Something to Say is an occasional blog series showcasing authors and other creative types who have upcoming launches or events. STS #1 is thrilled to welcome Melbourne author and playwright Emilie Collyer, who has some news to share with us.
STS: Welcome, Emilie. What project are you talking about today?
My play Contest that is opening at Northcote Town Hall as part of Darebin Arts Speakeasy on 25 July. Directed by Prue Clark, we have a fabulous all-female team of performers and creatives.
Read all about it at darebinarts.com.au/contest
STS: Congratulations, Emilie! Is there one aspect of Contest that you relate to most – a favourite character, scene, effect? Can you tell us more about that?
Contest uses netball as a lens through which to ask the broad question: ‘How to be a woman’. The impetus came from two things. Firstly, as an adult, attending my stepdaughter’s club netball games when she was a child and the sense I had walking into that space with the other adult women – did I belong, would I be accepted? Just like back at school. That emotional see-saw of how we do and don’t fit into groups has such potency, no matter what age we are. I started researching netball and was fascinated to find it had been adapted from basketball in the late 19th century as a more ‘appropriate’ sport for women (no contact, being delineated into certain parts of the court, no running with the ball). So what started as an activity to control women’s bodies now lives on as a fiercely competitive female space. I love this contradiction.
I also love the responses I got from women when I said I was writing a piece about netball. Nearly everyone had a visceral reaction: they loved netball or hated it. The second impetus was that I wanted to write a piece where we saw different kinds of women being highly physical on stage. Women whose bodies we don’t often see in this context. The actors in this piece are in their 40s and 50s. One of the characters has a chronic illness and one of our actors is a wheelchair user. We are working with choreographers to create a movement score along with the text of the play which is new and exciting territory for me. The piece is definitely about endurance, in all kinds of contexts. This is probably the aspect I relate to the most, that circles back to that initial question and what it takes to forge out a place and identity as a woman.
STS: That sounds awesome and very creative. What do you think drives you to pursue your creativity?
My urge to create stems from an intersection of deeply personal existentialism and the rough justice of social structures. So the obsessions and frailties and dark recesses of my own being on the one hand, and things that infuriate or perplex me about the world at large on the other. While I also write prose and poetry, I think this is why theatre suits me so much. Theatre is a very socio-political form that is great for investigating and interrogating cultural structures. I write to nut through problems and externalise my neuroses (so they don’t eat me from the inside). In my writing for the stage, I am particularly interested in theatre as a site of potential transformation. I suspect some of this stems from a Christian (Lutheran) upbringing, attending church from a very young age and having that sense of ritual, cosmic mystery, dread and personal sacrifice as part of my psyche.
STS: Many writers have described their processes using analogies – the famous Hemingway one, for example, in which he says that writing is simply a matter of sitting in front of the typewriter and staring at a blank page until you start to sweat blood. Others speak of stitching scenes together, following characters on a journey, immersing themselves in a storyline. What can you say about your process?
I look and listen for words and situations that strike me with a delicious or terrible incongruity. My plays will often be born from a single image or moment I have heard about or imagined. I then (usually slowly and very painstakingly) build a world around that to create a whole piece that can hold that moment. For example, my past play Dream Home was born from the words: ‘We’re going up.’ It was an exploration of suburban ambition, dreaming and terror via the lens of home renovation. People often describe my works as psychic spaces or dreamscapes. But they are always also grounded in character, relationship, situation and often humour.
STS: That’s great. Finally, what five words would you use to describe yourself as a writer?
Tenacious. Wonderer. Excavator. Multifarious. Verbose (see above).
Emilie Collyer, thank you so much for having Something to Say.
You can find Emilie at her website, betweenthecracks.net and on Twitter and Insta @EmilieCollyer
To book for her upcoming play Contest, go to http://www.darebinarts.com.au/whats-on/contest-written-by-emilie-collyer
Emilie’s author photo by Ross Daniels
All Contest images are of Emily Tomlins by Sarah Walker