creativity, Theatre, thoughts, writing

on taste, art, directors and why

Well it is application season which means it is also rejection season.

This morning I received an email from the Royal Court in London saying that due to the number of applications they received they have decided not to consider the applications of people without work permits for the UK. However, because I really enjoyed writing parts of this application and because re-reading it reminded me of why I love this difficult industry, I’m going to share some extracts here. These were my answers to three of their questions in 250 words or less. Enjoy.

PLUS SIGN ATTACHED at VCA. Photo by Sarah Walker

PLUS SIGN ATTACHED at VCA. Photo by Sarah Walker

George Devine felt the Royal court should make work that was ‘in advance of normal public taste’. Please respond to this with reference to current tastes and how you would like to see theatre develop in the future.

I find it difficult to talk about the concept of ‘taste’. I think perhaps it is my Australian-ness that makes me shy away from the word. Here it is bad taste to talk of taste. But what I do know is that theatre should wait for no one. Theatre should lead rather than follow and should move its public forwards. Stasis is the death of art; shock and surprise our allies. Make them see something they have never seen before from an angle they did not think to look for. Make them feel wrong and right at the same time.

Theatre that has made me gasp is usually the stuff that has changed me. This is not always the case: to aim for gasp alone is to make shallow theatre that will not hold up to deeper evaluation or the passing of time.

I love the current trend of anti-drama that I am seeing on stages – works that climax almost imperceptibly or not at all. In Melbourne we are also currently in the midst of a boom of Queer Theatre, which illuminates assumptions, cultural stereotypes and gender expectations by casting colour- and gender-blind. What is so crucial and exciting about both of these styles is that they pray on our learnt assumptions about theatre. We know the shape of drama and watching it not happen creates the drama in our own bodies rather than on stage. There is safety and, therefore, complacency, in these traditions but power in their sabotage.

Why do writers need directors?

As a writer, I know how vital directors are to my own work, which is why I do not direct my writing. I believe in collaboration and what another pair of eyes can bring but more importantly, I believe that a script is always unfinished until it is performed. Scripts that feel too polished and perfected on the page often feel irrelevant on stage; disconnected from their theatricality, as if they do not need the audience to be there and could exist comfortably on paper. A director guides a writer’s work towards live-ness, coaxing it away from the realms of literary passivity and into the urgent world of live, lived in, responsive, awake theatre. A director is that connection between the literary and the live. They are a hinge between the words and the audience. Sitting outside of the work, they must attempt to examine the work as a spectator, interrogate as a critic and, most importantly, dream its possibilities.

As a director, I seek to serve the writing without holding it above all the other elements of theatre. I believe the greatest disservice a director can do to a writer is to deify their work and create a production that seems only to bow to the words, rather than elevate them.

Why do you think theatre is necessary in our world? And why do you want to work in theatre?

Viktor Shklovski said that art exists “that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony”. I think of this a lot. I think about the power of art to re-awaken our innate wonder and to revitalise our understanding of the world around us. I believe this to be particularly true of theatre, which is built on a live exchange between artists and audience, making it perhaps the most human and immediate of art forms. People enter a space and give us permission to try and transform them. This never ceases to amaze and humble me. With the rise of technological connectivity, I believe that theatre has only become more sacred: it is one of the few places left where people disconnect from the virtual world and instead experience something immediate as a living, breathing community. I love also that theatre is an art form that comes with so much history and learnt expectations, which can be either met or manipulated to serve a message.

I began my artistic life as a classical singer. My art was entirely preoccupied with what was going on in my own body. It was solitary, precise and internalised. When I discovered theatre, I discovered collaboration and an art form so malleable that it can truly transform the world around us. It looks outwards. It makes the stone stony. Theatre has never stopped surprising me. It has never stopped feeling urgent, immediate and intensely personal.

Rehearsal photography for INSOMNIA CAT CAME TO STAY. Photo by Shauna Phoon

Rehearsal photography for INSOMNIA CAT CAME TO STAY. Photo by Shauna Phoon


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