Last weekend, thanks to the administrations of the indefatigable Salesi Le’ota at Playmarket, Still Life With Chickens enjoyed a workshop directed by Andrew Foster, dramaturged by the redoubtable Stuart Hoar, and with the collective acting prowess of Iaheto Ah Hi, Jess Robinson and Louise Tu’u.
Where the last Kingswood workshop generated the words offensive, adolescent, puerile and crass to describe the play, this latest workshop elicited symbolism, surrealist and existentialist.
Believe me, I’m as surprised as you are.
Sometimes I’ll get to an early stage of developing a project and I’ll stop.
It’s not writer’s block, or a gap in character, story and/or background knowledge. You likely already know that at Fortress Mamea, writer’s block is never an issue, the characters write themselves, story is always a cakewalk, and I never let ignorance and incuriosity get in the way of a first draft.
I used to think it was a crisis of confidence — What the hell am I doing, thinking I can write? — but what it really is is a crisis of permission: Who the hell gave me the permission to write about [SOMETHING POTENTIALLY FAINTLY/REMOTELY CONTROVERSIAL]?
With Kingswood, a love play to my friends and our misspent youth, the question of permissions were sidestepped by accident: the acts of writing and development (and rushing to meet deadlines) meant that actual-event-inspired truths quickly gave way to more dramatically efficient emotional truths. At this point in time, I would have no hesitation in comping my friends to a production.
As for Still Life With Chickens, basing it on my mother’s adventures with poultry gave rise to concerns about my excavation of Mamea family history. I don’t actually recall a crisis of permission. And when I wrote the first dozen or so pages in a blur of creativity and read them back, I found I’d repeated what I’d done with Kingswood at some subconscious level: dramatic emotional truth trumped the source material.
Those are terrible examples, aren’t they? I was rescued by circumstance and dumb (creative) luck, respectively.
So. There’s another project I’ve added to my development slate: it’s an all-female four-hander period piece.
Who the hell do I think I am to write four female characters?
I don’t know but I’m not going to let that stop me.
Postscript: In looking up earlier thoughts on writing female characters, I found something I posted a few years back. Sometimes, I just surprise myself.
Now that the cavalry element have settled on the same property as The Goddess, they’ve been finding ways to make mischief. The Exmoor Mini in particular has provided entertainment (for me, at least; The Goddess, not so much) by having her own ideas about how things should be done. One of those things is the paddock to which she is allocated at any given time.
I totally understand her modus operandi:
- arrive in new paddock with quiet excitement;
- hoover up all easily grazeable (?) grass;
- do a second, slower, pass of the paddock to eat remaining grass;
- patiently find opportunities to look meaningfully at human captors;
- when captors don’t bend to one’s will, wait for dark to make alternate arrangements;
- greet captors from outside allocated paddock the following morning.
Most times, her alternate arrangements are awesomely worth it. (Luckily, there are enough fences and gates on the new Fortress Mamea lands that she can’t hurt herself.)
Some times, things don’t quite work out.
I’m in the process of mothballing a project I’ve poured 250 hours* and a good amount of money into since late last year. I’m consoling myself that I’m mothballing it rather than scrubbing it: I’ll learn what I can from the circumstances of its being mothballed, and try again next year.
Meantime, I’ve got a couple of other projects — including Kingswood which has attracted some interest** — that I’ve been itching to get on with.
I can’t help thinking that if this had happened a few years back, all writing would have sulkily ceased, this blog would
have gone black be very quiet (yet again), and The Goddess would be girding herself to smack some sense (yet again) into the sighing hairy blob in a corner of the keep***.
I daren’t suggest that I might be maturing in this writing gig. But tight spots like this are no longer the catastrophic failures they used to feel like. They’re 1). a learning opportunity, and 2). time to spend elsewhere.
* Damn straight I keep a worksheet of how I spend my time.
** I know! Actual outside-family-and-friends interest!
*** The Goddess doesn’t smack me about, not even figuratively. She’s pretty good like that.
After a two-day workshop under the direction of Katie Wolfe and Ahi Karunaharan, with dramaturg Jo Smith providing overwatch, Kingswood was read by Jason Te Kare, Louise Tu’u, Joy Vaele, and Jason Wu on a warm Wednesday evening in Balmoral, Auckland.
The audience laughed in the right places, their applause was gratifying, and the Q-and-A that followed was enlightening for all present. Afterwards, it was nice to chat with individual audience members like: Auckland Theatre Company artistic director Colin McColl; Bright Star and Pasefika playwright and Playmarket respresentative Stuart Hoar; the indomitable Webmistresse (retired) and her husband; Luncheon and Officer 27 playwright Aroha Awarau; screenwriter Kathryn Burnett; and Titirangi Theatre stalwart and early supporter of the work Duncan Milne.
Where to from here?
I have no idea.
What’s the connection between film director Katie Wolfe, writer Jo Smith, Radio New Zealand producer Jason Te Kare, theatre practitioner Louise Tu’u, and thespians Joy Vaele and Jason Wu?
If you’re curious, in the neighbourhood, or at a loose end on the (almost) eve of Easter Weekend:
- Wednesday 23 March 2016 at 6:30pm
- Auckland Theatre Company
Mt Eden War Memorial Hall
Lower Ground Floor
487 Dominion Road
Last weekend, the wonderful people at Titirangi Theatre granted the script and I a one-day workshop in which the script was read, scenes were stood up, and a number of passages blocked out for a semi-public (The Goddess joined us specifically) reading at day’s end.
Praise be to:
- workshop director — and Titirangi Theatre president — Duncan Milne;
- and the very game and generous Ian Harvey, Colin Mak, Patricia Wichman and Sandra Zvenyika who read aloud, questioned, acted and offered.
I am not worthy.
Last weekend, I nipped down to my oul’ hometoon and ran into this:
Cuba Street closed to traffic, its footpaths and road filthy with pedestrians, all of it sprinkled with light rain showers and a very family-friendly vibe: a street festival called Cuba Dupa. Nice. I walked past the crowded foodstalls with their mouthwatering aromas and found sanctuary in the cool and quiet Clark’s Cafe (where they still have cheesecake cup cakes, very nice indeedy).
Once fed, watered and rested, I hop-skip-and-jumped over the unimaginatively named City to Sea Bridge to Circa Theatre where Kingswood won the 2015 Adam Award for Best Play by a Pasifika Playwright. I guess I’ll be revisiting that script sooner than planned.
While at the Adam Awards, I rubbed shoulders with:
- Hone Kouka, co-winner of the 2015 Adam Award for Best New Zealand Play for Bless the Child, as well as winner of Best Play by a Maori Playwright;
- runner-up Dean Parker with Polo (though I do prefer his initial title, Fear and Misery in the Third Term);
- Michelanne Forster, winner of Best Play by a Woman Playwright for The Gift of Tongues;
- author of the highly commended, Significance, Tom McCrory;
- the always luminous Miria George;
- the boundlessly talented Moana Ete;
- Wellington man-about-town Jonathon Hendry;
- the irrepressible KC Kelly;
- David O’Donnell, fresh from directing Victor Rodger’s incendiary My Name is Gary Cooper in Hawaii;
- and the Playmarket gang of Murray Lynch, Stuart Hoar, Salesi Leota, and Claire O’Loughlin.
That’s me: an utterly shameless name-dropper.
I know. I know. You and I know what kicked this venture off, don’t we?
How hard could it be to write about four friends driving from Auckland to Wellington in a Kingswood stationwagon?
I have friends. We’ve had some adventures. We’ve fallen out and reunited. Some friends I’ve known for more than half of my life. No matter the physical distance or the years between catch-ups, I love them because they’re virtually family — the difference between them and blood relatives is that we chose each other.
So how frickin’ hard could it be to write about a bunch of friends travelling long distance in a classic car?
Harder than I expected. I first wrote it in a skeletal beatsheet form, rewrote it with some bits of dialogue and action in it, took it apart, reassembled it, rewrote it with more dialogue and action, pimped it this time last year, rewrote it, disassembled/reassembled/rewrote it, threw my hands up in exasperation, sulked, got over myself, rewrote it to a full and complete draft, then, despite vowing never to revisit it, revised that draft and…the first proper draft is finished. It’s currently with readers for their consideration.
What took so long? I hear you ask. This play took longer because it has much more of me in it than I bargained for: writing about love and friendship and history and forgiveness required an honesty that no amount of imaginative tap dancing could hide. It was exhausting.
I’m thoroughly sick of this play and hope to never see it again. But should a rehearsed reading be arranged and I get to hear and see it interpreted by people who have no agenda other than Let’s pretend, don’t be surprised if I think to myself, How hard could it be to revisit ‘Kingswood’ just one more time?