Thursday, 9 February 2017

Reporting back ... what we did the last six months of 2016

We try to check in every six months with what we’ve each/all been up to. We’re a little behind the beat with this most recent ‘report’ as we (and the rest of the world!) are well and truly into 2017 now. Still … the last six months of 2016 found us in our usual range of work beginning, ending, pending, and planning. It’s great to watch each other’s ups and downs … in slow personal periods to take pleasure in someone else’s fiery accomplishments, and in those full-on times to know that around the corner may well be a temporary becalming … so here it is. We’ll do our usual thing of alphabetical order, which means … Donna’s first!

In the middle of the year, my play Jump for Jordan received a staged reading by the Australia Theatre Company in Los Angeles, and much to my relief, the Aussie sense of humour was no barrier at all to the creative team and audience.

A few months later, I followed in my play’s footsteps and went to the U.S. to soak up the desert at Joshua Tree, and catch up with loved ones and fav playwright Christine Evans in Washington DC. After a brain-mulching 5-year stint in academia, for a blessed month, I pretty much did nothing but be, and sleep, and look, and laugh, and dream.

Back home, when I had the wits to pick up a pen again, it was not for a theatre company, but for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Until mid-2017, I’ll be working with a terribly talented writing team to place about 4000 survivor stories on record. The Commission is an effective and healing force for change, and I’m proud to be able to support its work.

In September, I moderated a great AWG Write Night event with Melbourne playwright Patricia Cornelius called Write Like A Man. Third time lucky, I was awarded a Literature Board grant for a new play The Secret Warzone. I also received the examiners’ reports for my doctoral thesis, made a grand total of four changes to the bibliography, and got the thing gone for good.

In October, I won an AWGIE for my radio adaptation of Spirit which was the first play I wrote for a 7-ON project, and thanked the play’s producer Eastside Radio FM for filling the radio drama vacuum left by the ABC. In November, I went to Tasmania with International Grammar’s Year Tens as a tutor on their Writing the Island project, and ran the introductory workshop of the Page to Stage course for Playwriting Australia and the NToP which will run through until June. In December, I joined the Artistic Advisory Council of Milk Crate Theatre, and brought Flame Tree Street, my latest full length play, definitively into existence.

Throughout the year, as a board member, I saw Powerhouse Youth Theatre produce shows which ripped up the Griffin and Opera House stages, or took over the streets of Fairfield. They also hosted a damn fine Christmas party at the Bearded Tit in Redfern.

Well, honestly what is there to say about the last six months of 2016 except let’s all move on? No, actually, there is loads to say but frankly I’m a bit depressed right now and feeling A Bit Shit so you’ll have to chat amongst yourselves. This year my new play Trailer was produced (beautifully) by Tantrum Theatre and directed (gorgeously) by Anna Kerrigan. A second play on mid-year was Basin which was produced and commissioned by Eastern Riverina Arts and directed by the mighty Scott Howie. My mind is on Basin right now because yesterday I received the brand new shiny published script in the mail which always makes a playwright go Tee Hee! Or at least this one does.

Basin was a very interesting work, created by seven regional writers and myself. I was the Facilitating Playwright and, I guess, script editor on the work and we began with me running playwriting workshops and then editing material that came out of these workshops into one big beautiful play – a three-hander. It was a fabulous process involving a bit of to-and-fro-ing from Newcastle to Wagga etc and a lot of emailing. But it worked! Yay us!

Towards the end of the year I was head-down-bum-up (so to speak) on a new play for Barking Gecko in Perth. This is an adaptation of Gabrielle Wang’s A Ghost in My Suitcase, set in China and exploring notions of identity and grief as well as a bunch of feisty gals and some rather unpleasant ghosts. Fun as. Still working on it now … excuse me if I bust out a few kung fu moves as I write this.

The other project I worked on in 2016 was a web series based on a book I wrote about infertility and other Hilarious Adventures. The series is called All Our Eggs. We got development funding from the Gender Matters scheme and before the end of 2016 I was able to squeeze out (see what I did there) eps 1-4. (9 in total, rest written by fabbo director Martha Goddard). Not entirely sure where we’re up to now but Watch This Space. 

And finally…we got a puppy. He’s a miniature schnauzer and I have fallen deeply in love. Tip: Puppies are very good for writing. Also when feeling A Bit Shit. Get one.

The latter half of 2016 was mostly about pushing things along that were already in motion. I worked on a new draft of a commission for the STC, which I had needed to put aside for a long time before finding a way forward with it. I continued on Seven Stories with Ensemble Offspring and a band of brilliant composers who all happen to be women, working towards a performance at City Recital Hall in June. With composer Andrée Greenwell, I visited choirs in Bega and Bermagui in preparation for our work on her piece Ten Wishes For The Future of Our Children: Saying No To Domestic Violence. I had a very joyful time collaborating with Justine Clarke and Alice Osborne on the kids’ show Look! Look! It’s A Gobbledygook!, adapted from Justine’s children’s books. And most recently it’s been all about reconceiving Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree for the stage, thanks to the National Theatre of Parramatta.

Getting out and working with other people is always such a pleasure when you spend much of your time alone. So as well as working with these artists, it was rejuvenating doing some teaching (NSW Writers’ Centre; Griffin) and dramaturgy (Clare Testoni’s Heed The Spark for PWA’s National Script Conference).

The highlight of the last six months was Good With Maps at Sydney’s Kings Cross Theatre in November, as part of Siren Theatre Company’s Invisible Circus program. It was a very happy process taking the piece from page to a production where every element was in sync. Beautifully performed by Jane Phegan, we got rave reviews and great audience responses. Kate Gaul received a Sydney Theatre Awards 2016 nomination for Best Direction and Nate Edmunson won a Sydney Theatre Awards 2016 for Best Score or Sound Design. And so the good news is that Good With Maps will have further outings in 2017/18.  

Apart from Good With Maps, it’s been thistles and, well, trying not to feel overwhelmed by the world’s lurch to the political right: Brexit, Trump, Duterte, and of course our own homegrown conservatives and climate-change deniers. A carnival of nationalism, hate-speech, bullshit and corruption. On the up-side—please, let there be an up-side!—I’m hoping this will lead to a resurgence of political theatre. The times demand it. In Svendborg Poems, penned in exile in Denmark in the 1930s, Brecht wrote: ‘In the dark times/Will there also be singing?/Yes, there will also be singing./About the dark times.’

Let’s get singing.

The last fortnight of 2016 I spent in Korea. Part research, part holiday.

This has been a period of slogging-on for me. I had the great satisfaction of my verbatim theatre piece, The Red Cross Letters, being presented at The Space at the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust by State Theatre of SA in August, 2106. We (director, Andy Packer, musicians Matt Gregan and Quincy Grant and actors Lizzy Falkland, Elizabeth Hay, Rory Walker and Matt Crook, set and lights, Geoff Cobham, lights and video design Chris Petrides) got great reviews and wonderful community responses from audiences all around South Australia. I think there’s more in this material and I’m hoping to be able to follow it up.

And …I completed my first year of a PhD in Political Theatre at Flinders University. My stars, but there is some interesting stuff out there! Having a whole university library to trawl through is…well. Some of us are slightly greedy pigs. I know it’s work. But, frankly, I’m finding this late-life mind-expansion activity a bit of a thrill right now, so I hope it continues to deliver that hit along with the inevitable self-doubts etc.

I’m also continuing to write and publish poetry. It’s a bit of a shock to the management after all these years obsessed by the theatre, but…it is what is is, as they say. So. Good fun there, too.

And I’m slightly nervously preparing for (1) a workshop, then (2) rehearsals, then (3) the production in early April (again at The Space at the AFCT, this time produced by Brink Productions) of another semi-verbatim play. This one is about about the 1966 Battle of Long Tan, in Vietnam, and is called (surprise?) Long Tan. This play affects more than just me, so I am highly aware of the responsibility involved. Deep breath. We have a great team (Chris Drummond, directing; Luke Smiles, sound and music; Chris Petrides, lights; Wendy Todd, design, amongst others), some really lovely actors, all 12 of them (!) We’ll all be giving it our best shot. I hope some of you may come along to see it.

Ned’s just started a new job so we’re just going to refer you to his excellent web-site for his current thoughts and news and when he comes up for air, he’s promised to post a few more for 7-ON!

Sometimes writing has to be fought for as one fights against the perfectionist self. In the last six months, the written world has been in slo-mo. That’s what unrelenting and rigorous editing will do, but it’s been worth it as The Play has determinately taken wing.

I have also been in the midst of placing a number of my other plays, which have never seen the world, into safe hands for closed, industry or public readings. I’m at that stage where only this process can push the works forward.

As usual, I’ve been working on a new visual art series called “Afterimages”. These are miniature paintings featured in pop-ups at markets around Sydney. Some of the paintings can be seen here:

Finally, I’m still continuing with the disturbing and strange Relics of the Anthropocene Age. The image itself seems somewhat theatrical.


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