This time around, I was clear in my expectations of and on myself. And I write this now many months after the actual date of the Creative Development at Metro Arts, Brisbane. A world of personal mire and a need to take my foot of the pedal kept me from this space. But.....
On developing the style
Key to Thread was the development of a narrative which would pull the characters along to the decision they needed to make. My previous piece in Let's Speak Of The Unspoken; Yielding, wafted through time. It intentionally dropped in and out so as to build a sense of repetition, of a never-ending cycle. Language could be more poetic, layering of subtext as spoke word, the internal workings of the characters shown more than their actions. In contrast, Thread had to have a churning, a relentlessness. The audience needed to always be drawn back to the waiting room in the hospital, to these two parents. That being said, with out finding a way to show their shared history, to convey this mother's visceral fear of and for her son, the work would be one-dimensional.
I chose to have scenes which shifted time and place but were rooted down by a direct connection to their son. Creating this third presence was important. Having the son voiced in scenes so as to show the compassion and love of his parents. Giving his actions a physical representation through a character's reaction to them reinforced his volatility. With out a sense of the son, the decision being made would have no resonance or importance for the audience.
But generally, it was about finding truth in the language. Finding the rhythms I'd heard when parents would rage against yet another respite cancellation, or funding reduction, or mindless comment from a stranger. They speak in an articulate, and factual, and ranting ramble of language. But as a piece of theatre, finding the balance between spewing forth information and tenderly letting a story unfurl...... well thats where it got tricky.
On working with a Dramaturg
Its becoming clear that Peter Matheson and I are developing a short hand. We're both unafraid of stating an opinion, nor listening to a clear argument against said opinion. We don’t pull our punches, which hastens our discussions, but may also sound to an outside ear like we’re not actually listening to each other. Coming back into this world of writing for the theatre, in a way and manner which interests me, has been made navigable by Peter’s sure compass - and that is sure to make his skin crawl which is more to the purpose.
Having the first day in the theatre set aside for Peter and I to work through the script and find sections to flag, really streamlined the intention for the following days. An essential component to the creative development model I want to foster as a writer is the waiting. Waiting to hear if, unguided, my collaborators trip over the same poorly places brick. It is a key indicator to me that the critical eye I place on my work is a true one. Are we all questioning the same scenes, pondering a certain character arc, feeling distinct clunks with in the language? If we are, then my concerns are not based in self doubt as a writer, but in doubt of the structure of the work I’m writing.
On working with Actors.
Gut reaction, recognising serendipity, never burning an artistic bridge are all skills to be practiced like a Zen Master. With one pleading Facebook post - wailing on my idiocy at writing a work but only remembering three weeks out that I’d need actors to read - I hit gold with a long ago Uni friend, Daniel Flood (Captain of the ship which is The Edge at the State Library of Brisbane) and Catarina Hebbard, (Co-Artistic Director of Indelability Arts) who I met through some extraordinarily generous women in the Brisbane theatre scene who have a thing about building bridges.
I expect a lot from my actors/collaborators. As a reading piece, the scripts aren’t physically demanding. There aren’t cues to enter or exit, no one need to remember to head upstage, around a table to get the cup out of the cupboard. What I refer to as my expectations is that I want to be challenged. I want the work that I’ve written to be the best that it can be with the development time we've allowed. I don’t want people who are Pleasers or Placaters. I want the Agitators, the Questioners. Those who remove themselves from the notion of script as gateway to stage and see story as road to greater understanding. The work, I hope, goes beyond those of us in the development space. The work is a voice which holds weight for those with the lived experiences. If we/I get it wrong; colour it too gaudy, cut straight to the pain bypassing the realities of joy and humour, then I've failed at my task. If I'm not reflecting the truth in the lives of others who are too consumed to holler for themselves, then I'm simply feeding my ego.
Both Catarina and Daniel were stealthy, intelligent Questioners who gave me pause to examine my creative choices. I had a version of these two characters in my head. Seeing them embodied, a resonant boom added to the anger annotated, subtlety in tenderness given to exchanges, fight/flight responses played out. They gave foundations to the wisps of my ideas. With out their dexterity and lack of ostentation in performance, the characters I wrote would have no flesh on their bones.
On Critical Response & Readings to audiences.
For the first time I had the opportunity to take my work through a facilitated Critical Response. I invited a group of peers with in the arts sector to a closed reading. This was also the first read to an audience for the actors. Erica-Rose Jeffery, facilitated the discussion and lead us through a series of inquiries around the concept of Let's Speak Of The Unspoken as an umbrella and specifically Thread as a contemporary Australian theatre piece. On the whole, responses were positive to the stylistic choices and level of information v's dramatic story which were my main concerns.
Readings for Industry, Carer's Queensland members, family and friends were held. 20 in the afternoon.... 40 at night.... in a theatre on a Friday.... in a city with so much on... for a reading of a new theatre piece.... by an unknown playwright.... with no publicity besides a few Facebook posts and word-of-mouth... and all staying to talk of a world far beyond the work. The story lives longer in the conversations after, the time specifically set aside where the actors become themselves again, the writer becomes the questioner and the audience uses their voice.
What I took from the readings was watching conversations grow between people in the audience themselves. Someone from two rows back asked a question of a woman who had just shared her experience of relinquishing her own daughter. The question was asked with care and respect, and answered with honesty. Myths around never getting to see your child again were addressed, those who were there simply as theatre folk openly admitted to never contemplating the complexity of the issues. It is in the talking, the shared experience of watching a story play out on a stage, where people are heard.
....and now to get off my high horse.
Concentrate on the four other Creative Developments you've got to find funding for!