An interactive blog for playwrights
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Jonathan Ari Lander
JONATHAN ARI LANDER is a Sydney based playwright is currently a PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales. He teaches and lectures in the school of history at UNSW. In 2008 Ari won the Max Afford Award for Revolution. Revolution was subsequently presented at the 2009 National Play Festival in Tasmania. Ari was a 2008/2009 resident playwright at the Griffin Theatre Company. His short play Measure was part of the 2009 cycle of short plays at the Griffin. Measure was also part of the 2009 Brand Spanking New Season at the New Theatre and was published in the anthology Short Circuits by Currency Press. His play A Knife Dream will be read by the Griffin Theatre in 2010. Ari’s play Redemption is part of the 2010 season at the Old Fitzroy Theatre which will play from May 12 to June 14. Ezekiel’s Song was presented at Theatre@Risk’s Festival of New Works and was short-listed for the 2009 Rodney Seaborn Award and was co-winner of the 2009 St Martin’s Young Playwright’s Award. The play will be presented by St Martin’s at the end of 2010. Ari attended the NIDA Playwrights’ Studio in 2010.
What excites you/terrifies you most about writing for the stage?
It takes me a long time to write, literally years. So for me the most terrifying and exciting part of the process is handing away my creation to someone else and watching them piece together a production out of my words and images. I hope what I have written gives them enough to delve into and make the play their own, but I also hope my voice is still present… Exciting. Terrifying. (One needs to be a bit melodramatic to be a writer for theatre)
Tell us about one of your earliest writing attempts.
In my final year of high school I decided to write a play ‘inspired’ by Absurdist theatre… Is there anything more pretentious than a seventeen year old trying to be an Existentialist????
What would you be doing if you weren’t a playwright?
I’m doing a PhD in history, go the glory of academia!
What work are you most proud of?
This cameo : )
What is a dream project of yours? (You can be mysterious!)
Hmmm… I wish I was mysterious. All my mystery gets plugged into my writing. (At least I hope so)
Do you have any weird writing rituals?
I wish I was a little weirder then my response would by mysterious. I seem to do what a lot of other writers do, procrastinate, think a lot, read a lot… Look for inspiration on the wall paper and Facebook.
What do you do to get out of your ‘writing head’ when you need to?
Read. Listen to music. Go for a run. (A short pathetic one. In order to look like a writer I need to look like I live behind a desk)
Where do you look to find the most inspiration for your work?
I like this question, but I’m not sure I have an answer; writing is a mysterious activity to me – what sparks and captures your imagination? What makes you want to delve into a world and write and write and write about it and live with for years? I’m terrible at talking about my plays and why I write, but I guess the best answer would be the broadest. I get inspiration from a bit of everywhere: history, literature, life experiences, religion, images, dreams… and never anything from my wallpaper or Facebook…
Name the play/character/line you wish you’d written.
This could go on for a while… Where to start? Practically all of Shakespeare? The Crucible? Our Town? Under the Elms? Far Away? Blasted? Angels in America?
Ok. How’s this for a line?
‘Correcto. Ice and snow. No Eskimo. Even hallucinations have laws.’
The literati out there can play pick the source….
What are your views on the current climate of Australian playwriting?
Here we go…
I love writing and I love theatre but it’s still pretty tough out there, but there are lot of individual personalities, companies and organisations doing some excellent work to support young writers but the reality remains… Theatre is a nervy business; it’s expensive to base a production on a new Australian play. What would the average punter want to see: A production of a well known American play which has been acclaimed, or a new Australian play that no one has seen? (If I’m not mistaken according to PWA only 11% of plays which are performed are written by Australian playwrights… Most of those are from independent theatre companies, i.e. companies that are not paying writers their $10,000 commission which is the current standard)
I could go on, but I’ll give a quick and interesting anecdote, I’ve been teaching at university for five years and a question I’ve come to ask my students is if they have seen a piece of theatre in the last five years. These students are hopefully representative of the most intellectually and artistically inquisitive young adults today in Australia. And yet, I have found that very, very few have seen any theatre outside of going with school. This year, of my 100 plus students, one had been to the theatre with friends… And it’s not a matter of money for most of the students; they drink each week a ticket to a theatre show. I guess my point is there is a lack of interest in theatre which means there is a very small audience for theatre and that reduces the opportunities for Australian writers to get work up.
Nonetheless, on a positive note.
What is your best advice for emerging playwrights?
I am ‘emerging’ so… I try to see a lot, write a lot, and hopefully it’s working : )
Got any shameless plugs? What are you looking forward to seeing in theatres?
Yeah, time to be shameless.
I have a play called Redemption on at the Old Fitz. (That’s my eyeball image that Jo kindly let me include. I don’t really look like that.) The season runs from May 14-June 12. I think we’re putting a fantastic show together. (Of course I would) It’s a small play (a cast of four, one act) but also an epic play in which a family watches the world die, and then a stranger steps into their home who may or may not be the devil incarnate. But hopefully it’s about so much more, the creation of myth, the lies and bonds which create us… It’s not a comedy. Intrigued? Please come and support us : ) (hopefully you’ve made it this far in my long rambling answers to find out about the show!)
What is the one play you think every playwright should read/see? (Will accept a short list if impossible!)
Another impossible question!! For me the text which changed the way I read theatre Was Kushner’s Angels… but that was just me… If you haven’t read it already, what are doing wasting your time on Facebook?