31703_426341461966_586631966_5429951_828750_n[1] Some questions I’ve answered about my thoughts on New play development.

I have had lots of great times in play development processes… But here’s quite memorable on one from the first Queen Street Studio Off the Shelf presentation (Fraser Studios) which was in 2009. As wonderfully large Studio 14 is for rehearsal, if it rains, you can’t hear anything. After watching the weather forecast on an iPhone and watching storm clouds brew, we thought we’d chance it. Halfway through Bridget Price’s play “Harpoon” rain started to pelt down on the studio’s tin roof. We couldn’t hear a thing. Actors mouthing words we couldn’t hear. A producer’s nightmare. Then it started. Rob Brookman, Kate Gaul, Lachlan Philpott and eighty independent and emerging artists picked up their miss-matching chairs enmasse and relocated the reading to studio 10 as the visual art residents looked on, baffled. A sense of instant community was born. We laughed, chatted and settled.

And I think development programs are essential in the support of artists and specific work…
There are many script development programs in Australia, and they’ve been proliferating since I first started developing and showcasing work by emerging artists in 2007. There is no doubt there is a need and a desire for playwrights to hear their work. What set the program apart from others was the practical feedback sessions and the continued mentoring. Its one thing to hold a showcase, another to sustain relationships with the artists. There are many dramaturges and script doctors, and people specialising in directing of “old” plays running workshops, and they have their place, but to be given practical advice about how to go the next step to get your play produced/noticed/promoted once it’s completed, is another thing – and most developments see the development as an end in itself – which is really only half the process of writing for theatre.

I am very proud of the company I’ve kept over the past six years working exclusively on new play development. All the participants have something to offer the creative community. In fact all of them already have. There is not one writer, director or actor who hasn’t continued to make work. But if you’re wondering what else the OTSers have been up to?somewhere in the world. Phil Spencer is now the Associate Artistic Director of the TRS, Scarlet McGlynn is powering on with her company Tin Shed, Jonathan Wald has worked int he States and Vienna with Elaine Hudson and last year directed God’s Ear at the Seymour Centre, John Fraser has a show at the Old Fitz this year, Alli Sebastian Wolf has had multiple shows at festivals and on radio, Jasper Marlow is writing TV, film and for a new project called “Heart Dot Com” coming up. Talya Rubin continues to bounce between Canada and Australia touring her shows, Andy Leonard writing and performing, Alison Rooke has just returned form a play reading in New York. Patrick Lenton has retunred from Adelaide with his second adventure work “100 Years of Lizards.” Emrys Quin, the youngest writers from Off the Shelf has had work staged and published earlier this year via ATYP (published through Currency Press) and is now working with Subtlenuance on Bare Boards Brave Hearts. Kit Brookman has been a finalist for the Griffin and the Patrick White Award and continues to rise and shine on stage as actor and writer – and has just started directing. Paige Rattray’s company Arthur has been acknowledge at the Green Room Awards and Zoe Hogan’s Small Life was included in the National Play Festival last year.

And if you were to ask me what as a producer matters most to me?
Quality work by quality people. Quality work goes without saying (I want surprising, sophisicated, innovative, intriguing new work)AND I’m looking for the best possible people to work with. I don’t care if you are a genius but you are a jerk. “Jerk” cancels out “genius” in my opinion. I have no interest in supporting, engaging with or promoting nasty, aggressive, arrogant people – I have no time nor energy for that. Theatre is hard enough as it is, without having to suffer jerks. I have heard storys from many of Australia’s most inspiring and prolific playwrights about bad or poor processes – processes where directors lost their tempers and walked off on helping “solve the script.” Appauling. In all acts of production what matters most is how the participants feel about what they are doing, who they are doing it with and why. It is essential that people feel their contribution is valued and an important part of the whole process. It matters that there is a sense of cohesion, a sense of acceptance and community – because theatre is such a social act of community – whatever happens behind the scenes, affects that which happens with an audience. I think planning is important, clarity of communication and respect are non-negotiables and above all if anything doesn’t go to plan, the team comes together, not fall apart.

And I spend a lot of time thinking about what it is that artists (particularly writers and directors) need to make the best possible work.
All artists need a huge amount of support – from their family, friends, peers, colleagues – from their community, just as any one who isn’t an artist does. The difference is that in the case of playwrights, they need feedback about their work. Somewhere there is the romantic idea that the writer or artist is in a type of solitary confinement, creating alone. And there is some truth in that, but for the playwright and for the director and the actor, they are reliant on audience for their work to exist and makes sense. It is not enough to offer development space for workshops – audience and diverse audience feedback is essential to help the artist refine what they are making, to whom they are making it. It is not enough to offer production without development. It is all these things and most importantly to ensure artists continue, it is essential that they experience sustained, diverse, quality conversations about their work.

I think it’s tricky field to negotiate.
New play culture is in crisis. And it’s not specific to Australia. And it is not merely a case of “not enough new plays are being developed.” Plenty are. And it’s not a case of the mainstage is not producing new work – they are, it’s just not necessarily local, nor are those plays written by writers. Generally, how companies treat, talk to and engage with writers (established and emerging) varies wildly. A reassuring/eye-opening/disturbing book handed to me by Adelaide’s own lady Blogger Jane Howard (aka No Plain Jane check her out HERE) has deepened my thinking on the field. Outrageous Fortune: The Life and Times of the New American Play by Todd London, Ben Pesner, Zannie Giraud Voss is a stunning look at the field of new work in the States…

Is the grass is always greener? Or is that just astro turf?

Hard to tell sometimes.

Instead I spend every spare moment of my time reading scripts, developing projects, talking with artists. Working on new plays is a specialised skill – each playwright works differently, and at a different pace and in a different style… and with their own personality. It may seem obvious, but working with a playwright is very different to working on a dead man’s script. And working on a new play is very different to working on something tried and tested. Some times over written, sometimes under written. Sometimes there are missing scenes or too much information. Sometimes the logistics of space require more or less of something.

We have an obsession with premieres. New plays (if they are lucky to get a production) – may only get it once…. or be remounted with the same director and the original cast.

There is an application culture even in companies which stifles opportunities for artists. Artists with huge track records who have a great idea and great team may not write a great application and so be discounted from development opportunities. One annecdote I heard yesterday demonstrated how a great application and a great artist with a great project was denied a residency “clearly yours is the best application with the best ideas, but we feel we have supported you enough and should go out and do it on your own.”

There is a crisis also that most new Australian plays are written by the middle class and highly educated people. We still don’t have plays written, developed or produced in languages other than English – and if we are a multi-lingual society – why don’t our plays reflect that? We see operas in Italian. We listen to Spanish and German music…

Also there is a very VERY stupid tendancy to label the artist, not the work, as “emerging.” Not all young writers with less than 5 stage credits need the patronizing label of “emerging” and some of our senior writers need much more time, care and support despite the fact they are labelled as “established.” Let’s get rid of this “funding body speak” and start talking about the work – and if the work is new or has been through many drafts.

How you develop artists and how you develop work are totally different, but not mutually exclusive. Many writers have the play “they had to write” so they could move onto their next great play… the process is long – and will take a lifetime – and success, fashion, money, energy will fluctuate and waiver. But I really think that regardless artists need support, they need individual development and their work needs close and compassion care.

And above all I believe that artist need to be given a bit more credit. Because they are hard enough on themselves, without curators and administrators or beaurocrats making it arduous and exhausting and mysterious in the name of “transparency” and “rigour.”