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The December Photo: from inspiration to a Melbourne Fringe show

Keith Gow, Writer. Richard Di Gregorio, Actor.

Look at us. Look how young we look. Look how full of hope and creativity and smiles we are.

We’re in Richard’s office, sitting in front of his Mac, generating ideas for the one man show that would eventually become RICHARD DI GREGORIO: ON TIME – which premiered at the Melbourne Fringe Festival last night.

(And check out the online story which got published in the hours before opening night.)

Richard and I met when Richard was cast in my play, “The Fidelity Act” – part of last year’s Short & Sweet Melbourne. (Thanks to Ephiny Gale for picking my script and to Yvonne Virsik for suggesting Richard, when Ephiny was having trouble casting the part of Charlie. This year would have been entirely different for us without those two people.)

During rehearsals, which began in October, Richard asked me what else I’d written. He asked if I had ever written a one-man show. It’s a great feeling as a writer to have an actor ask for more of your work – whether to find a part already written that they would be perfect for, or to be asked specifically to write something for them.

Richard had never done a one-man show before and I’d never written one. And while there was a part of me that wondered if I could do it, that whole part about a writer being flattered to be asked to write something for an actor won. And on the drive home from rehearsals, I began turning things over in my mind.

Something I learned about Richard really early on – he can tell a great story. The first great story he ever told about his life, during rehearsals, is actually a part of ON TIME. In the script I refer to it as “The Cigarette Story”, but it’s got much more to it than a story about Richard smoking – it’s about the early days of his relationship with Nin, it’s about freezing cold Ballarat nights and it’s about Braveheart. He made an intimate story seem epic. He made a small moment feel big enough to tell on stage.

Early on in the process, when the page is blank, I could write anything. What can Richard do? What is he interested in? What does he want to say? Does he want me to create a character for him? Or, should we play to his strengths – Richard telling stories about his own life?

As we sat there, in Richard’s office, for our first proper meeting – we’d met once earlier at Blue Train for dinner and drinks, but December was when we got down to business – Richard took the above photo. That was the beginning of a brilliant working relationship.

Getting to know him – remember, I’d only met him in October – and getting to know his strengths as a storyteller and other skills he had (very early on, I asked him if he could sing – this became crucial to the show), Richard told me a lot of stories about himself. Enough stories that there could be a sequel, although perhaps with another overriding theme. Or maybe we cherry picked the very best for ON TIME, ones that flow beautifully from one to the next, with some nicely crafted tangents to make a whole show.

Early on, we decided we didn’t want the show to just be stand-up. We wanted it to be a proper theatre show, even though it has elements of stand-up in it. I still don’t think I’m comfortable with the idea of writing an hour of stand-up material, but collaborating with Richard proved that I could definitely write a one-man show for the right actor.

It might be in the Comedy section of the Fringe Festival guide, but it’s a variety show. There’s stand-up and storytelling, a song (or two) and a sitcom about Time & Space dropped into the middle. And, after finally getting to see the whole show last night (my 9 to 5 job kept me away from rehearsals), it achieves a good balance of humour and contemplation; laughs and reflection. Comedy/Drama – you know, those old standards.

We had a first draft by March and a director (Chris Broadstock) soon after. Then our producer, Ephiny Gale, came on board. And the team was off and running.

Not a lot of changes happened to the script after March. We rearranged where the stories sat in the running order and we changed the tone of a couple of them, one rehearsals had started; when Richard and Chris could see how things flowed and anticipated what the audience reaction might be to the stories and to the – slightly fictionalised – Richard Di Gregorio.

I’m really proud of the work we’ve all done and thrilled with the finished product. I hope many of you reading this can come along and check it out over the next two weeks. And for those of you not in Melbourne, we’re off to Adelaide in March – and planning a little trip to Edinburgh later in the 2012. Look out world, Keith and Richard are ON TIME.

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