personal

2016// a year in moments

January // I write a letter to Sarah. I don’t send it for another ten months.

Dear Sarah,

Otis Redding sung me down into London with a voice like tears. I found him on the aeroplane’s playlist called ‘Western Pop: The Latest Pop from the World’s Biggest Stars.’ Also on the list were Bette Midler, Duran Duran and a group called ‘Purity Ring’. London appeared like a ring of candles encircling the horizon. Otis purred to Old Man Trouble.

In the town I’m staying in, there is a statue with its head and half its chest lopped off. My sister guesses casually that it may be the work of Cromwell’s men. Now it stands guard outside the Pizza Express. History is so visible here. Even the violent, ugly parts.

Love, Fleur.

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England. With family.

February // I wander into a museum, tucked inside a university in London.

It is one of those working museums, with desks pushed up against glass cabinets and the notes of students and researches covering every surface not already covered with Eygtian relics. I find the coffin of a woman named Nairytisitnefer. Written on a piece of paper beside it is a translation of the hieroglyphics craved into it.  The paper says that these were words spoken by Nairytisitnefer, who was true of voice. She said this: that she got her heart from the house of hearts and her soul from the house of souls but that “the mind of Nairytisitnefer belongs to her, and she is content with it.” I loved that.

Back in Australia, my mother walks up on stage to collect the Jill Blewett award on my behalf from the Premier of South Australia.

March // I give up counting.

Usually I count how many times I sleep without medication, times I see a doctor, shows I see, times I cry, people I kiss, books I read, scripts I read, productions I worked on. By March I was already too tired to count.

This month I call 65 passionate young people and tell them they will not be a part of Slaughterhouse Five. I call 10 and tell them they will be.

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Lonely Company, brand new in 2016.

April // I’m walking down an empty corridor and then it is no longer empty.

Three meters away, a young woman turns a corner and we see each other. Our eyes meet for a millisecond, we avert our gazes, both say ‘sorry’ and walk on. After, it occurs to me that this is perhaps the most female interaction ever: None of this myth about women competitively judging each other with a glance. This is women: We share a space for a moment, make no physical or emotional contact, mutually apologies for our presence in this corridor/world and walk on.

May // We are working on the final scene of Slaughterhouse Five.

It’s the first time we’ve looked at it so I’ve asked the actors to bring in something it made them think of. We go out onto the lawn, sitting in a slightly lopsided circle to make space for Liam’s wheelchair, and this beautiful group of young people respond to a massacre, 71 years old. We pass around print outs of paintings, people read poems from their iphones and I play Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams and from The Singing Tree, by Kate Seredy. Then we read the final scene of Slaughterhouse Five. 

And somewhere in there was springtime. The corpse mines were closed down. The soldiers all left to fight the Russians. In the suburbs, the women and children dug rifle pits. We were locked up in the stable in the suburbs. They left us there. We ate the hay. And then, one morning, we got up to discover that the door was unlocked. The Second World War in Europe was over.

We wandered out onto the shady street. The trees were leafing out. There was nothing going on out there, no traffic of any kind. There was only one vehicle, an abandoned wagon drawn by two horses.

Birds were talking. One bird said, ‘Poo-tee-weet?’

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Slaughterhouse Five. Photo: Sarah Walker

Things I learnt this year //

How to sew scrunchies.

That my bosses support me, even when a crazy man emails them saying that I’m the worst thing ever.

That my boyfriend loves me.

How to edit audio.

Every word of Not Throwing Away My Shot from Hamilton.

That The Macarena was a 1993 pop hit and not, as I had previously thought, a folk dance.

June // I blocked someone.

Facebook opened a new page and showed me a list: the three people I have blocked, including the newest addition. There, in the midst of my frustration, I saw a beautiful thing: those other two names, both of which I’d given barely a thought to in eight years. ‘Oh yeah,’ I murmured, ‘I guess that was a shitty, sad moment eight years ago.’ I love time and how it passes. I love knowing that one day I’ll probably come back to this list again, look at the third name and think ‘oh yeah, I guess I remember when that happened’ before getting on with the rest of my day.

This month my niece and I build a museum. We careful position toy dinosaurs on Duplo blocks, make a tiny doll’s house into a café and she writes a sign: Welcome to Museum. Like the Adelaide museum, we need a giant squid, so make one from ribbon and a blue wooden block. We suspend it in an empty glass, using a chopstick and a rubber band. I don’t know which of us is more proud.

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July //  My mother and I, on a couch in Adelaide.

We are studying four photos of the Beirut convent where my great-great grandmother, Thekla, was raised. Thekla was just three when her mum froze to death in a vineyard and now, here we sat, my mum and I, studying the four photos in the book for signs of what her life was: the Germanic dorm rooms, with their straight lines of identical beds, the orphan’s embroidery, the nun with her tight press lips and tighter habit.

“I hope they were kind to her, that little girl,” said mum, and we both cried a bit.

2016 resolutions //

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. This actually worked wonderfully. While there were still projects I struggled to find the joy with, I did seek it out. This resolution also played a big part in how we made Contact Mic: we begun by asking what we all needed from the project in order to do it joyously and used the answers to create a work flow.

Glorify balance rather than overwork. I think I did quite well at this. I was still very busy but there were also mediation and picnics.

Love courageously. Nailed it.

Go to yoga 180 times. Did not nail it.

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Favourite man. Photo by Sarah Walker.

August // A man screams at me over the phone.

‘Who even are you anyway?’ I tell him he knows who I am. I am Fleur, we’ve met and I’m the artistic coordinator for the Academy. ‘Well that’s just a title!’ He retorts. Then, a moment later ‘so you’re the one who would be making this decision?’ Yep. So I guess it isn’t just a title. He yells some more and eventually I tell him that I will not continue the conversation and will email him with my decision. He yells ‘don’t you dare hang up on me’ as I hang up. I’m surprised by how unshaken I am.

September // A message from Liam pops up on my Facebook screen.

It tells me this isn’t Liam. That Liam is dead. Could I let people know? I write back some words – love, sympathy, thoughts – and facebook tells me that Liam sees them. But I don’t think that is true.

I write to students. I tell them Liam is dead. That he is no longer in pain. That it happened yesterday. I ask them not to post about it publicly until the family do because that’s the kind of thing you need to remind people these days. I tell them I’ll keep them posted about the funeral.

I cry a bit, a couple of short, confused sobs. I walk down the street with an empty shopping bag. I return with an empty shopping bag.

I go back and read Liam’s last message to me. Back when he really was Liam.

I’m out of hospital and the surgery went well. Unfortunately there is no good news on the cancer front, but such is life. My breathing is still a bit dodgy but slowly getting better.

Sorry I’m just really distracted by this election. I think safe schools is so important. If I had had safe schools in my school I would have been more comfortable being my authentic self earlier. I would have understood that I wasn’t alone and isolated and that there were so many people like me all around. I also don’t want to die without the right to marry. Sigh. I don’t know.

Anyway, just had to vent. Thank you so much for checking in! Very kind. I think of you often and slaughterhouse! This actually reminds me, I was going to message but forgot but wanted to say thank you for havjng me on the production. You took me as an AD despite havjng little practical experience, and I really appreciate that opportunity. I really hope I was of some help and I just felt so happy being involved with such a talented and kind creative. It was truly a beautiful and intelligent piece.

I cry a lot then. I go back to the students. I write ‘This is shit. I’m so sorry. I’ll organise flowers.’ And I do.

I drive across the city. I am hugged by beautiful, teary women and then they do their vocal warm ups and I warm up the lights and we do a show. I am drinking at the op desk, shutting my eyes between cues and taking deep breaths. I thought he had more time.

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My favourite moment of theatre I made this year. Photo: Sarah Walker

October // I go for a drive.

It is dark and the streets are almost empty. I’m actually very calm. I pull into a side street next to a Synagogue because it looks at good a street as any to sit in and be quiet. To listen to Dan Savage on the last of my phone battery, take deep breaths and try not think about the yelling and crying I left behind. My mum calls. I say it’s fine but I need to go because my battery is low. I say I’ll go home soon. Then I sit some more. Dan Savage chats on, talking sex and politics until the screen goes dark. I drive home. The next day I make an appointment to see a counsellor.

November // We cook dinner.

I shell the broad beans, he blends the hummus, I roll out the flat bread, he mixes the salad dressing. We smile a lot. We clink glasses. We eat. We finish and we drive to the opening night of a show I’ve worked on for three years. In the car I say thank you for the lovely, distracting dinner. I say let’s make this a pre-show tradition. I say really though, making art is weird. I say, but in a way I’ve already done my job and peers have already said I’ve done it pretty darn well. I say I just hope I like it. I say hold my hand, please.

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Contact Mic. Kieran, Sarah and I.

2017 resolutions //

See friends on purpose and for no reason. If I have a nice conversation with someone, tell them I enjoyed it and organise to make it happen again.

Budget. Save money and then spend it going to England.

Create less waste.

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My niece wrote her first sentence in 2016.

December // We enter the room.

My face tries to cram thirteen different emotions on it at once. I tear up. The room is full of light, sound and finches. Perhaps fifty finches fly about, landing on beautiful, coathanger structures hung from piano wire. Each tiny landing adds to the soundscape. We sit on the blond wood floor. We watch the birds. We hold hands. We watch new people enter the room and try to cram multiple emotions onto their faces. And I feel so, so lucky for a year of sights, adventures and experiences with this man.

 

Ending and beginning.

I end the year with $4500 debt and a persistent Internet stalker. I also end it with a development of a new play for the State Theatre Company of South Australia locked in. I end it with 12 episodes of a podcast I have made with two of my dearest friends under my belt and 12 applications from playwrights wanting to work with Lonely Company in my inbox. I end it running Lonely Company with two of my other dearest friends. I feel very lucky in my collaborators.

I start 2017 hopeful and pretty calm. In an hour I’ll ride a bike to a New Years party and I’ll smile a lot, kiss a lot and supervise the barbecuing of haloumi and mushrooms. I’ll probably be asleep by midnight or at least 12.30. I’ll wake in the morning to a new year with old friends and maybe some new ones. And I’ll do my best.

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December 30th, 2016

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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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interview, My own plays, Theatre, writing

angus cerini: welcome to nowhere, love, terrorism, doubletap, masculinity and storytelling

I’m currently working on a production called Welcome to Nowhere Monash University and the Coopers Malthouse: I am one of five playwrights commissioned to write this new work and I am also the artistic coordinator of the Monash Academy of Performing Arts. It is such a pleasure to be a part of this process and to be supporting artists who are such inspiring and integral parts of our community: director Emma Valente, designer Eugyeene Teh and playwrights Angus Cerini, Zoey Dawson, Daniel Keene and Morgan Rose. The five writers were given the concept ‘Welcome to Nowhere’ and asked to explore the concept of liminality. Emma Valente deliberately left the topic very open and the resulting writing tells of aliens, terrorism, celebrity, grief and a disappearing township.

As part of the lead up to the show, I had students interview the artists involved for the Monash website. The resulting interviews were long, beautiful and full of fucks. (Fucking playwrights.) I created shortened, clean versions for Monash but they are too good not to share with you longform. So enjoy. Part One is Claire MacAllister and Jordan Broadway’s interview with Angus Cerini. 

Angus Cerini, photo by Vikk Shayen

Angus Cerini, photo by Vikk Shayen

If we go back to the start of it all, how did you respond to the brief for Welcome to Nowhere? Was there anything that drove you towards writing in regards to the Sydney Siege?

I heard about the inquests and that idea of being told to sit – being in the moment you know you’re about to die, or the moment the bullet literally explodes your head. That tiny instant of time as ‘Welcome to fucking heaven, hell, purgatory, nothing’. Welcome to nowhere. Nowhere and everywhere. What would it feel like? You can’t do that to an audience so what about love? Elongate that fraction of time where love gets in. Beating the fuck out of terrorism, beating the fuck out of that with love. It’s saying, “it’s terrorism and evil” and then saying, “you’ll never destroy love”. Just try your luck, Satan. Go fuck yourself.

When you’re creating a piece of writing, do you find it easy to then hand it over to a director for the process of mounting the work?

You can’t ever completely trust a director. In this process, I’ve walked out of the room entirely. To me, it’s liberating to go, “Emma, I give you full permission to make whatever the fuck you want” because it’s more about you guys. I like the idea that my piece is challenging, but that Emma’s not going to be absolutely petrified of what the playwright’s gonna make. You’re gonna want to do justice to it. It’s a performance text, there are characters, and to me, there’s a story about two men, two lovers. To me, the idea of romance meeting terror – that’s a kind of ‘everything’. That feels like a drama. Maybe it’s like a bit of love.

What made you realise that you wanted to pursue making theatre?

I got trapped. I just want to say some shit about the world. It is generally easy to put on a show when you think about it. A film you need a lot but a piece of theatre – I think storytelling is quite primary to it too. And I’ve been trying to do that when I write more and more, create a story, because if there’s a story, there’s a narrative. I think an audience will go to really horrible places but you’ve gotta give them a bit of a breather. Neighbours does that. The dog gets hit by a car, then they’re at Lassiter’s and someone’s on a date. Then there’s a kidnapping, and then we’re at the beach having a fucking sing-a-long. It’s the classic sort of ‘you follow every bad scene with a happy one’.

Angus Cerini in RESPLENDENCE, photo by Sebastian Bouges

Angus Cerini in RESPLENDENCE, photo by Sebastian Bouges

So how did your company, Doubletap come about, both the group and the name? How did you start working with those collaborators?

Susie Dee was a lecturer of mine. She came to one of my shows and I was like “I need you to help me, I want to work with you”. I also went to university with Marg [Horwell]. The term ‘Doubletap’ denotes two rounds, two bullets firing in quick succession and it’s considered the most effective way to kill someone. So the first bullet kills them, the second shot makes sure they’re dead. It’s about being ruthlessly efficient. So I imagined theatre like the first bullet wakes you up, the second bullet kind of makes sure you fucking feel something.

Based on the work you do that examines masculinity in modern culture, do you think you’re a feminist?

I don’t know. I remember I wrote a play and put a show on and the two lots of feedback were – “why don’t you write plays about women?” and “it’s good you’re writing about men because you can’t write about women because you’re not a woman”. I’m always trying to figure out what it is to be a man. I think women can communicate with each other, which men do but in a different way. Back when I was growing up, it was such a redneck thing. Now, there are boys dancing. You would not have got that when I was in school. Maybe theatre can change things. Even if it’s just these tiny little voices, a few of them. It’s not that suddenly we’re going to change the world but maybe we can be part of change in the world. I think that’s why I’m so cynical. I’ve found it interesting that I’ve been expecting someone to assume I’m gay for writing about two gay characters, based on those people in the café. It didn’t need to sit there but it did. I felt it there. Two people love each other, one is thinking of the other one as he’s getting killed. That’s just about treating people with respect.

In terms of implementing change, is there anything that you think that young theatre makers should be keeping in their minds?

I’d love to write the kinds of plays that get a massive audience. But every time I try, it’s just shit. I think you should just find your voice. In this country, we don’t have the population, the funding, the philanthropy, the respect for art that you’ve got in Europe. You can either really make a lot of money in this country by either going completely commercial or completely Marina Abramovic. Your lot in life is to have good and bad periods. It’s not a meritocracy. It’s obvious to me that I’m doing this because I can’t help it. I’ve tried to think about what else I might do, but I’m still doing this shit, which suggests that I don’t really have a choice. You’ve got to just do what you do and work at it. You never know where the person sweeping the floor will end up so be nice to everyone.

Is it strange to think about getting better when you’ve been doing this for years?

It gets harder and harder. When you first make a show, it’s the best thing. But with each show, you’re already whittling things away before you get to the next show. Craft is absolutely crucial. Fall back on your craft. I love getting old, you can just look back on your past work and say, “Yeah, that was terrible”.

Do you still get stage fright?

Yeah! Have you ever had that thing on stage where you’re looking at yourself and the audience, you’re outside yourself, watching yourself perform? That’s just part of the game isn’t it? No wonder everyone just gets pissed and fucks everyone else in the green room. I started writing to be seen as an actor. I wrote a play thinking people will see me as an actor and they’ll cast me. Now I’m a fucking writer. What the fuck’s that about? I’m more of a playwright than a performer now. Wait, am I giving you guys a pep talk? Am I an elder statesman right now? Am I like a mentor? Have you got any more questions or can I go back to my gardening?

Of course you can.

Angus Cerini, photo by Simon Schluter

Angus Cerini, photo by Simon Schluter

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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creativity, My own plays, Theatre, writing

on beginnings, honey, sweat, venetian blinds and ali g

I am in the midst of re-writes for two scripts with two more on hold. In this moment where every document I open screams for completion, patience and courage, I’ve been thinking about the beginnings of plays: those moments when a character walks onto the page and moves in to your life.

I don’t write about my own work too often (although this blog is full of arts writing so personal that the whole exercise may be termed narcissism) but today I want to talk about the beginnings of some of my plays. I thought about asking other writers to contribute but, in the end, I decided to go full narcissist. There is a romance to beginnings and these memories I treasure. In this moment when four of my babies are paused, caught in indecision and fear, I want to return to these memories and recall the joy of falling in love.

Unicorn, begun December 9th, 2010

I was living on the second story of an apartment block where only trees could peer in my window. Because of this I often forgot to lower the blinds. One day I remembered midway through getting changed, but when I tried to close it, the venetian broke, as they seem designed to do. I managed to fix it and the blind slowly jerked down. I imagined what the trees were seeing: my naked body slowly disappearing in a series of jolting moments. Suddenly it wasn’t the trees that were my witness, it was a boy named Kit. The greenery became tropical, the atmosphere sweaty and then I was gone too. Instead of me it was a nameless woman, fifteen years his senior and he watched her with religious devotion. I wrote this:

“By night, she seemed to glow. In that city of sunburn, she was the whitest person I had ever seen and this was part of her mystique: how she managed to avoid the crumbling and peeling of skin which we all suffered six months of the year. She did not seem to tan or burn but she did grow a fine mist of freckles across her face in the time I watched. A token gesture of her initiation into the community; a traveler coming to rest. … Her blind was problematic, to say the least, so each night she disappeared in a series of sudden jolts.  Bang: the top of her head disappeared, cutting off the left eye. Bang: with an irritated tug she would correct the slant and the right side would catch up, both eyes out of the picture. Bang: my television screen was limited to the neck down. Bang: navel. The last I would see was a slither of milky thighs before this too blinked out. The mass has ended. Peace be with you.”

Kit and his neighbour became a short story and then a novel but, having never written a novel, I eventually gave up on the idea but not on Kit. He became the boy in the midst of the Vietnam War who decided that men were all doomed and became a woman. The milky neighbour and his voyeurism were cut but it was in the writing of this scene and the jerks of that blind that I came to understand Kit: always outside the window looking in, seeing the poetry in everyone else’s body and feeling the chemistry in his own.

A self-portrait in that room.

A self-portrait in that room.

I spent years on Unicorn and it was never staged. But I never tried very hard. I owe a lot to this text. I learnt a lot and loved a lot. The text is steeped in death and the notebook it is written in also contains the writing I did at the bedside of my dying grandmother. The deaths, fictional and real, laced together. Something I initially wrote for my grandmother’s found its way into the play when I cut it from her eulogy.

ALBA: I was thinking how – When you die and when you love your family as much as our dads loved us – how dying must be like – like you were reading this really amazing book and – like – you were really into the story and you knew all the characters as well as you knew yourself and then someone came along and tore out the ending. Like, you know these characters – the people you love – are going to go on and on but you’ll never read it. And I was thinking if I were to die, that’d be the thing I’d be most sad about. Not knowing how they end.

Silence.

KIT: If your dad could hear you now – what ending would you tell him?

ALBA: I don’t know. I haven’t got to the end yet, have I?

Yours The Face, begun January 1st, 2013

Emmy and I met on a train, passing through snow-covered English paddocks.

My grandmother had just died and I was in England staying with my sister and her family. I was finishing Unicorn when a photographer I greatly admire proposed I write a text that he project images over. I had to turn down the offer but the idea of writing about the creation of photos stuck with me.

“I work hard to make my letters all fancy and shit. I write ‘Nan I am England.’ And I have to go back and put a little arrow and add ‘in’ and that pisses me off. ‘I am in England and I’m working hard and every other person speaks a different language but they all seem to get each other like as if they’re all speak the same.’”

“I work hard to make my letters all fancy and shit. I write ‘Nan I am England.’ And I have to go back and put a little arrow and add ‘in’ and that pisses me off. ‘I am in England and I’m working hard and every other person speaks a different language but they all seem to get each other like as if they’re all speak the same.’”

Emmy came to me on the train and, since I could not write to my own grandmother, I wrote a postcard to hers.

To find Emmy’s voice and differentiate her from the other character, Peter, I initially tried to write her phonetically. It was a disaster and Raimondo Cortese told me she was sounding like Ali G but those embarrassing attempts did help me find her.

I found her a long time before Peter, who now almost dominates the play. He is charismatic and an over-talker but I find it very touching and poignant that she came first for, despite his bluster and her perceived passivity, she is powerful one. She survives everything thrown at her.

Blessed, begun January 28th, 2013

I was in Adelaide housesitting and two playwright friends, Cat and Sharon, had roadtripped over to hold an impromptu writing retreat in my parent’s house. Think of an Adelaide summer. Think of the dogs lying under the table, stretched as long as they can stretch so as to press their bodies against the tiles. Outside the grape leaves wilt. Inside I play a song by Elbow, Jesus is a Rochdale Girl, and then set a timer for fifteen minutes. That’s how long we have to write a response.

MAGGIE: This place stinks. GREY: It’s you’re ciggie. MAGGIE: Not even. It stinks through the smoke. That’s one hell of a smell you got goin on here, you know that? GREY: Do now. MAGGIE: Should empty your bins. GREY: I will. MAGGIE: Should clean your teeth. GREY: Okay. MAGGIE: Should get some shit from the supermarket, pour it down the fuckin drain and just run the taps full blast day and night for a week. That’s what you should do. GREY: Fine. MAGGIE: And that’s not me bein some neat freak, tight cunt, highly strung whatever. That’s just basic fuckin hygiene, that is. Dunno how you live like this.

MAGGIE: This place stinks.
GREY: It’s you’re ciggie.
MAGGIE: Not even. It stinks through the smoke. That’s one hell of a smell you got goin on here, you know that?
GREY: Do now.
MAGGIE: Should empty your bins.
GREY: I will.
MAGGIE: Should clean your teeth.
GREY: Okay.
MAGGIE: Should get some shit from the supermarket, pour it down the fuckin drain and just run the taps full blast day and night for a week. That’s what you should do.
GREY: Fine.
MAGGIE: And that’s not me bein some neat freak, tight cunt, highly strung whatever. That’s just basic fuckin hygiene, that is. Dunno how you live like this.

At the top of the page I write the lyrics: “I celebrate and mourn… Jesus is a Rochdale Girl… Got a house that you can smoke in.” Beneath it I write the first five pages of Blessed. The characters are labelled ‘A’ and ‘B’ but by the end of the day they have names and a completed first scene. Today, many drafts later, that scene is almost identical to the one I wrote that first day.

Other parts of Blessed I sweated over. The structure was so, so difficult. I remember telling Bridget Mackey that it was the hardest thing I’d ever written and she told me I said that every time. Sometimes it feels like a play grants you a win. This first day was that win. Blessed seemed to be telling me “I’ll give you this one. I’ll pour this one out like honey because you need a win now and you will need a win in the future. When you are utterly confused, re-read what I’ve given you and remember that we’ll get there.

I remember hearing once from a novelist who believed that if, on your first day of writing you don’t write fifteen pages then you probably aren’t inspired enough to write that novel. I don’t believe that. I’ve spoken here for three relatively pain-free beginnings. They were pain-free because they all began with a character whose clear voice made itself known to me. Those that begin with a concept are harder to start and usually I have to come at them sideways.

For WILDS, I carefully read the book it was inspired by and after each chapter I made myself write a scene or monologue as a response. I feel like I sort of tricked myself into writing these. I told myself they were just ‘moment’, just me processing what I’d read with no pressure to actually write something usable. By the end of the book I had 27 moments of theatre, many crap but some exciting. Some that revealed to me who and what I was dealing with.

I haven’t had one of those honey days in a while. It’s been sweat days for months and that’s okay. I’ll fight it out. Because there are things I want to say and I know I’ll find a way to tell them eventually. Some days it is nice to remember that not every page is a hard one. That plays want to be written and will sometimes help you along.

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Dramaturgical Analysis, Responses, Theatre

dream home: on desperation, alienation, passivity and the smell of meat

DREAM HOME by Emilie Collyer, directed by Luke Kerridge

THE LOBBY Give people a space to arrive into. It doesn’t have to be a lobby. It can be a passage. An alcove. If you arrive in a living space, that space will become transitional; a thoroughfare on the way to other rooms.

In many ways, I fear writing about Dream Home. My initial response was not intellectual. It was physical. It brought out a symphony of nervous ticks. In the foyer afterwards I interrupted conversations to turn off neglected power points and I left Northcote Townhall drumming the most calming rhythm I know:

1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 3 4 5

The play was the theatrical equivalent of a long string of jumpy, obsessive twitches. Emilie Collyer’s jolting words were wound so tight that they spasmed in the mouths of the actors, all of whom had the desperate look of creatures attempting to pass for human with varying levels of success. The production and text combined to create an alien world, made stranger by its familiarity; more claustrophobic by its open plan dining rooms. It was so unified, so absorbing that I was sucked into their rhythmic convulsions:

1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 3 4 5

DREAM HOME, promo image by Sarah Walker

DREAM HOME, promo image by Sarah Walker

THE KITCHEN The kitchen has to be functional. It is, above all else, a workspace. Be careful of the size: there is a fine balance between cluttered and a space so big that you will have to walk back and forwards as you move from appliance to bench space. Remember that this room will mostly be used at night. Lighting is important. You don’t want shadows.

So this couple built a house instead of a child, a house that is simultaneously their dream and the end of dreaming, their triumph and demise. Their childlessness is built into its very joins and rivets. Possible futures, possible children and possible romances have been sealed behind the new wall, which glows with unfulfilled promise. This is a house that must be occupied. It demands inhabitants, guests and the latest appliances, that melt cheese to the perfect texture.

It made me think of an aeroplane: all those people tied to specific, labelled chairs, fed individually wrapped pieces of food and mass produced pieces of entertainment to keep them happy and make them forget how helpless they are and how far away the ground is.

In many ways, I found the characters as individuals to be somewhat irrelevant to Dream Home. They were part of the fauna of this world but it was the house that held my attention. Structurally too, an argument could be made for the eradication of almost any of the guests, for each opened a narrative almost too big to explore. Every one of them was the outsider in their own particular way. And yet, their collective presence adds greatly to the script. Yes: a play could be written about a couple and their movie-star friend or the architect who sees through their walls or the young woman who arrives bleeding on their doorstep, the soldier whose body is betraying him or the ravenous young man. Each of these stories could be separate and yet it is the community they create – a community made up entirely of mismatched pieces of humanity – that creates the bizarre and intoxicating atmosphere of danger, regret and sex, cloaked in the smell of cooking meat. The presence of Dean, a man born whole and hungry from within the walls of the house, further adds to the sense that all conversations and all actions are being manipulated by the building itself.

I write like this today because Dream Home made me feel like I was wandering in and out of rooms at a party, dipping into conversations, hoping to find one that did not reek of desperation. No such luck. What makes this ensemble of characters work is that they illustrate that this is not an illness contained to one room or one couple: the house infects all who enter it.

THE BEDROOM Light is important in all rooms but in the bedroom it is crucial to get it right. Try having windows on multiple sides. This will mean that the room changes with the seasons. Ideally, you want fresh air. You want a sense of calm and generosity. You want peace.

Guests never arrive in Dream Home. They appear or are discovered as if a giant child’s hand has reached into their dolls house and added another misshapen plastic figurine. It gave me the sensation that only Wendy and Brian were real; that perhaps the rest of their world was invented.

And there was something toy-like about them all: a soldier, a celebrity, a comedian, an architect and a hungry stranger. The characters are nuanced and complicated, all beautifully performed and yet all are somehow less than they could be, for they have found themselves in the house of No Possibilities. The house of Stick To Your Script. Each seems caught in a life defined by how others perceive them. Now, like dolls, they are coming apart at the seams.

The characters are working so hard to be the men and women they think they should be, the failures of their bodies is tragic and strangely inevitable: Wendy’s ‘inhospitable cervix’, the soldier’s weeping eye, Brian’s shuddering which no amount of running will still, the architect’s frothing mouth, Elise’s bleeding knee and Irene’s womb, so quick to produce daughters to hate her but never giving her a son and a reason to leave acting.

The soldier, played beautifully by Ben Clements, I found particularly fascinating. Like the other invited male guest, the architect, he is nameless and defined by his profession but his is built on physical strength. The other men treat him as a giant of unimpeachable masculinity and yet this body they idolise is betraying him. Whilst he still easily overpowers Dean, the fact that he has to hints that this will not be the case for long. Perhaps it is his one weeping eye that enables his escape. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King.

Emily Tomlins and Jackson Trickett, photo: Pia Johnson

Emily Tomlins and Jackson Trickett in DREAM HOME, photo: Pia Johnson

THE BATHROOM Keep the things most used closest to the door. You don’t want to walk through puddles to get to the hand basin. You’ll want a sensible amount of cupboard space. It is easy to let bathrooms get cluttered. Each person has so many things.

In Dream Home there are gendered spaces and conversations. Traditional concepts of masculinity and femininity are ever present but no one seems quite able to fill them. Elise, the comedian, pines for an image of female friendship that she has never experienced whilst Brian, beer in hand, rambles on about wars he will never fight.

BRIAN:            But we can’t all fight. You know, there’s other ways to contribute. Be a man… I run but it’s… Well I track the kilometres and I’m getting fit.

I feel I could write a room of this house for every character, for each opens their own door. Any argument or theory I form excludes one of them because this is the home of outsiders. But the bathroom is Irina’s space. Irina’s passivity is distressing to the viewer and the sex between her and Dean feels like a violation of everyone implicated, including the audience.

DEAN:               Gestures to Irina You know she’ll let you do anything to her. Any position. All you have to do after is tell her she’s beautiful. And you don’t even have to do that.

Irina views her passivity as strength. As the celebrity, she appears to move through the world with power and control and yet her methods of maintaining this illusion are entirely based on yielding her body and choices to other people. Her career began the day she lay inside a mermaid tail slick with her own blood without complaint for hours on end. She tells this story with pride, as if distilling pearls of wisdom. This is an attitude I’ve seen and heard many times. “The model was such a trooper. She twisted her ankle getting out of the car but we still shot for another five hours. She just put ice on it during touch ups.” I wish I were exaggerating. I am not. The glorification of passivity, compliance and willingness to work through pain is everywhere in creative industries. In Dream Home, Elise, the young comedian, calls this mentality what it is:

IRINA:                      You know who I am, right?

ELISE:                      Of course. You’re amazing.

IRINA:                      Thank you.

ELISE:                      The way you’ve been exactly what they want you to be.

Olivia Monticciolo as Elise performs this scene with absolute sincerity and naivety, which is what makes it so convincing. There is another version of this play, a simpler version performed by another actor paired with another director, which shows Elise as manipulating the older women with a deliberate viciousness. This innocence is part of the character’s trajectory. That she ends up with the house and child of other women is not a victory born of maliciousness, it is a tragedy, avoidable if only she had the mistrust of Wendy.

From the very start, Wendy knows all is not well. Emily Tomlins’ performance is beautiful and heartbreaking. As the only character truly aware of the dangers of their world, she becomes our grasping point; the person whose eyes you want to meet at that party before mouthing, “let’s get out of here”. I got the impression that, moments before the play begun, Wendy’s reflection had reached out of the mirror and slapped her. “What are we doing here, Wendy? This isn’t what we wanted.”

THE DECK A lot of people make their deck too narrow for what they want to use it for. They need to be deep and generous to be habitable. A deck is the connective tissue between the indoors and the outdoors. A transition into the rest of the world.

In the last season of 30 Rock, Jenna Marony and her partner, Paul, invent the fetish ‘Normaling’. They go shopping at Bed, Bath and Beyond and “shop for home necessities in front of everybody” without climaxing once. Slowly it dawns on them that perhaps this isn’t a fetish. Maybe it is just their lives now.

I think artists have both a deep fascination with and a horror of normality. Let’s be honest: most of us come from some version of blissed-out suburbia. Perhaps this is the reason that someone will always bring a Gregory Crewdson photo to an initial design meeting. His images confirm that we are right: suburbia is a fantasy built on thin, cracking ice. Dread or magical escape await below the surface.

We return to suburban bliss again and again because it is both what we know and what we fear. Are we ‘normaling’ or are we normal? Perhaps a bit of both. But here lies the purpose of art: to make alien the familiar and familiar the alien. As you pull out of the driveway and look back on your Dream Home, think of Viktor Shklovski:

“Habitualisation devours works, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war… and art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stoney. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known.”

Gregory Crewdson, from his TWILIGHT series

Gregory Crewdson, from his TWILIGHT series

Thank you to my architect father, David Kilpatrick, for his willingness to let his extensive knowledge and always thoughtful practice be turned into jaunty little tidbits of advice in a dramaturgical essay. One of his beautiful buildings, the Aldinga Beach Children’s Centre just received a national commendation. He creates beautiful spaces for children and I am very proud of him. Always.

Texting with Emilie Collyer this morning. Thank you to Emilie for sending me the script and for making something so complex and beautiful.

Texting with Emilie Collyer this morning. Thank you to Emilie for sending me the script and for making something so complex and beautiful.

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