Well it’s finally happening. In two weeks I’ll be working with director, six actors and script in a big, empty theatre space for one day’s rehearsal to workshop the first draft of my new play Muffins at the Death Café. The public reading will be on 2 December.
I’m understandably both excited and nervous. My last two plays have had readings but gone nowhere, even though I was an artist in residence with the two theatre companies concerned. This is the greatest confidence knock a writer can get. You spend one year developing a play and working closely with a company. The public reading goes exceptionally well. The audience love it, applaud, congratulate you. You think you’ve cracked it.
And then the company decides not to run with the baby that you have loved and nurtured and wept and laughed over. You immediately think you are a hopeless writer, completely lacking in talent and prospects, so you’d better quit now. Well, maybe other writers roll with punches better. I’ve always been far too thin-skinned for my own good.
Writing this new play has been a tremendous leap of faith on my part.
It is certainly a work in progress and needs a new draft, but I believe in the characters and what the play’s inherent message. It has had no development grant or support other than this workshop hosted by Melbourne Writer’s Theatre and La Mama Theatre for which I am exceptionally grateful. I have never worked with the director, Tammie Kite of Innatum Theatre or the actors before, so it will be like stepping into an unknown, rather terrifying but potentially exhilarating universe.
What I’m hoping for is a road map for writing the second draft. Hearing your script read aloud is a wonderful opportunity to see what works, uncover what jars and generate new ideas for plot and character development. I love the collaborative nature of theatre making (it’s probably why I’ve never tackled a novel).
And I love the unique smell of theatres. It hits you when you walk in – a mixture of dust, greasepaint, wood and cardboard burnished by years and years of diverse productions that somehow seep into the very walls.
Theatre making in Australia is a lonely business. There’s little support for playwrights. Which is why many aspiring writers form their own companies. But most of these are people in their 20s or 30s who all went to uni together. They have a built-in network they can tap into.
I started writing in my 40s and I wasn’t born in this country, so forming those crucial alliances has been hard going. Plus I run my own business, I’m married, mortgaged and have family commitments – I’m in a very different space to young, carefree singles. I have also found it absolutely impossible to work the system: I’ve never been successful in obtaining grants for my work, so in order to produce it I’ve either had to pay for it to be put on myself (very expensive) or rely on (as it turns out hitherto fruitless) writer-in-residence status.
So – am I optimistic about the future of Muffins At the Death Café? Yes and no. I’m hoping someone will come along to the reading and like it enough to work with me to bring it to production. But even if nothing happens, at least the creative juices are flowing again after an 18 month hiatus. And that has to be a good thing.
If you’re in Melbourne, come along to the reading at the Carlton Courthouse on Monday 2 December at 7pm. Tickets are only $5, which assists Melbourne Writer’s Theatre run workshops and readings like this one. And if you come, please say hello (I’ll be the woman gnawing her fingernails at the back of the stalls) and say you read this on Books Now!