Amanda | Old Monk Productions
The risks are great – not counting the obvious financial risk which touches all artists – new work takes a bit of hustling. It takes convincing of actors (and their agents), venues, audiences to invest time, energy and attention in something untested, unknown. When I am watching a new play – particularly in the independent sector – I consider that the actors must believe in the fundamental message, style of the play. I see the actor as an important participant in the curation and development of culture, ideas and I hold them accountable for their choice to be involved. The actor’s contribution is huge – and signals to me their values as a person and an artist in their support of the writer and director. The act of anyone committing their time and attention to a new work is an act of faith – an act of hope some might say – in the possible.
However, it can happen that what is generated can not and does not reach beyond the aspiration of moving the artform forward, or touching an audience. There’s the possibility that the production falls short, confuses, bores, baffles, exhausts, disengages.
The Australian contemporary playwright has a lot to contend with:
The history of theatre
An international pallet of performance styles
A huge back catalogue of great plays
Interesting dinner conversation
International contemporary playwrights
Fads, developments and fashion in playwriting as a contemporary practice
Facebook and other social media
A literate, mobile, educated audience
Limited production resource
Differing performance styles, interests and experience of your cast
The physical limitations of the performance venue you are working in
As such the content, form, style has to be coherent, well thought out, well considered, timely, innovative, fascinating.
If the play is written in a series of re-enactments – without exposing the current issue, the audience is disconnected from the present, the work is not urgent and so meanders. If the characters are written to caricature or type, the audience has little to discover beyond cliche. If the mechanics of the play, for example stage management or set changes are brought into the play – it must serve the story, the theme or the message – otherwise it will appear gratuitous. If the characters tell the audience their inner psychology or expose their motivation which is in clear alignment with their action: the audience has no reason to lean into the play and discover anything for themselves. If the audience becomes aware of a change in lighting state, it is often to indicate a change in scene, mood or idea – if the lighting state does this without a thematic or structural change – or even to express a time of day, it disturbs the audience, without any pay off. If the character is established as angry and didactic at the top of each scene, there is little opportunity for the character to develop. If there is a character that is constantly making jokes or commenting on another character’s vulnerable reveal, or on an important monologue which is there to serve to cohesively bring all aspects of the story together: the audience can become distracted by the commentary, and not pay attention, nor give much weight to the message. The premise is everything. The characters status is important – shifts in status must serve the story, the message. Likewise a change in furniture must serve the story, or the space: remove a chair and you change the world. Is it true that a police officer or sargeant has infinite time to hear the self-aware, self-reflective memories of a criminal? Grant a prisoner freedom to walk out and get a cup of tea, and the premise of the scene is no longer respected as holding any gravitas. Tell the audience what the play is trying to say, eg “There is always hope” and they’re less likely to believe it, than if they were to walk away thinking and feeling there is always hope.
Additionally the question needs to be asked: if your question or premise of your play is, for example “is evil created or is evil innate?” – it might be worth considering if that is what your play is about. If perhaps your play is not about that, but about hope, it how important it is for the audience to know the conclusion of such a discussion “There is always hope” before they’ve seen the play?
Amanda is a play which requires some rigorous re-drafting, reconceptualizing if it is to overwhelm and bypass stories (plays and films and novels) which touch on similar themes in the cannon eg: No Exit, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Wolf Lullaby, Hedda Gabler.
written and directed by Mark Langham
performed by Amylea Griffin, Paul Armstrong, Elizabeth Macgregor
“”What did you do?” Was Amanda born this way or has circumstance made her what she is? What is she and, where is she? A new play from this multi award winning writer tells of our disconnection from each other, the ease with which we distance ourselves from others and much more. It does it with this writer’s customary wit and directness and is so sharp it may cut.”
May 13~18, 2014
Downstairs Theatre, TAP Gallery