An interactive blog for playwrights
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Alison is a playwright, poet and aspiring novelist from Sydney. Her first short story Jessie was runner-up in SMH’S Young Writer of the Year Awards and in 1996 she was nominated for a CONDA for Best New Playwright for her first play Golden Life. After years spent in the corporate wilderness and travelling, she returned to writing and in 2006 was selected for the Playwrights’ Studio at NIDA; returning in 2007 by invitation. Her short plays include The Space Between, Secret Grace and I Get Along Very Well Without You (Except Sometimes); she has worked with directors including Jason Bridgeman, Nic Dorward and Shannon Murphy as well as dramaturges Nick Marchand and Francesca Smith. In 2008 Alison graduated from Sydney’s University of Technology with a Master of Arts in Creative Writing. She is currently completing her first full-length play Combat Fatigue as well as a novel The Memory Tree.
What excites you/terrifies you most about writing for the stage?
Everything. The process, the vulnerability; the tension, the joy. Collaboration with other artists definitely is one of my favourite aspects and I find the experience of being in a rehearsal room really inspiring as a writer. Wanting to ‘get it right’ from the first word on the page I think is the terrifying aspect as it can really stall the creative process and make the whole experience far more traumatic than needs be…on the other hand one of the most transcendent moments has to be sitting in the audience and realising that everything, EVERYTHING is working – the words, the performance, the direction and design and best of the all the audience; they are sitting there absorbed by your words, your characters and it works! Magic!
Tell us about one of your earliest writing attempts.
I have always written, I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t scribbling in the corner somewhere but I guess the first structured piece I wrote was Jessie, a short story when I was 13 about my great-grandmother’s arrival in Australia. My first play was Golden Life – I was at uni majoring in acting; after my first audition the head of the course tactfully suggested I focus on ‘behind the scenes’ so I switched to writing and directing, the play just poured out of me in 6 hours flat! I was hooked – although I have never managed to repeat the ease of writing a play in 6 hours since… I love the immediacy of playwriting and the collaborative aspects.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a playwright?
I don’t think it is an option anymore – I’ve tried the traditional route of corporate life and was completely miserable…I think writing is something you’re born with and you can’t really go against your true nature if you want to remain happy (and sane!)
What work are you most proud of?
I think it would have to be my first play Golden Life because it opened up the world of theatre and the enormous possibilities of writing; as well as and the last play I wrote at NIDA, I Get Along Very Well (Without You) which is where I finally felt things clicked into place for me as a writer. I had come to recognise my process and I felt that the play worked really well on all levels which was exciting, plus I had a great experience working with the director and actors.
What is a dream project of yours? (You can be mysterious!)
I have several (can I have several??) I am fascinated by myth and ritual and I would love to spend time in Ireland or Scotland working on a piece there. I would also love to write something about outback Australia… I am very inspired by the natural world and I don’t think I have explored that enough yet in my work. I am completely obsessed with music and would like to work on something that incorporates musical aspects. Being commissioned by the BBC would also be a little bit of a dream come true too!
Do you have any weird writing rituals?
Ummm…does procrastination count? I usually procrastinate until my skin crawls and I can’t stand to be in the same room as myself; usually as soon as that happens I begin to write…I love writing in cafes, I must always have music on (I tend to make playlists that suit each character) and I always write the first draft long-hand – there is something about writing with pen/paper that makes things seem visceral and alive.
What do you do to get out of your ‘writing head’ when you need to?
Usually more music, a long walk/drive or swimming in the ocean – my characters usually talk to me constantly when I am working on a project so it is hard to leave them behind sometimes… I can be a bit hard to talk to if I have just stopped writing.
Where do you look to find the most inspiration for your work?
Everywhere and everything. I am highly influenced by music and nature and I always turn to them when I need to be inspired. Fellow writers also inspire me. Humankind never fails to inspire flights of fancy…
Name the play/character/line you wish you’d written.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf – Edward Albee
What are your views on the current climate of Australian playwriting?
I wish I could say it is fantastic and supportive and innovative but for new and emerging playwrights (especially women), there is a really small pool of opportunity and support. There is the usual no money, no infrastructure, no real funding arguments which in some ways can actually be really positive incentives to move forward with your work, something to push against; however, what is not so good is the general lack of support within the industry towards new and emerging writers – if we aren’t supported now how can the industry expect to have strong new forms of writing? I am hopeful about a positive change soon – there feels like a changing of the guard is underway.
What is your most important advice for emerging playwrights?
Never give up your dream… no one can stop you from writing, all you need is a pen/paper and an opinion. Be passionate, truthful and write what you want to write about, regardless of whether it is in fashion or not – good writing will always succeed… And make sure you surround yourself with positive, supportive people and other writers who share your philosophy.
Got any shameless plugs? What are you looking forward to seeing in theatres?
I tend not to get my hopes up about plays – the ones that tend to be talked up the most usually disappoint me – too much marketing, not enough artistry…but there is nothing better than walking into a theatre with no expectations and being blown away by amazing writing and great execution.
What is the one play you think every playwright should read/see?
A really tough question but if forced to give a list…
· Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee
· Buried Child by Sam Shepard
· A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
· The Seagull by Anton Chekhov
· Endgame by Samuel Beckett (actually, anything by Beckett)
· Angels in America Pt.1 by Tony Kushner
· I Am My Own Wife by Doug Wright
· Hamlet by William Shakespeare
· The Chapel Perilous by Dorothy Hewett
· Betrayal by Harold Pinter