STILL LIFE WITH CHICKENS: a reading

Three chickens at Fortress Mamea (West Auckland), 2011.

Auckland Theatre Company are hosting a reading of Still Life With Chickens next week.

Directed by Andrew Foster, featuring Goretti Chadwick, Julia Croft, and Fasitua Amosa, with a workshop chicken puppet by Katie Parker, and under the watchful dramaturgical eye of Philippa Campbell Jo Smith, it’ll be 45 minutes of laughs, clucking and gardening.

If you’re in the neighbourhood next Thursday, check it out:

  • Thursday 4 May 2017 at 4:30pm
  • Auckland Theatre Company Studios
    487 Dominion Road
    Mount Eden
    Auckland

Manuia.

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STILL LIFE WITH CHICKENS: post-award

I’m chuffed. Have I already said I’m chuffed? (Yes.)

I even like the photograph that accompanied the press release at The Big Idea:

This looks like it was taken at the 2015 Adam Awards. Photo: Philip Merry.

I also rather like this description of it:

It is full of delicious detail, funny, heart wrenching and intensely moving. It is a work unmistakably growing right out of New Zealand soil; distinctly Samoan but with absolutely universal appeal.

The script will have a workshop with actors, director and dramaturg in the coming month. The workshop will end with a kind of rehearsed reading that may be open to the public. You’ve been warned.

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STILL LIFE WITH CHICKENS: 2017 Adam Award winner

Mother hen and chicks, October 2012.

A play inspired by my mother’s adventures with poultry, and described at a workshop as surrealist and existentialist, has won the 2017 Adam New Zealand Play Award. I’m rather chuffed, thank you very much.

I’m in Melbourne at the moment so 2016 Adam winner Maraea Rakuraku very kindly accepted the award on my behalf, with something I prepared earlier:

Still Life With Chickens was going to be a co-writing venture with my Lovely Wife. She came up with the title and the concept, and I suspect she envisioned a situation where she would roam the study reeling off dialogue and scenes while I sat dutifully at the keyboard and typed everything in.

Because I love my wife dearly and I value our marriage, I worked on the play in secret for two years, and presented the script to her — crediting her appropriately, of course — as a fait accompli.

I acknowledge my fellow longlistees, in particular Maraea Rakuraku for kindly accepting this award on my behalf.

Thanks to Creative New Zealand for its support in getting the first draft to the finish line.

Thanks to Playmarket: Murray, Salesi, Kirsty, Allison — and before Allison, Stuart Hoar — for their tireless work in developing, supporting and hustling for New Zealand playwrights.

Thank you to the Adam aiga for these awards.

And thank you to my Lovely Wife who believes in me more than I do.

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STILL LIFE WITH CHICKENS: a clinic

The script, post-workshop.
The script, post-workshop.

Last weekend, thanks to the administrations of the indefatigable Salesi Le’ota at PlaymarketStill 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 offensiveadolescentpuerile and crass to describe the play, this latest workshop elicited symbolismsurrealist and existentialist.

Believe me, I’m as surprised as you are.

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Permissions

OS X disk permissions (a considerable stretch, I know).
OS X disk permissions (a pathetic stretch, but hey).

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.

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STILL LIFE WITH CHICKENS: another play

Une poule.
Une poule.

Sharp-eyed (and long-suffering) readers of this blog may have put lua and two together to know that I’m working on a new play called Still Life With Chickens. It’s about an elderly Samoan woman who reluctantly adopts a barnevelder chicken and learns that there’s more to her sunset years than waiting for death.

I don’t usually announce projects in development but since Creative New Zealand has kindly provided a grant (and I’m a week behind on feeding this blog), I thought, What’s the harm in putting pressure on myself by announcing a work-in-progress that I’ll probably be asked about ad nauseum?

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Fill in the Gaps

So I’ve raced ahead with a script but all I have are a beginning and an ending. I’ve avoided and prevaricated but that’s not getting me any closer to meeting a(n admittedly self-imposed) deadline.

Right, then.

Still Life With Chickens is the story of a cranky old woman who reluctantly adopts a barnevelder chicken and learns that there’s more to her sunset years than waiting for death.

I’ve written:

  • the first few scenes where —
    • MAMA tends her GARDEN which is a bit of a haven from caring for her housebound husband;
    • the garden is invaded by CHICKEN who has a taste for silverbeet;
    • Mama catches the chicken, then tries to find its owner to give them a piece of her mind;
    • Mama, unable to find the chicken’s owner, decides to look after it for a few days;
    • CUT TO some time later — like, several weeks later — where Mama and Chicken have come to an arrangement:
      • the old woman has someone to talk to;
      • and the chicken is given parts of the garden to eat and scratch up, as well as kitchen scraps;
  • and the last few scenes where —
    • Mama has mellowed noticeably;
    • Chicken disappears, forcing Mama to interact with her neighbours in search for the chicken;
    • and [A SATISFYING RESOLUTION IS ACHIEVED]*.

Like I said, I’ve tried to launch myself from the tail-end of the first act with no success, while an attempt to work my way backward from that final act has been equally unsuccessful.

I listed some stepping stones:

  1. [OPENING SCENES]
  2. Something Happens
  3. Something Else Happens
  4. Crunch Time!
  5. [CLOSING SCENES]

My stomach tensing with the possibility of knocking this bastard off — and recognising Joe’s 11-Step Programme — I sketched in some more details:

  1. [OPENING SCENES]
  2. Something Happens
    1. Could grandchildren visit? They’d love the chicken! Excellent opportunity for variations on If you really loved me, you would visit more often;
  3. Something Else Happens
    1. Mama attends the funeral of a contemporary, and sees the shrinking circle of peers;
  4. Crunch Time
    1. Mama’s husband is taken to hospital, leaving Mama feeling very alone, maybe?
  5. [CLOSING SCENES]

Mm.

I could be onto something here.

 

* I know this is one of those dry technical posts but I can’t bring myself to spoil the ending.

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