As a writer, I want to feel like I’m developing on a creative level. As a playwright, I want to know that I am advancing my career. Sometimes these things happen in tandem. Most of the time, they feel separate. I am writing my newest play or I am working on a production of a show I have already written. I am attending a discussion group or a lecture or a presentation and then I’m networking and trying to sell myself. Even looking at that list, it’s not always clear which of those things is which. Networking can be just as much about developing creatively (working with new actors or a praised director) as helping my career.
Last Friday night, I had a special one-night only reading of my play Painting with Words & Fire at Primary Stages in New York. I was in town and an actor friend of mine from Melbourne, who is now living in New York, agreed to help me put together a presentation of my work in the Big Apple. It was a bit about presenting it for New York locals I know, who haven’t seen my work. It was a bit about presenting it for New York locals I don’t know, who don’t know me or my writing at all. And it was a bit about indulging myself; the idea of presenting my work as a playwright in New York – kind of amazing.
|An introduction by the writer|
But on a creative level, I got to see the show done in American accents. Well, two out of three. My friend, Laura Hill, decided to play the role of Penny the pyromaniac as Australian, mostly because that character drops a lot of Melbourn references. That was a great choice; my New York friends got to see Laura play a bogan (translation: white trash) with a heavy Australian accent. In fact, some of Laura’s New York friends got to hear her Australian accent for the first time, as well!
|Laura Hill as Penny|
The whole show was really well received. I got to meet people in the flesh who I had only ever known through social media and I got to show off my writing in front of people I didn’t know, all of whom had great feedback for me afterward.
And hearing the characters of Jane (played by Hannah Finn) and Sophia (played by Rebecca Burton) in a different cadence and rhythm than I was used to; that was very instructive. Some of Jane’s poems struck me in different ways and the turns in Sophia’s monologue were interesting to watch in someone else’s mouth. (Before this reading, Sophia had only ever been read/performed by Adrienne Sloan.) All the performances were wonderful.
|Hannah Finn as Jane|
|Rebecca Burton as Sophia|
Discussion afterward turned to: local references – and how much we should embrace them or if writers should sometimes rewrite to suit an audience; how much the production of “Sleep No More” in New York might affect a local audience seeing my Lady M character; and how the American accent may or may not change how we perceive these characters.
Actually, to that last part, let me allow a gross generalisation – Australians are often noted for ending their sentences “up”, so that we always sound like we’re asking a question. In contrast, I feel like an Americans’ natural sentence delivery makes everything sound declarative. Or, Australians are indecisive, Americans are definite.
I was looking forward to the reading and it exceeded my expectations. It was amazing what director Robert Gonyo was able to do with the actors in the limited time they had. It got a great reception from the audience: a mix of theatre-makers, theatre-goers and a couple of random friends who just wanted to support me. And apart from learning anything specific about this show, I was able to put my best foot forward in New York – put on a show that works, put on a show that I am proud of and I can talk about a lot, put on a show that had several people living in New York become interested in seeing what I had to offer next.
The upshot? I learned a little bit more about what I need to do next, both creatively and on a professional level. And I talked myself into getting back to New York even quicker than I did this last time. The place is filled with theatre and theatre-makers and it is always inspiring. In 2010, it kicked off a rush of writing that has led me to this point. 2012’s visit? Makes me want to come back in 2013, another play in hand. And see what we can make happen.
Thank you again to Laura Hill, Hannah Finn, Rebecca Burton, Robert Gonyo and Primary Stages.
Later this week, when I get home from New York, I'll be writing up a post about all the great (and not-so-great) theatre I've seen here.