The Red Book Series, thoughts, Welcome to Nowhere

2015/a year in moments and numbers

1/ intro

The year starts scared. It starts in Adelaide. After months of applications and rejections in Melbourne, I flee back to my parent’s house. The year starts with me saying I won’t come back: Adelaide is a soft place to crumple. I wander their garden and eat snow peas off the bush. I wander down rivers with my dogs. I swim (flounder) in the ocean in borrowed bathers. I ride a borrowed bike through the streets. I feel very far away from everyone, including myself.

Then a phone call comes. It says “there’s a job if you want it. It is in Melbourne and you will have to be a brave, badass grown up lady.” And I say “yes”. And I go back to Melbourne. And the year is as full of bravery and badassery as I can make it.

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Photo by Sarah Walker

2/

Outside our dark wood room, a line is forming: 55 people, speaking Spanish. Someone has brought a Venezuelan flag. Others have dressed in the national colours. Behind the wooden doors in the hot, carpeted dark of our tiny theatre, the comedian is warming up as only a Venezuelan would: by teaching his theatre tech to salsa. Our nightly ritual of laughter, loud music, nerves and perhaps a touch of homesickness.

3/

A woman is shaking, screaming into a microphone. She wears a cape and trails red wool like menstrual blood from her underpants. She is tangled in her mic cable in such a way that I just want to run up on stage and explain to her proper cabling technique. (Has she never heard of Under Over?) On either side of her stand the silhouettes of soldiers with heads bowed. They are illuminated by a rainbow chase sequence and the words ‘Lest We Forget’ arch above the tiny stage.

An older woman comes around with a tray of vegetarian spring rolls. She wears earplugs and a glazed smile that seems to say, “I hate this but these people must be fed.”

The raffle is drawn. The prize is a basket containing spam, party poppers, medicinal tea, halal chicken stock and grass jelly. I don’t win. The woman screams on.

4/ some messages i received during my brief foray into the world of okcupid:

  • Hi there! You seem lovely and the robots apparently feel we won’t re-enact the thunderdome upon meeting, so I thought I’d say hello 😀
  • Hello fellow cool person on OkCupid. Nobody around me seems awake at this hour (understandably). I’ve watched a bunch of movies tonight that have me too depressed to sleep, so I’m stuck browsing this site – occasionally consulting with my cat on my matches whenever she wanders into my room. We both agree you seem all right and are mathematically probably not my enemy.
  • You rock! Let’s gets married 🙂
  • Hi, I’m looking for a relationship where the lady gets to see others and I remain faithful. If that appeals please let me know.
  • Fancy meeting you here. Inundating yourself in the lower end of the human evolutionary spectrum and the inevitable associated six-pack pics?
  • If you search against your black and white photo it slams you right there. I give a lot of energy to see how real a person is. If I want to talk to fictional and characters, I can look from within. So when I truly want connect, I confirm they are not a spook.
  • don’t judge I was really drunk and it was with a couple and the guy actually got pretty territorial about her pussy, so I tried ass… but I am not a small guy, maybe only the head went inside, she jumped up ran to the toilet and never came out, it was awkward, so I left…
  • do you think we’ll go on a date? Or just see each other at rehearsal?
  • … and here I was thinking we got along so well! Take care Fleur, all the best x

5/ a girl in a manic up swing talks faster than i can listen

She tells me about her ex boyfriend:

“He had ‘lost soul’ tattooed on his eyelids and stars on his dick.”

It is such a majestic sentence and she is so overwhelming that I decide the night can’t be topped and I leave.

6/ things i learnt this year include:

  • How to wash my hair with baking soda and vinegar.
  • What ‘Shark Week’ means. (I was disappointed that it wasn’t an elongated American holiday celebrating sharks and all the contributions they have made to society.)
  • The difference between an electronic musician and a DJ.
  • How to syringe cough medicine down my dog’s throat.
  • What my natural hair colour is now.
  • That I have a grey hair.
  • My nephew’s name.

7/

January 12th: This photo arrives in my inbox.

2016felix

I carry it with me all year. This was the year of Felix. Of waiting for Felix to be here and safe.

Boxing Day 2015: For the very first time, we watch Felix sit up all by himself. He sways back and forwards and then slowly, slowly he topples to the right, drooling all the way.

8/ my 2015 resolutions:

  • Direct a play of my choosing. (Exit Everything)
  • Don’t complain about theatre as much as in 2014. (Turns out it is much easier when you are getting paid.)
  • Don’t post any old modelling photos or use them as profiles. (Nailed it.)
  • Spend less money on my hair. (Which was easy.)
  • Wear less make up. (Which was terrifying.)

9/ my proudest moments: one of three

Opening night of Kindness, by Bridget Mackey. Having followed that play through from her very initial idea, seeing it fully realised on stage makes me I cry in the dark. I reach back behind me and squeeze her hand as the audience applauds.

10/ some numbers:

  • 74: the number of theatre productions I saw.
  • 12: the number of theatre productions I paid to see.
  • 454: the number of actors I saw in productions.
  • 252: the number of actors that were women.
  • 52: the number of actors of colour.
  • 13: how many play readings I saw.
  • 15: how many productions or readings I worked on.
  • 10: how many scripts I assessed.
  • 272: how many nights I slept without medication. (I beat last year’s record – 103 – by May 17th this year.)
  • 55: the most nights I managed in a row.
  • 79: how many yoga classes I’ve been to since I joined my studio in June.
  • 12: how many OkCupid dates I went on.
  • 5: how many people I kissed.
  • 1: how many people whose hand I held as we slept.

11/ a question mark

“What are you thinking?”

I have a moment to decide how to answer. I decide to be brave, foolish, drunk and love-struck.

“I’m thinking we probably should stop going on these dates.

Or we could just make out.”

He says “hmm, interesting – ” or something similarly terrifying but in that moment, the playwright of the night, Declan Greene, appears. (Of course he does, for Declan must interrupt the hetero-normative, both on stage and off.) For five minutes we say words about theatre, his process, the immense complexity of his play and I am so proud and excited for him but all the while a question mark hang in the air over my head. The hyphen that sliced that response in two has lodged itself somewhere in my oesophagus.

Then Declan is gone, and the two of us make sounds like “hmm” and “so” and “yeah”. We walk. We walk away from the opening night dizziness and into the dark and yes, it is raining a little, just enough to make my hair ridiculous and my jumper smell of wet dog. We stop on Grant Street.

We say some words with our mouths. We smile with our mouths. It is the smile of two brave people who are about to kiss in the rain.

12/ an actual conversation i had:

“It is perfect but… I don’t think – “

“How much do you have?”

“He’s done the maths. It turns out, essentially nothing.”

“Well, how about this: I’ll give you the space for a cut of ticket sales. We’ll take 30, you take 70, plus whatever you get from the bar.”

“That is… amazing! But we still need a set… We don’t even have money for that.”

“What do you need?”

“The first act doesn’t need much but the second act is in a post-apocalyptic cave or something.”

“We’ll I’ve got a post-apocalyptic bunker in the basement. Some students built it for a film shoot. If you promise to get rid of it at the end, you can use that. Would that do?”

That was John Paul, giving The City They Burned a second Melbourne season.

13/ my proudest moments: two of three.

Sarah Walker reading at Women of Letters, blowing everyone away, making a room laugh and cry in turns. And there’s me not being even a tiny bit surprised by her amazingness (we’ve known each other a long time) but feeling so, so achingly proud to know and love that woman.

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Yoga by the Murray.

14/

In an effort to escape the fluorescent bulbs of our hotel room, he has filled the place with tea candles. The balcony doors are open. The tiny flames wriggle in the breeze. Mosquitoes vibrate against the fly screen. Out there in the darkening world, the river flows past us, giant and oblivious.

18/ driving down the freeway at night:

“We thought we could stay close with our Christian friends and just not be Christian with them. But in the end, we lost practically all of them.”

Behind us, the dogs are snoring.

I say “thank you”. I thank my father and my absent mother for the choice they made. I tell him I’m so glad to have grown up the way that I did.

“I think about it a lot; the choice you made. I think you were both so brave.”

And they were. We travel on, down a golden river of tungsten light.

15/ motion sickness

Facebook’s ‘On This Day’ feature leaves me with Tralfamadorian motion sickness: a sense of swinging between many different presents, haphazardly.

Up pops an alert and I am transported to a day on which my grandmother is still a part of my life. A day when I cut her nails and tease her for sleeping with a bag of old corks in her bed because she’s heard they help cramps. I take photos of flowers I’ve cut from her garden and I watch the news beside her and roll my eyes every time she calls Gillard ‘That Woman’.

Like someone in a dream, I cannot yell “The train is coming!”, “It’s behind you!” or “Time’s almost up!” The days tick by for Past Fleur and Past Flo. Days spent trying to stop her from eating so much chocolate and trying to stop her from waiting at her front gate for the taxi when she could just as easily wait inside. And then the days run out. Then miraculously begin again because time is no longer linear. Flo and Fleur, a year younger, begin their last year once more, moving obliviously towards oblivion.

16/ my resolutions for 2016:

  • To find what it is that I need in each project or job to do it joyously. Follow my joy. Work with joy. Articulate that joy.
  • Glorify balance rather than overwork.
  • Love courageously.
  • Go to yoga 180 times.

17/ yesterday

Sitting in the car outside of the pharmacy, I take my painkillers and cry.

18/ my proudest moments: number three

When I see what Emma Valente and co. did with my stage direction: ‘Maisy falls back on the bed. Stars come out on the covers and glitter across the stage. The two bodies seem to float in space. Galaxies collapse and are built in the creases of their arms and the softness of their bellies.’

 

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Photo by David Sheehy.

19/

On the other side of the world, a little girl is telling us about Space. She works her way through the planets with a useful fact about each one (“it has rings”, “it is very small”, “it has a volcano but the volcano is sleeping”). Once we pass Pluto we learn that comets are “sparkly” and that then there is the Milky Way.

“What’s the Milky Way?”

“It’s our galaxy.”

“What’s a galaxy?”

“It’s all sparkly and all together.”

“Do you tell your baby brother about space?”

“No. He’s too little to understand space.”

So am I, I think. Perhaps you have to be the right amount of little and big to be sure you know what a galaxy is. Perhaps Almost Four is the perfect age for understanding space.

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Photo by David Kilpatrick

20/ a word

It has been years since I used the word ‘boyfriend’. I am more comfortable with unfinished sentences and vague hand gestures.

Once, back in 2013, I said, “the guy I’m dating” in front of The Guy I Was Dating and he hissed, “we’re not dating”. We stopped doing whatever it was we were doing not long after that.

Which makes it seem like I was uncomfortable without definitions. Like I’ve spent four years longing for clarity. And I haven’t. I’ve spent four years longing to feel ready for clarity. And now I am.

‘Boyfriend’ still feels foreign. It feels italicised. Like an invitation for questions. Like it isn’t mine to use. Like I might be accused of mispronunciation, or cultural appropriation. It is so outside of me.

And yet, as anxious and unsure as I am every time the word leaves my mouth, I am so proud to be saying it. So proud to declare with those syllables that I care for someone and they care for me. That we can make out pretty much any time and hold hands in the dark of theatres. I say those two syllables with terror in my eyes and an increased heart rate. I say them ready to be corrected, rejected and neglected and yet I am not. I am smiled at, hugged, kissed, affirmed, celebrated. This is the year of complete sentences.

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interview, My own plays, Theatre, Welcome to Nowhere, writing

fleur kilpatrick: welcome to nowhere, aliens, influences, beginnings

The final Welcome to Nowhere Playwright interview: Emily O’Connor and Olivia Bishop interviewed me. Which feels terribly narcissist to post an interview with myself but I guess my usual entries are just me shouting at the internet without the guiding hand of outside interviewers so let’s just embrace it. I am one of five playwrights commissioned by Monash University to write this new work along with Angus Cerini, Zoey Dawson, Daniel Keene and Morgan Rose. As part of the process, I’ve had student actors interview the creatives. So enjoy!

Photo: Piper Huynh

Photo: Piper Huynh

What brought you to writing, and why specifically theatre? Did it start with other kinds of writing?

I came to theatre really young, so it was first form that I feel in love with. I arrived in theatre by being vindictive. I’d had just a really horrible traumatic experience changing schools, and so I was like “I know, I’ll write a play about it and make people feel really guilty”. That was my whole motive! So this play won the South Australian State Theatre’s Young Playwright’s competition, and the prize for that was that they spent a week workshopping my play with a group of professional actors, a dramaturge and a director, and then they did a staged reading of my play. It was truly terrible.

What was it about, what was it?

It was about me being an angsty teenager and having my life ruined by these teachers! It was just entirely to make them feel bad. I knew it was bad at the time. I have a really clear memory of being like “the instant this week finishes, I’ll never read this again, but I know what a good experience it is”.

I’d been a classical singer and that’s so internal. It’s so about what’s going on inside body. Workshopping for a week just made me aware of what an incredibly collaborative art form theatre was. That week was such a gift. I came to Melbourne to study singing and I was like “Why am I doing this? This is terrible, this is so much more boring than theatre!” And so I dropped out of that six months in, and have been doing theatre ever since.

You direct and occasionally perform in things as well, but is there something about writing that really draws you to it? I mean, which do you prefer?

Um, I don’t know if I should say which I prefer because then people will only hire me for that…

I love both writing and directing because they use really different parts of my brain. I direct from a place of uncertainty and I enjoy that. But you kind of more charismatic in your uncertainty. You’ve sort of got to come in and be like “look, I don’t quite know yet but I know how we’ll figure this out”. With writing, I kind of love that I get to just try and work my stuff out myself, and people around me support that. I don’t have to lead. I can just embrace that unknown. What was the other part of the question? Which do I prefer and…?

Yeah, what is it about writing that draws you to it?

I think I write theatre because I love both words and the visual. I love having the opportunity to create images through other people. I really enjoy stage directions. I don’t write them often, but when I do I try to create emotive, poetic, impossible ideas for people to play with. They are as much an offer as dialogue.

I love how collaborative theatre writing is. A lot of the time there’s this expectation that writers write in isolation in this cabin in a wood somewhere. And I mean there’s still a lot of writing that’s lonely and private and has to be but playwriting is like you tried to be an introvert and failed… Its the most collaborative form of writing there is. And I love that. I’m so needy as a writer. I have my group of friends that I’ll just be like “Hey, can you come over? I just – I just really need someone to read this to me, right now, and I have dogs and cups of tea on offer. That’s what I got for you”.

When you are writing, do you find yourself putting on that director’s hat and being like, “This is how I envision this piece” before its even workshopped?

I’m really proud of the fact that I don’t. I think being a director has taught me to have immense faith in directors. I love leaving things incomplete. I think a good script should feel unfinished on the page, because that’s not the form it’s meant to exist in. I’m really proud that I embrace that, and that I’m good at leaving that space, and leaving room for a director.

Moving on to Welcome to Nowhere can you tell us a bit about your process? What prompts you might have been given, or what first inspired you to start writing the play?

I could probably show you… Actually no I don’t have that book with me. I drew a map. I got into mind maps, I drew a map with lots of little pictures and arrows, like… to try and figure it out. And I drew a picture of an alien. I just… It seemed that the most liminal or Between Space you could be in was not knowing which planet you’d end up on. Mars One had been on my mind because of a really beautiful podcast that I’d listened to, which was this girl talking about waiting to find out if she was going to Mars. There was something so human, and casual about how she talked about it, but I’m also like “who the fuck wants to leave this planet?!” That is so weird to me. I think it’s really good to start with a question like that: “Who would this person be?” The other element of it is that it’s a one-night stand. I feel like those are kind of liminal spaces as well, particularly after the sex has happened: “… And now we just…”

The mind map I drew when I first started thinking about the concept of 'liminality'.

The mind map I drew when I first started thinking about the concept of ‘liminality’.

“Are you staying over, are you leaving, are you…?”

“Oh I’ve got… I’ve got… a thing tomorrow morning. I mean I could… No, it’s a bit later, it’s like 10, that’s fine I can… Do you mind if I… stay…?” There’s that weird kind of uncertainty as you wait for morning that I think is really interesting. I liked smooshing those two uncertainties together like that.

Then whatever I write is often influenced by what I’ve been reading, or seeing. I feel like the beginning is quite influenced by The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas. That chorus was really intriguing me: how you tell a story communally. There’s other influences which you guys have noticed, some of which I wasn’t necessarily aware of but don’t surprise me: Slaughterhouse Five is my favourite book. I’ve read that so many times. I wasn’t necessarily thinking of it at the time but I kind of loved that Emma saw Slaughterhouse in it.

I know that you said that you like to keep the directing and the writing separate, but when you’re writing the characters do you envision them? Like with this did you visualise, um, mannerisms, or maybe what the alien looks like, or… was there kind of that sort of process? Were they based on real people at all, or are they sort of just…

Well, at the beginning I really didn’t even know what gender they’d be. I wrote them as A and B. When I showed the first draft to Emma I went “I feel like I really want A to be a girl, just because I don’t see female characters like that very often.” Then I’d written about ‘dick’ so B had to be a guy. The alien took me a little while longer. I think you guys saw a draft where it was called ‘alien/scientist’. I wasn’t quite sure where that was sitting for a little while; was it going to be an alien or a scientist? Then in rehearsal Leticia (the set designer) said it was about curiosity. Hearing that really influenced the final drafts. The idea of the alien’s curiosity about them as well as Henry’s curiosity about Maisy and Maisy’s total lack of curiosity about anything Earth-bound. That really help me shape it.

Apart from curiosity, what are the other key themes that are dealt with in ‘Inertia’?

Space… Inertia: momentum or a lack of momentum was really interesting to me. That opening scene is all about Maisy knowing things and doing all this stuff and what an amazing, driven, young person she is. And then you see her and she’s just stopped and stuck. Being in stasis like that really interested me… Um… Yeah.

I think that’s also just me totally embracing nerdiness! It’s the nerdiness thing I’ve written. The big romantic speech? The most romantic thing in my head was making out under whalebones at a museum! But how hot is that?! …So yeah that’s kind of, I think it’s sort of embracing the beauty of trying for something bigger than you. And that’s maths, that’s science, that’s space, that’s all that stuff. And I think there’s a lot of parallels in science and art. They are both about trying to understand the world around you.

Obviously because I’m playing the alien I’m quite fascinated with that character. I guess I’m still in the process of figuring out what the alien is. I was wanting to ask you, as a device what does the alien serve as?

I think that from the beginning, a lot of the writing has been about being watched. Of Mars being watched, then Maisy being watched, and being willing to put herself on what’s basically a life-long reality TV show. I wanted a sense of someone watching them constantly. But also this alien is from a planet that has been watch for as long as we’ve been able to look up. An earlier draft said something like “we’ve explore Mars with our minds for so long and now we’re actually going to put our feet there”. Maisy’s going to be the invader. Maisy’s part of an invading force.

In a way, Maisy’s going to take on the role as the alien.

Yeah, Maisy will become the alien. I think it’s interesting to think of someone from a civilisation on the brink of being invaded just watching and not actually taking any steps to stop it. Just observing this moment of transition… this moment… this liminal moment before the next stage of our relationship with their planet.

And then to think that we on earth will be able to look out into space and think that there are people out there looking back at us!

Totally!

It’s terrifying!

Going back to the actual writing of ‘Inertia’, did you come across any challenges that you hadn’t come across writing other plays?

I often struggle to write short plays because I try to cram in too many things. That’s concepts and forms or devices. I had to really be careful of that. For a little while there the space of six scenes I had four totally different rules for how the universe of the play worked. So there was the chorus narrating; there was Maisy and Henry interacting; there was this speech by this scientist and there was also projections of video games and all sorts. And then there was also this like weird sex scene that I’d written as the scientist narrating it as a rocket launch, calling out what hormones were being release when and stuff like that! It was really nerdy. It was horrible.

Oh God! I’m a bit glad you cut that out!

(Laughter)

In our pyjamas.

In our pyjamas. One of us is drunk.

Yeah. It’s only going to be about 20 minutes, and that’s very disjointed to have four totally different stylistic things in such a short play. That’s a thing I confront each time I have to write something short… because I’m just not good at… at being that clear.

Being concise and…

Yeah being concise both in terms of thoughts and themes and also in styles and how I want to tell a story because I love changing styles.

Last question: a bit of a silly one, a bit cheesy but…if you were stranded on a desert island and you only had one thing you could take with you, what would it be?

Probably lip balm cause I’d just feel like I’d get really annoyed at having dry lips!

I was expecting like, ” Pencil and paper to write down a memoir!”

Nah, I’m sticking with lip balm.

Welcome to Nowhere runs September 24th-October 3rd at the Coopers Malthouse. Bookings are at the Coopers Malthouse website and at The Melbourne Fringe website.

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interview, My own plays, Welcome to Nowhere

morgan rose: welcome to nowhere, hurricanes, collaboration, stepping back and learning how to do all the things

This is part four of the Welcome to Nowhere Playwright interviews: Eliza Quinn and Max Paton interviewing Morgan Rose. I am one of five playwrights commissioned by Monash University to write this new work along with Angus Cerini, Zoey Dawson, Daniel Keene and Morgan. As part of the process, I’ve had student actors interview the creatives. When I suggested this, Max and Eliza immediately asked to speak to Morgan. They had both just seen her MTC Neon Show: Lord Willing & The Creek Don’t Rise and wanted to understand more about Morgan’s creative process and the writing of that work. So enjoy this beautiful contribution from Morgan, Max and Eliza.

Morgan Rose

Morgan Rose

What brought you to writing?

I was always interested in writing. I wrote a lot when I was little, and then kind of abandoned it. I found theatre and was like “Oh, well I won’t do that writing thing anymore”. I started as a performer and then worked my way through all the things like director or producer, but then somehow ended up back at writer. When I came to Australia, I always would write little bits and pieces if we needed to for plays, and then people just kept asking me to do that all the time, so I did.

Do you have any central themes or ideas that you keep coming back to in your writing?

I think I do, but I don’t realise that I do. It’s like “Oh fuck I wrote about that again, whoops”. I write about fucked up relationships a lot – it just always ends up being that. Weird relationships too. Like something really bizarre happens – a man eats his girlfriend, or a woman falls in love with a dolphin, that kind of thing. I realised the other day, and I don’t know if this counts as a theme, but everything I’ve written in the past two years has ended with everyone walking away and leaving a man alone on stage to deal with his shit. I was like “What the fuck?”

And because I don’t live in my home, I find I write a lot about being out of place, being somewhere you don’t necessarily belong.

From the start of your writing process, just having the germ of an idea, to the finished script, how much would you say a piece changes over the course of that?

I feel like it can change pretty drastically. But I feel as I’m writing more and more and figuring out how to write more and more, I’m more certain at the beginning now than I was before. Before I’d just have this little idea, just see what happens and write. Now I know to maybe sit with that idea and do some more planning. If you think about it longer before you just dive in, it gets easier. And so, as I’m growing as an artist I think maybe my ideas are a little more solid, more fully formed and less wobbly.

When you write for theatre, are you seeing every single moment of it on stage?

I do. I know plenty of people don’t, but I definitely always see it on stage and that’s something I’m really interested in, in my work – the form of theatre. I never want to ignore that it’s happening on stage in front of an audience. That’s precious to me. I don’t want it to be a film, I don’t want it to be set in a real place: I want it to be set in the very strange place of theatre.

LORD WILLING & THE CREEK DON'T RISE, photo: Sarah Walker

LORD WILLING & THE CREEK DON’T RISE, photo: Sarah Walker

Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write Lord Willing & the Creek Don’t Rise?

I lived in New Orleans during the hurricane when it hit. I evacuated, which is actually why I left. Then the news story came out a year after the storm and I guess I felt immediately drawn to it, and connected it with theatre – it’s like this metaphor. There’s a flood, and there’s a person consuming the person they love, and it was this fucked up, but very innately theatrical story. It was also about something I felt very personally about, which was this city in a first world country, that was just left to fend for itself. It was so fucked there, after the storm. It was so bad. And having been a part of that, in whatever way, I felt really angry. I felt like most people didn’t really understand what had happened and the extent of how bad it was. I thought that this story was a good way to try to explain that.

In Lord Willing, did you want to explore the fallout of this event?

Lord Willing was inspired by this real story, but I stopped researching halfway through because I didn’t want to tell this person’s story. It inspired something in me, to tell a story, but it’s not a biopic. I feel like this man got pushed into this horrible place by all of this shit that went down. Everyone will focus on this one event – “Oh you did this horrible thing, you did this horrible thing” – but what’s behind that? What’s the build up? That’s what I was interested in. Less in the actual disgusting horrible thing that happened and more in what came before it.

Is it hard to step back in a rehearsal room and let your work take shape?

Because I come from this collaborative background, Lord Willing was the first time I’ve handed over a script and said “Here, do it, and I’ll just be over here”. That was really hard, because I was like “I know all these things about it and it has to be this way!” And Kat (Henry) was like “Actually, you know, no, I’m the one directing it”. She’s brilliant, and thank God she was directing it, because I have directed but I am not a director. Lord Willing was a weird, new experience for me but we got through it and figured it out. But a lot of the getting through it was me realising “This is Kat’s thing now, and I have to let it be her thing, calm the fuck down Morgan, she knows what she’s doing”.

Do you feel like there’s something you wanted people to take from Lord Willing, or do you feel it’s entirely up to interpretation?

It’s important to me to not tell an audience what to think. I think about that when writing, I try not to spell it out. What Lord Willing is about for me is that this kind of shit could happen to any one of us. I’m not capable of saying that we’re all capable of eating our lovers, but if put in a fucked up enough situation, you can do things you never thought you were capable of.

Morgan's recently play at Theatre Works, VIRGINS AND COWBOYS. Photos: Lachlan Woods

Morgan’s recently play at Theatre Works, VIRGINS AND COWBOYS. Photos: Lachlan Woods

How did you respond to the Welcome to Nowhere brief?

We had to write something about an in-between space, so I did some brainstorming and thought of a million ideas. What I narrowed it down to was a story about a bunch of people whose town disappears: they wake up and their town is gone, they’re just in this desert and they don’t know how or why. I wrote another one that was about how we communicate online; that relationship we have with people around us but it’s all in this nowhere place. I wrote little bits and pieces of those and sent them to Emma and said “Which do you want?” And so we went with the town disappearing – it had more of a story while the other one was episodic.

Any final words of wisdom for a pair of super cool young uni students such as ourselves?

Learn how to do all the things, especially in theatre. If you’re a performer, don’t rely on just being a performer and auditioning and letting other people do it for you – know how to do the applications, know how to get the money yourself, know how to put on a show. Even if you’re the performer and you say “I’m going to hire this director so that I can play Hamlet”, be able to do that because not a lot of people can put together a production, to put together all those pieces and make it happen. The people that can do that are the people that have a show!

Welcome to Nowhere runs September 24th to October 3rd at the Coopers Malthouse. I’d love to see you there. I am so fucking proud of this show and all the artists involved. 

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conversation, creativity, history, interview, My own plays, Theatre, Welcome to Nowhere, writing

daniel keene: welcome to nowhere, voices you don’t hear, furniture, instinct and voluntary amnesia

This is part three of the Welcome to Nowhere Playwright interviews: Chris Edwards and Sophia Riozzi interviewing Daniel Keene. I am one of five playwrights commissioned by Monash University to write this new work along with Angus Cerini, Zoey Dawson, Daniel Keene and Morgan Rose. As part of the process, I’ve had student actors interview the creatives. Editing this down to a consumable-length nearly killed me. This is such an immensely generous interview from Daniel. So enjoy this beautiful contribution from Daniel, Chris and Sophia.

Daniel Keene, photo: Piper Huynh

Daniel Keene, photo: Piper Huynh

What brought you to writing?

I was supposed to be being a teacher, but I just started working in the theatre, at La Mama and places like that in Melbourne. I started off as an actor but I was a very, very poor actor, and I knew that I just wasn’t very good at it. So I thought well perhaps I can try directing, and that was my second mistake because I wasn’t very good at that either. I did a bit of lighting design, and that wasn’t particularly good, but I still wanted to work in the theatre. I started working on texts that weren’t mine. I would edit, like dramaturg them and other people would perform them, and that just led me to writing.

I came into the theatre because I wanted to work in the theatre but I didn’t know in what capacity. And then it took a few years to understand that what I could do was write. Having worked as an actor and doing a little bit of directing and designing and that sort of stuff, I found it really useful when I started to write because I knew what it was like behind the stage, so that became really handy.

Do you have any central themes or ideas that you always go back to writing about?

I suppose I do but in a way it’s kind of up to somebody else to identify them.

When I first started going to see the theatre, I got very tired because I never saw any working class people on stage. All I saw were middle class people, and I come from a working class family so I didn’t see anybody on stage that I recognised. I couldn’t understand why those sort of characters didn’t have the space and time on stage, so I started writing about those kinds of people because they were the people I knew, that I grew up with, that I related to. And then, as I continued to write and became a more established artist, I was no longer in that milieu, I was now living as an artist, but I’m still drawn to those sorts of people. People who I feel don’t have a voice, and so I try to write plays that articulate things that aren’t normally articulated.

It’s also the fact that people seem to think that the only interesting stories are about people who are themselves kind of interesting somehow, like I’m a nuclear physicist or I’m a university lecturer or I’m a whatever you are. But a guy who works in a factory or, a woman who works in a kitchen, they can have just as interesting lives and their stories can be just as profound. That’s an old cliché really, but I really believe that. I want to write about those sorts of people.

Is that something that led you into the Keene-Taylor theatre project?

The Keene-Taylor project started off as a really pragmatic thing. I’d seen Harriet Taylor’s work around Melbourne, and she’d seen my work, but we’d never met. She wrote to me and asked if I have anything that needed directing, and I’d written about four very short plays that I didn’t know what to do with. I wrote them because formally I was really tired of writing large dramas that had three acts or five acts, because the machinery of a large drama is quite demanding, you’ve got to get it to work in a certain way. And I thought, why can’t I write a play that’s only five pages long, and not be afraid of its length? Why can’t it be ten minutes long, more like a theatrical poem more than a drama? But then who’s going to do a play that’s five minutes long? I mean, nobody.

Robert Menzies and Dan Spielman in Keene-Taylor Project's A FOUNDLING, 2001 Photo: Jeff Busby

Robert Menzies and Dan Spielman in Keene-Taylor Project’s A FOUNDLING, 2001 Photo: Jeff Busby

But she had a desire to do my work so I showed her these short things. We mounted the first season at the Brotherhood of Saint Laurence Warehouse, because we had no money, no funding, no support or anything, so that was the only place we could get for free. But we ended up with really fabulous actors like Helen Morse, and Paul English, and Malcolm Robertson, and all these amazing actors who wanted to work with me and with Harriet. We had a great cast but no money, so no set, no lighting, no anything, so we developed this aesthetic.

When we went into the warehouse at the Brotherhood, the warehouse was full of old furniture and once a week anybody who needed a bed or a desk or a chair or something could come and take it for free. So when we went into the warehouse, we weren’t allowed to move anything, or to get rid of anything, it had to stay in there. So we decided not to bring anything in, no set, we’d just use whatever was there. If there were twelve wardrobes and sixteen beds that’s what we’d use, but of course every week it changed, because they would go and new things would come in. We developed an aesthetic where we’d just use whatever was to hand, and we’d use no theatrical lighting we’d just use whatever was in the warehouse, just light bulbs and things like that. That became our kind of trademark, and it was great fun working like that, having nothing except what was there. You couldn’t choose to have things; it was just all we’ve got is this so we’ll just use that.

It gave me enormous freedom because I could set a play on a street corner, or in a boarding house, or in a bar or something, it didn’t matter because all it was going to be was a couple of kitchen chairs and a table, so we could make up anything we liked. And because of the location and because of what that place was and the people it serviced, the people it helped, that kind of determined a lot of the stuff I was then writing about. I’d already been writing about that anyway, it just kind of focused it really strongly.

Having been a director, is it hard for you to take a step back in the rehearsal room?

No, I really like that, because once the play is finished, it has so many drafts, and by the time it’s finished I know it, I could probably recite it backwards. I think that if I’ve done a really good job I can just let it go completely. It’s not my job to direct it or perform it or design it. I like the moment that I hand it over and say, ‘well okay that’s your responsibility now. You make something out of that.’ I often enjoy coming to see work of mine and I don’t recognise it. The best thing ever is when I sit in an audience and I forget that I wrote it. I’m just watching something else. That doesn’t happen that often but when it does it’s incredible, because it’s become another thing.

I try to move on as quickly as possible to something else and forget about what I’ve just done. There’s a thing that actors talk about – ‘voluntary amnesia’. If you’re an actor and you’re playing Hamlet, you’ve learnt it and you’ve performed it, then you’ve got to do another play. You don’t want to still be remembering, you have to forget that role and then launch into the next one. So I tend to do that as much as possible: once I’ve finished a play, I’m finished with it. I try not to revisit it, it’s finished, and then I do something else.

With Welcome to Nowhere, how did you respond to the prompts you were given?

And then the idea was interesting, this ‘welcome to nowhere’. That for me translated into a moment of transition between one place and the next, hence the play I wrote. I came up with the idea of this transition fairly quickly. I thought that was a nice place to start because it’s got a little bit of tension in the situation. But then it took me a very long time to know who were these characters and how many were there and what were they waiting for. Then I tried to come at it at a kind of oblique angle, so it’s not like they’re waiting to get into military school or something: it’s something had already happened but hadn’t quite finished. They’re all waiting for that process to be over, which is the collecting of the ashes and the reunion between the three of them, and like most plays I write there’s no resolution at the end. There’s probably a possibility of resolution, but the audience has to kind of imagine.

WELCOME TO NOWHERE in rehearsal. Photo: Piper Huynh

WELCOME TO NOWHERE in rehearsal. Photo: Piper Huynh

Another trend between a lot of your plays is there’s always an excerpt of a poem at the beginning, could you give us some insight into how that began?

A lot of writers do that. You find it at the start of a lot of books. I’ve always looked to poetry as a stimulation and inspiration and to find clues, to find ideas. When I came up with the notion of the play, I revisited a whole lot of favourite things of mine that I thought were somehow connected with that feeling that I was having. Because when I imagine a play, the first thing that happens is I feel an emotional landscape. It’s just a general feeling of what emotional and intellectual ground it will cover, like imagining a piece of music. Then I have a look around, at people I’ve read a lot, and see if there’s something that will stimulate or that somehow connects to that feeling, that may help me then think further or develop further that idea. And also for people working on the play: it’s kind of a little invitation.

So with your playlet Ash for Welcome to Nowhere, there are these preoccupations with family and loss and grief, so how did you arrive at those themes?

They’re not necessarily conscious. Once I understood that the play was about some kind of transition, then the situation was – ‘Okay it’s a room and there are people waiting in it. Who are the people? I don’t know, a man and a woman. Who are they? I’ve got no idea. What are they saying? They’re waiting for the third person’ – I try not to decide anything beforehand. I don’t say before I start writing ‘This will be about a brother and a sister and another brother, and they’ve been separated’ – I don’t do that.

I have a blank sheet of paper, and then I wait until I can hear somebody. I sit there and I wait until I hear somebody say: “Do you think he’ll come?”, so I write that down. I just know this is what’s being said and it’s making sense to me. This feels like it has a rhythm and it’s leading somewhere and its actually progressing. Then after a page or ten pages or something at some point, I have a sense of ‘Oh okay it’s a brother and a sister and they’re waiting for the other brother’, that’s what it’ll be. So I go back to the start, now knowing this. But I’ve got there by writing.

Once I’ve done that, then I know who they are, and then I’ll start the real work, which is to construct the play. Instinct is the first thing, but intellect is the second thing to use, to then shape that into something that works, that has the right cadence, that makes sense, that has an emotional logic, that contains ideas. That’s the second part of the work.

Then if I end up writing about families? – Well 90% of the world’s drama is about family one way or the other. They make great plays. Families are full of departures and homecomings, which are great dramatic things, so I’m lead to it instinctively.

Playwrights Angus Cerini, Daniel Keene and Morgan Rose, photo: Piper Huynh

Playwrights Angus Cerini, Daniel Keene and Morgan Rose, photo: Piper Huynh

What kind of advice would you give to students like us making this transition in to the world of theatre?

I’m not anyone to ask advice about that.

I think that what everybody needs to do if they want to work in the theatre is learn how to be theatre makers. Learn everything you can learn about the theatre – how do you do lights? How do you build sets? What does design mean? How does sound work in the theatre? – All of that, even if you just want to be an actor. It’s really important to understand how all those things work, and how they cohere.

Find your cohort. Find the people you’re going to work with. Begin to find them now, when you’re a student, because no piece of theatre is made by one person. It’s always made by a group of people. I think the most important thing you can do is find your allies, find your cohort, find the people you want to work with. It’s a matter of elective affinities; find the people you’re drawn to and that you want to help create theatre with. If you can do that, then you’ll have somewhere, once you leave this place you’ll have a context you’ve made for yourself. To finish a course that’s to do with theatre and then to go out into the world just as a single person, I think is really difficult. It’s not possible. I think it’s better to begin now to imagine the sort of work you want to make and whom you want to make it with, because that’s how theatre is made.

Welcome to Nowhere runs Sept 24-Oct 3rd at the Coopers Malthouse.

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interview, My own plays, Theatre, Welcome to Nowhere, writing

zoey dawson: welcome to nowhere, supermarket theatre, starting out, celebrity and liminality

This is part two of the Welcome to Nowhere Playwright interviews: Chris Edwards and Mark Pagauio interviewing Zoey Dawson. I am one of five playwrights commissioned by Monash University to write this new work along with Zoey, Angus Cerini (whose interview is up here), Daniel Keene and Morgan Rose. As part of the process, I’ve had student actors interview the creatives. Enjoy this beautiful contribution from Zoey, Chris and Mark.

Zoey in CALAMITY

Zoey in CALAMITY

First of all, what made you want to pursue theatre?

I guess I started as an actor and I always wanted to act and perform. When I was a kid I loved singing and dancing. I was an only child so I watched a lot of movie musicals and so it really started with that.

The first piece of theatre I saw was a production of The Wizard of Oz in a supermarket. I was very little and was probably like a school holiday entertainment thing. It was ridiculous. It was sort of like a family IGA and the witch was hiding behind this huge toilet roll display at the end of the aisle. They put down some yellow wrapping paper or something on the floor to make a yellow brick road. It was, you know, totally ridiculous but it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen as a 5 year old. I just couldn’t even handle how exciting that was to see characters I knew from a movie. Like, just the liveness of it! To see people in real life! It was a really transformative experience.

I became really interested in writing and directing because when you’re in the rehearsal room you start to realise how little power you have as a performer. I was just like, ‘Why have they written this line?’ Or like, ‘Oh that was a terrible direction.’ I’m just a terrible control freak I was like, ‘I can do better than that. I’m going to do all of the things!’

I think theatre is such a ridiculous job, and when it’s great when it’s really fun. With Calamity for example, putting my face in a cake everyday and dressing up in wigs? I think that show was pretty indicative of when you start to make your own work you get to write yourself the kind of stuff you love to perform. I loved the ludicrousness of it. And I love the opportunity to for it to happen in real life in front of people and how important it is for the audience to be there. It kind of can’t happen without people there in that very moment.

I think I’m rambling.

No, that’s amazing! How’d you get into the industry? Oh I guess that’s basically the same question. But like, more like – Sorry. This is an excellently phrased question. But like, how did you get into the actual industry I guess?

I did a creative arts degree at La Trobe. I also did the performance ensemble and creative ensemble at St Martins Youth Theatre. That was a really good introduction to just a kind of community around theatre. Through there I wrote my first one act play.

My friends and I worked with for quite a few years under the collective I’m trying to kiss you. We did a show upstairs at a bar in 2009 and that was our first foray into the world of theatre outside university or youth theatre. And we just did it. We just put it on ourselves. We really didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. We just went ‘Alright, we need to find a venue’ and we walked into bars and said ‘What’s upstairs? Can we do a show there?’ And we knew some musicians and we were like ‘Can you play some music during our show?’

And then, yeah, it was just through a slow process of starting in the Fringes and working inwards. Meeting people and realising there was a community out there. Seeing shows! I think that’s how you become engaged in the community: you see people in shows, you ask them to be in yours, they might say yes, they might say no but then you kind of slowly just work your way into the circle I guess.

So the next question is, what kind of work are you interested in? What do you enjoy and what do you not enjoy?

Theatre-wise?

Yeah.

Hm… That s a good question. The other day I went to see Birdland at MTC and someone asked me if I liked it and I was like ‘Yeah, for what it was it was great.’ I thought they did a really great job but I guess you like to cook what you like to eat. For me I’m really interested in things that are formally experimental or that doesn’t necessarily stick to a path that’s been carved out; that don’t follow a formula.

As an audience member I just want to be surprised. I just want my expectations to be confounded somehow. And I love when something starts in one place and ends in another. I think the worst thing to feel in the theatre is boredom. Like when you sit down and go ‘Oh I know exactly what’s going to happen for the next hour.’ In the first few minutes of most shows I can realistically deduce how it will end and I just hate when I’m correct. I just want to be totally surprised.

CALAMITY, photo by Gary LaPersonne

CALAMITY, photo by Gary La Personne

So then I guess what made you want to be involved in this project, Welcome to Nowhere? Like what kind of attracted you to it?

It was kind of pitched to me by Jane (Montgomery Griffith) and it sounded very daunting. It felt like a real challenge. As an artist I think it’s always really great to be challenging and difficult.

And I love all the writers that are involved. As a writer you don’t often get the chance to collaborate with people. It can be a very solitary life. Which isn’t the aspect I like so much. I like theatre because it’s collaborative. You get to play with other people so the idea of getting to play with all these writers was very exciting. And I love the idea of it having a theme that ties it together.

And I was really excited to work with Monash students because the contact I’ve had with Monash students over the past few years have been so positive. It is such an amazing course. I’m devastated that it’s ending because I think it’s incredible. I was just really flattered to be asked to work on something as part of that course because I think it’s excellent.

Cool. So how did you approach your section? What approach did you take to the theme? The instigating concept that you were given was ‘liminal’. How did you respond to that?

Well, I kind of just went very instinctually. Emma Valente (the director and dramaturge of the project) sent some great things through and I read them. I kind of just let the word, ‘liminality’, sit with me personally. What did that nowhere space mean to me?

I think it was just after the Oscars or the Golden Globes or something. I think that day, I’d been watching a bunch of acceptance speeches and stuff, which I’ve always been particularly fascinated by. I’m quite interested in celebrity culture and I think I watched Michael Keaton’s acceptance speech for Birdman…. Just the way he had these 2 minutes to kind of sum up everything that got him to this place… I’m also very interested in the notion of success. What it means, how we define it as a society and what we all agree success is or isn’t. I like the idea of arriving at a space we call ‘success’ and finding it empty, finding it lacking, finding a void as opposed to something concrete. That’s where my mind went when I thought of that phrase, ‘Welcome to Nowhere.’

I’m really just so excited to read the other writers’ pieces to see how different they are.

It was really fascinating during the readings just seeing how varied all of the approaches were.

To close, what would your advice be to young theatre makers trying to make it in this crazy world?

When I was trying to put on my first show and I sat down with a friend of mine who’d been making theatre for quite a few years and was doing really well. I was like, ‘Do you think you’d do this? Would we be allowed to do a show above a shop? Would we be allowed to do a play in a park? Or in a tram stop?’ He was like ‘Just do whatever you want until they tell you not to.’

Particularly in this cultural climate of Australia right now, I think it’s more important than ever to be bold and to follow your most ridiculous impulses and instincts. And I think usually when I talk to other artists, I find, if someone says something like ‘Omg I’ve got the worst idea for a show!’ that’s usually something I’m really excited about.

Whatever your idea is, make the most dangerous version of it. Because I think that’s how art can actually create change and can have impact. It’s not a place to be nice and timid and polite.

And you just need to trust. I think, trusting your instincts is the hardest and the best piece of advice. It sounds so simple but be in touch with your primary instincts around why you want to make work, what’s important to you and what you value as an artist.

Yeah cool that’s really amazing, thanks!

I was rambling but.

A little ramble never hurt anyone

Give me soapbox and I’ll just start preaching.

Yes, beautiful. Well yeah that’s kind of all we had I guess. Thank you so much.

Great, I hope you can turn it into something concise. I’m a little bit exhausted and flustered.

That’s the best mindset to do an interview in.

Yeah, totally! Well I’m so excited to see what it turns into, and I’m so excited to see you guys when I get back!

Welcome to Nowhere runs Sept 24-Oct 3rd at the Coopers Malthouse. 

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