So I sometimes write plays. I’ve been in the Street Theatre’s writer’s program, which is called The Hive, for the last 3-and-a-half years. I’ve had one play actually produced and staged, which was called RIG. I’ve written a couple of other scripts since then, both unproduced (one of them, a rural Australian crime drama called Police Boys, will probably be Luke and my first full length indie feature).
Playwriting is humbling as shit. Unlike songs, films and comics, theater isn’t a form that I’ve lived and breathed growing up. The Hive has a few dozen writers from a variety of backgrounds but they all share a commonality of reference and a feel for the medium that I don’t have. Again and again I go through the frustrating process of presenting something as a script or a read-through and being told ‘what you’ve actually written here is a film’. I claw my way toward a more theatrical conception of structure, of symbolism, of character, of pacing, only to fall into an Uncanny Valley of ‘plilm’-iness that makes the script unusable in any arena other than as an exercise to get me to the next thing.
You see, there was only one small theater in Broken Hill and I went there like 4 times. I’m not a theater guy. So why am I doing it, when I have so many other ridiculous projects on the go?
Firstly, the ACT is a theater town. Of lot of the close friends I made when I moved here were total theater brats, and they roped me in to do the odd short script for their anthology shows. I got a taste for the instant gratification (at least relative to film) of seeing my stuff exist as a performance, and couldn’t help but be taken with the reverence (at least relative to film!) with which the writer is treated. Then some of my friends started to have full-length plays put on, and my competitive side woke up. I could do that.
RIG was written in a weird angst-y fever, as if it was the only play I would ever write. It was about a bitter political activist with a magic face who gets involved in a spoilt heiress’ plan to save the world. It was an overplotted, undercharacterised mess. The Hive matched me up with an incredible dramaturg who helped me whip it into a shape that could actually be staged. The ANU theater society put it on and I was actually pretty proud of it, warts and all.
‘Duh’ statement of the week: you can do things on the stage that you can’t do anywhere else. I think the thing I like best is the idea that you have a captive audience. People can get up and leave but it’s a bigger deal than at the movies. For the most part people are going to sit there for the whole thing, even it you’re putting across unpalatable or confronting stuff. I don’t think of myself as a sensationalist artist but the opportunity to push a live audience and see if they push back is very cool.
My next script is going to be a theater piece and nothing else (shakes fist, stamps foot!). It’ll incorporate original songs and act as something of an heir to The Last Prom. It’ll be a one man show, and I’m planning it as a vehicle for myself to act in. ‘Cause you know, it’s not enough of a challenge just to write a decent play.