, as we workshopped a theatrical adaptation of it. And the book just popped up on Prime Minister Turnbull’s ‘summer reading list’.

I awoke on 1 Jan 2015 full of anticipation.

My play, Tsunami, was progressing well. I had started writing a novel and was excited (and petrified) to be exploring a new form of writing. The past few years writing had offered up plenty of hope and a little joy.

My first project for 2015 was directing my short play, Love’s Magic, with a cast of Year 8 students from Melbourne Grammar and Melbourne Girl’s Grammar. It was the first time the play, originally written for Bell Shakespeare, had been performed by a large cast of teenagers.

I continued working on Tsunami, travelling up to Sydney to work with Lee Lewis and Nick Schlieper. Of course, I fantasised about a production, but had to settle for being short listed for the Patrick White Award. I live in hope.

My novel was daunting. Every time I sat down to scribble some more I had to overcome serious self doubt. The writer’s curse.

I ran a very rewarding session of my playwriting course, Finding Your Voice, at Kerang High School in partnership with Regional Arts Victoria. I then directed another co production between MGS and MGGS, this time, of my play Alice Dreaming. It was performed at Malthouse and neatly bookended my Melbourne experience.

To end the year with a 7-ON project was the perfect way to prepare for a return to Sydney. Methinks there will be more to come.

Two scripts that were in the pipeline for a while both went to air on ABC Radio National early 2015: The History of the Single Girl, and a nonfiction feature, The Other Polish Explorer. Around the same time I contributed a couple of shorts to Apocalypse Theatre’s Asylum, one of which was also incorporated into Australian Performance Exchange’s Origin Transit Destination.

For a lot of the year just gone, I’ve been deep in The Book of Thistles. I presented Eat More Thistles! as part of the delicious Food & Words event in September, and I’ll be staying with the thistles well into 2016.

I have what I guess you’d call an umbrella project: Can Theatre Change the World? The first work under that umbrella, Dear Scott— was presented at Melbourne’s fortyfivedownstairs in May to a standing ovation. I’m in the process of updating that work—and still waiting for a reply from Peter Dutton to the letter I sent him on Christmas Day 2014! Of the 2 other performance works in Can Theatre Change the World? one is outlined, the other at the dreaming stage.

In September/October I took part in a creative development at The Q/Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre. Teacup in a Storm puts the spotlight on care-givers, and the show is part of the Joan’s 2016 subscription season.

I’ve thought a lot about the responsibility of artists and writers to speak out about more than our own industrial issues—important as those are to us. I’ve wondered about the timidity (or maybe indifference) of some, and decided that for me personally, this is no time to bite my tongue.

Well I’ve finally cracked a play I’ve been working on for the past two years. It’s a work in theme about devastation and as such demands a completely different approach. I’ve worked and worked on its form to find a new language to contain it. I won’t know if I’ve succeeded until it hits the floor so we shall see …

As I’ve noted previously on the blog I’ve been driven to make these strange demented and tormented small clay figurines. I have no idea where they are coming from or why and they are now taking over all my bench space and as of this last month they have developed into giant neo-classical faces in scale to the small figurines. It’s looking like it could be a parade of the remnants of a lost civilisation so narratives around it are beginning to form. But whatever is at the heart of it there is strong creative impulse to just follow my unconscious on this one.

Still on the visual art side—which I strongly believe informs the playwriting—I’ve a series of oil paintings called Resolution: Sublimate at Platform72 Gallery. These have been few years in the making and I’m delighted they have been completed and are out there in the world. Here’s the link to the work and a little about my approach:

May it be a creative year coming for all xox

In January, I wrote a piece for subtle nuance theatre’s multi-writer project And Now To Bed which tackled the conversational taboo ‘sex’ with complexity and wise hindsight. It was really delightful to be part of their team.

From March, I taught scriptwriting at the University of Wollongong.

In June, students in NIDA’s Performance Lab performed Bread and Water, a play I wrote in response to the concepts and characters which emerged from a series of exploratory workshops.

In August, my play Jump For Jordan won the 2015 AWGIE Award for Stage. An achievement that had always seemed out of reach, it will help keep my spirits up as I tumble back to playwrighting square one.

In October, my adaptation of Monkey … Journey to the West wrapped up its national tour, and the cudgels, puppets and fat suits went on sale to live again in various props cupboards and bedrooms.

In December, I re-engaged with communities in Canowindra and Cowra to further develop the concept for a site specific show, and was reminded of their indomitable and inspiring passion for the well-being of people and place. But … as I write, I am digesting the news that in 2007 there were 21 youth arts organisations funded through the Australia Council. In 2012 there were 13. In 2015 there are 3. Powerhouse Youth Theatre, whose board I am on, are among the three still allowed to stand. This is an unspeakable and reprehensible and reckless and devastating state of affairs … and just one of multiple blows to the crucial small-to-medium sector. Why? For what purpose? What good comes of crushing these life-enhancing legacies?

No comments: