Friday, 22 July 2016

What we did the first six months of 2016

It was an excellent six months for 7-ON. In March Hilary curated the 2016 Playwriting Festival for the NSW Writers’ Centre. Donna, Vanessa, Noëlle and Ned were on the program along with—what would be the collective noun for a group of playwrights? A plot?—of new, emerging and established writers. An all round excellent day.

More positive news: We received a New Work grant from the Australia Council Literature Board for the creative development of our new collective project The Seven Social Sins (working title). We had our first weekend intensive workshop last month. At this stage our plan is for the project to have two iterations: a linked series of seven short pieces, plus a script for an immersive, site specific—or to use our preferred term—open frame show.

In February of this year I started on the first year of what I hope will be a three-year Creative Arts PhD at Flinders University. My supervisor is the fabulous (Professor and theatre director) Julian Meyrick, so how good is that? The topic for my doctorate is (loosely, but do you want a double-barrelled academic title in all its glory? I thought not … )—thus—the title is loosely, ‘Political theatre’. This interest has arisen out of my last few plays, The Red Cross Letters (verbatim), Long Tan (semi-verbatim) and What Has Been Taken (fictional but influenced by a number of terrorist events that have occurred over the past few years).

The first two plays are scheduled for production, The Red Cross Letters (STCSA) opens this August 3rd in Adelaide at The Space, in Adelaide Festival Centre Trust and then tours country South Australia; and Long Tan (Brink Productions), opening next April 4th in Adelaide at The Space. This year has also involved ongoing work on both of them, including in particular a workshop for Long Tan. What Has Been Taken also had a workshop with Playwriting Australia in April, working with a great group of actors, plus creatives, Tim Roseman and Iain Sinclair, and dramaturg Jane Fitzgerald. We had an extremely useful and stimulating couple of days, and I’ve worked on a new draft of the play since then.

For the rest, time’s been at a bit of a premium. Rather unexpectedly, I’ve been writing poetry again these last couple of years and published a poem, Kangarilla, Summer, 2016 in the April issue of The Australian Book Review.

The big thing marking these last six months is the submission of my doctoral thesis under the following title: Dialogic Interplay: a Strategy for Representing Difference and Cultural Diversity on stage, and Jump for Jordan, a play. It has been a pleasure to leave academic English behind, and to get to work on a new play called Flame Tree Street under the auspices of the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre.

I’ve also done lots of scriptwriting lecturing and tutoring at the University of Wollongong and Excelsia College (108 students in total!) and run a Page to Stage workshop for Milk Crate Theatre and people recovering from mental illness. I co-facilitated a second stimulating Play Havoc workshop with fellow 7-ONer Hilary, and look forward to many more.

I began working with the research team supporting Dr David Throsby’s latest report into artists’ earnings, or lack there of, and if you find yourself on his list, do participate, as this evidence will crucially support decisions around our evolving cultural policy. Finally, as a board member of Powerhouse Youth theatre, I breathed a sigh of relief when we received four year funding from the most brutal round of Australia Council grants, and was floored by the sheer number of excellent companies who were tossed out of the tiny arts funding boat.

I started 2016 with the production of Teacup in a Storm as part of The Q/Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre’s subscription season. The show, which blends documentary and fictional material, is about the largely invisible work done by carers. People who care for a partner, parent, friend or family member with a disability or enduring health need. It was beautifully and movingly performed by Marie Chanel and Therese Cook and directed—also beautifully—by Nick Atkins. Let’s hope it gets another outing.

I wrote lyrics for Rose & Burr, a six-song cycle that’s a collaboration with composer/musician Waldo Garrido.

Had a read-though of Good with Maps, a monologue cum performance essay, which has a season this November as part of Siren Theatre Company’s ‘Invisible Circus’ program at Sydney’s Kings Cross Theatre. It will be directed by Kate Gaul and performed by Jane Phegan.

Still the thistles … And did I mention that I’m investigating the rant as a performance form?

I was artistic director for the 2016 NSW Writers’ Centre’s Playwriting Festival, which happened in March. A very pleasurable and rewarding day for me, assembling brilliant minds to address pressing subjects. In and around this, I worked on spreading the good word about my two new books, Numerical Street with illustrator Antonia Pesenti, and The Marvellous Funambulist of Middle Harbour, and Other Sydney Firsts, illustrated by Matthew Martin: presenting talks and workshops for the Sydney Writers’ Festival, the Queen’s Club, libraries, schools, historical societies ... I’m working with seven composers, all women, on Seven Stories, and with composer Andree Greenwell on an ambitious new project called The Prayers.

Some teaching: another happy Play Havoc workshop with Donna and a weekend at the NSWWC; some revising of not-quite-ready plays to next draft. I mentored a young playwright for Playwriting Australia’s Lotus programme, and joined the board of the Australian Script Centre.

And my musical with composer Phillip Johnston, Do Good And You Will Be Happy, has been selected by New Musicals Australia for their first round of presentations, so the coming weeks will be devoted to preparing for that.

Two projects I mentioned at the end of last year were both produced around June 2016. The first was the play Trailer commissioned by Tantrum Youth Arts in Newcastle and directed by Anna Kerrigan. The play opened the smaller theatre space at Wyong’s brand new Art House theatre and later did a week in Sydney at ATYP and then in Newcastle as part of the Civic Theatre subscription season. I was very happy with both the play and the production. What’s not to love?

Around the same time, the second play Basin went on in Cootamundra. Produced by Eastern Riverina Arts, Basin was, strictly speaking, written by seven writers in the Riverina region—I was a kind of facilitating playwright and script editor, weaving tales and characters together in a story about a town on the edge of a lake. It was a great process, me flying up to Wagga and Coota to work with this group, and lots of happiness abounding at the outcome. The play is about to end in the theatre at Wagga and I’m sad not to be there but very happy for the seven writers and the fabulous director Scott Howie.

As well as finishing those I have jumped into the pond with a new play to be written for Barking Gecko—an adaptation of Gabrielle Wang’s beautiful novel A Ghost In My Suitcase. I’ve already done a week-long workshop in Melbourne with the gang and it’s been fantastic, can’t wait to see this come to life.

And there has been teaching—young playwrights for the Arts Unit both in Lewisham and at their brilliant State Drama Camp, slightly older playwrights (and other writers) for Eastern Riverina Arts and older playwrights for Wyong Council.

I received an Australia Council grant, for me to write a new play, a lovely shining thing, and All My Eggs a proposed webseries based on my book about fertility and motherhood, Legs Up And Laughing, received funding through Screen Australia’s Gender Matters initiative. Finally, I’ve played with Play School, writing episodes and thrilled to be part of this, their 50th year.

Back home, back at my old desk, back in my spiritual homeland.

The year kicked off with a 7-ON meeting. One that I could attend. It cemented and highlighted everything I love about being part of 7-ON.

I’ve been working on a novel. Interesting process.

Tsunami has been shortlisted, shortlisted, shortlisted. I have almost given up on it, but I can’t.

I got to direct Hilary’s Victim, Sidekick, Boyfriend, Me at the school I’m working at. I’ve also done a bit of writing in everything from the SMH/Age to Crikey’s Daily Review. And, of course, I’ve been F/B-ing.

I’m very excited about our new project, The Seven Social Sins. I’m also very excited to be back  in my home town.

I am flooded at the moment with creative projects so much so I can barely keep up. I am almost through to a complete full draft of the new play (which has taken years) and enjoying the surprises it keeps on tripping me up on. I love this work as it is a return to a strange exploratory language that is thrilling for me.

I’ve finished the text of a children’s book A Most Wondrous Day however the illustrations are giving me grief. I’d be worried if they didn’t.

I have also worked up the blueprint for a large scale play. Creating this pitch gave me tremendous joy but it’s a shame it didn’t get picked up—the blueprint maybe all I ever experience of it.

The abstract paintings continue and you can see them here.

I have been creating a growing volume of drawings and paintings with a mysterious iconography. They have seemingly come out of nowhere and now I must follow through to see where they lead. And of course the harrowing figurines keep growing. I have called them Relics of the Anthropocene Age. Here’s one—

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