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Posts tagged ‘playwright’

Something to Say: Liz Newell

Today on our occasional Something to Say series of interviews with a variety of creative folk, I’m very pleased to speak with Perth playwright Liz Newell, whose play Alone Outside (what a chilling title!) has finally reached us over here in the east of Australia after debuting in Perth in 2017.

STS: Welcome, Liz. You have exciting news for us?

Liz: My one-woman play Alone Outside is making its East Coast debut as part of Melbourne Fringe, thanks to the glorious guys at Lab Kelpie. It’s on in the Fringe Hub at Arts House from September 14-29. It’s a warm, funny, occasionally bittersweet exploration about the journey home – about how the things we leave often wait for us to get back, and about how we wouldn’t be who we are if it weren’t for where we’ve come from (whether we like it or not). The play premiered in my hometown Perth in 2017 as part of FRINGE WORLD Festival at The Blue Room Theatre, so this is its second outing, and my first play to be produced on the East Coast, so it’s a pretty exciting time.

Alone Outside - Promo Image featuring Sharon Davis

STS: Alone Outside sounds very interesting. What aspect of the play do you relate to most – the character, a scene, an effect? Can you tell us more about that?

Alone Outside is a pretty personal work for me – by no means autobiographical, because I’m nothing like Daphne is (I wish I were!), but it’s very much based on people and places I’ve experienced. I grew up in a small regional city in south-west WA and the story takes place during a woman’s first few days back in her small home town after a long absence. The coast, the rolling green hills, the little islands in the harbour, the cold nights and warm days, the dingy pubs, the school friends she hasn’t seen for ages who are all married now – it’s not much of a stretch for my imagination because I’ve experienced it first hand many times.

Daphne also wrestles with this sense of unease upon her return, with the knowledge that she doesn’t particularly enjoy being there anymore, but that so much of who she is now has to do with the place and its people. It’s strange to confront the things that make us who we are, and even stranger when we’re not sure if we like them anymore, and I think a lot of people who grew up in places or situations they don’t look back on fondly can relate to that.

Playwright Liz Newell and Performer Sharon Davis

Playwright Liz Newell and performer Sharon Davis.

STS: Yes, I totally agree. What do you think drives you to pursue your creativity?

Writing is the only thing I absolutely love doing and feel like I sort of know how to do. Other things I probably know how to do, but don’t enjoy, or I do enjoy, but I don’t know how to do them.

I draw a lot of inspiration and motivation from theatre and TV shows and any kinds of stories that I see and think are phenomenal in one way or another – well acted, well written, well structured, a solid story, a surprising character arc, anything. I saw Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls (directed by Imara Savage and featuring Helen Thomson and Kate Box, amidst an all-star cast of ladies) in March this year and I still think about it nearly every day. I also recently devoured US sci-fi show Counterpart on SBSonDemand in a single weekend; it’s brilliantly acted, and a master class in narrative structure. To create something at least half as good as the things that light a fire in my belly, and maybe give some other audience member the experience that I once had, is the dragon I’m forever chasing.

A lot of my work is very character-driven and female-centric, and I think it’s really important, especially in this day and age, to give people the chance to see themselves onstage wherever possible – especially, with any due respect, people who aren’t Straight White Middle Class Males. I’d like to give a bit of a voice however I can to anyone who can’t see themselves in anything Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and others of the Canon have ever written.

STS: Chasing dragons, eh? Many writers have described their processes using analogies – Hemingway staring at a blank page until he sweats blood for example. What can you say about your process?

Hemingway’s “sit at a typewriter and bleed” is a classic. I think of that often and I think there’s an important lesson in there that I like to remember – that in order for words to really sit perfectly on the page, or for a story or scene to really sing, you do have to put a tiny piece of yourself into what you’re doing; some small truth which, if it weren’t there, the work would be lesser for it. The audience might never know what it truly means, and you might never tell anyone how true it is to you, but it’s still there, doing an important job.

I’m also a fan of the often-used expression that to write a first draft is to just “vomit onto the page” and deal with it later; the key is to just get something out as a starting point. It certainly feels like that sometimes when you’re pushing through a scene or plot point that you’re not convinced is working yet, and all the words on the page look like slop.

Bleeding, vomiting, it’s all pretty unpleasant stuff but then, the act of writing can be pretty brutal!

For my overall process, I tend to think of every beat or scene as a building block. I move them around, stack them on top of one another, replace them with bigger, better ones. Eventually, hopefully, you end up with something strong enough to bear the weight of the director, actors and creative team who will eventually jump up and down on it in rehearsals.

STS: Wonderful images; thank you for those! Finally, what five words would you use to describe yourself as a writer?

Disorganised. Stubborn. Ambitious. Determined. Inconsistent.

Playwright Liz Newell

Wow, some great foremost protagonist attributes there, Liz. Thank you so much for having Something to Say. It’s been a complete pleasure. Go catch that dragon.

 ALONE OUTSIDE plays at the Fringe Hub, Arts House, North Melbourne 14-29 September 2018. To book, go to http://bit.ly/AloneOutside

IMAGE CREDITS:

All Alone Outside promotional and rehearsal images of performer Sharon Davis are by Adam Fawcett.

Image of the Rockies and headshot feature our playwright Liz Newell.

Something to Say: Emilie Collyer

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.

Emilie Collyer_2018_Image Ross Daniels

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.

Contest Promo 1_Emily Tomlins_Image by Sarah Walker_web res

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

 

IMAGE CREDITS:

Emilie’s author photo by Ross Daniels

All Contest images are of Emily Tomlins by Sarah Walker