WRITE IN JULY.

We're on the home stretch for the year, and for the Art Olympics, and now's the perfect time to take up your pen and dive into WRITE!

The excellent thing about this month's theme is that if you can read this sentence, you've already got the tools you need to be a writer. You're already reading, speaking and thinking words, so start getting some of them down! 

We recommend setting yourself the task of putting aside fifteen minutes every day to write something - anything, and see what comes of it. It might be when you first get up, last thing at night, over your lunch break or while on the train into work - but set yourself the challenge and stick to it for the rest of the month. You might be surprised by how many good ideas come out when you sit down and make them come.

If you need a deadline to work towards, November every year is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), so give yourself a head start now seeding ideas!

For some beautiful inspiration for the art of letter writing, check out Letters of Note, and for some sage words of writing advice from famous authors, check out Brain Pickings. American Book Review has a list of 100 of the best opening lines in fiction, while the Ruggenberg Title Generator will create you a batch of mostly ridiculous names for your masterpiece. 

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter and Instagram for a countdown of beautiful words and writerly inspiration.

Now, get stuck into our interview with five Melbourne playwrights who met through the Victorian College of the Arts Masters of Writing for Performance, and whose works are about to hit the stage as part of Theatre Work's Flight Festival of New Writing. They talk letting go, being present, feminism, fear, breaking rules, American hell houses and having frat boys for spirit animals. 

THE ART OLYMPICS sits around a sturdy wooden table with the five playwrights whose work is currently being presented at THEATRE WORKS in St Kilda for the FLIGHT FESTIVAL OF NEW WRITING. Top row: CHI VU, FLEUR KILPATRICK, bottom row: PATRICK MCCARTHY, MORGAN ROSE, BRIDGET MACKEY.

6:32 pm, a sharehouse in Fairfield, five writers, four types of cheese, three varieties of crackers, two dogs, one punnet of strawberries, plus a good helping of chocolate, chai and red wine.

Art Olympics: Hello all! So if you can give us a little run down on your name, the show you’re doing for Flight, and your work more generally.

Patrick McCarthy: So my name’s Patrick McCarthy, and the show I have in Flight is called ‘Grief and the Lullaby,’ which is a play that’s about growing apart from the people you grew up with, and how to overcome that space after a tragedy. My work I usually describe as ‘hyper-realist’, but to be more descriptive, it’s usually quiet and intimate and dialogue-driven, and then I mess with it by directing it myself. 

Fleur Kilpatrick: My name’s Fleur Kilpatrick, and my play is ‘Yours the Face’, which is a one-man show where the performer plays both a 45 year old Australian male photographer and a 19 year old female American supermodel, who meet in London and have a horrible two, three day long fling. My work is sweary –

  Promotional imagery for Flight Festival (L-R: Kindness, Yours the Face, Grief and the Lullaby, Virgins and Cowboys, The Dead Twin. Photos by Sarah Walker, The Dead Twin photo by Jave Lee).PA

Promotional imagery for Flight Festival (L-R: Kindness, Yours the Face, Grief and the Lullaby, Virgins and Cowboys, The Dead Twin. Photos by Sarah Walker, The Dead Twin photo by Jave Lee).PA

Laughter.

FK: And a bit scared of its own poetry, and often pretty nasty and then sometimes surprisingly beautiful. And I think I explore a lot of different forms and mediums within my work, depending on what is best suited to the form. 

Morgan Rose: I’m Morgan Rose. I wrote ‘Virgins and Cowboys’ as part of Flight. The easy way to talk about it is that it’s a play about a guy who’s trying to fuck a virgin, but then it’s more than that. It’s weirder than that. It kind of starts that way very neatly, and then decays and gets strange. My work – I have trouble summing it up, but one thing that is pretty much consistent in everything that I’ve done is that it’s simultaneously funny and sad. 

Bridget Mackey: My name’s Bridget. My show that’s on as part of Flight is called ‘Kindness’, and it’s about a group of office workers who make friends with an older person. It’s about how her presence changes them. And my writing – I do a lot of different stuff. People tend to say my writing is funny and off-beat.

  From 'Hose' by Bridget Mackey. Photo by Sarah Walker.

From 'Hose' by Bridget Mackey. Photo by Sarah Walker.

PM: Super quirky.

Laughter.

BM: Quirky, but I hate it. I hate ‘quirky.’ 

Chi Vu: Off-kilter!

BM: Yeah, off-kilter!

FK: I like that. It makes me think of ‘syncopated.’ A little bit off the beat. So I’m gonna say Bridget’s work is syncopated. 

Laughter.

CV: I’m Chi. My play is ‘The Dead Twin.’ It’s about Steve, who’s got a dead twin, but his parents won’t talk to him about it, in order to protect him, but it’s a part of him. So it’s about that silence around a trauma that can really confuse and screw up a second generation who’s coming from any sort of trauma, such as war or migration, etc. I think that I’m sort of exploring diasporic experiences, and at the moment, I’m doing that through postcolonial gothic. 

AO: So when it comes to playwriting, obviously that’s a very niche form of writing. There’s that idea that everyone has a novel in them, and I think there’s this certain idea also that you can just bang out a play. What are the things that one ought to know, that most people don’t know, about playwriting? 

CV: It’s not writing for the page, it’s writing for the stage. And it’s quite different, and it takes ages to learn. 

PM: Yeah, writing for bodies and voices, not eyeballs, if that makes sense. 

FK: When I read a play that is really working as a play, I think it should feel a little bit unfinished on the page. That’s something that a lot of writers don’t understand. They want to create this entire world. And I think being a playwright is about creating space for other peoples’ creativity and work and voices and imagery. And that’s a really beautiful thing. You’re writing to collaborate. But it’s also a really terrifying thing, and a really humbling thing. And you’ve got to be ready to pass over something and allow it to be unfinished, and allow other people to finish it. And that’s scary.

  From ''The City They Burned' by Fleur Kilpatrick. Photo by Sarah Walker.

From ''The City They Burned' by Fleur Kilpatrick. Photo by Sarah Walker.

AO: Do you often sit in a production of one of your works and think, ‘You guys just didn’t get that bit’? Have you ever seen a production and thought, ‘You nailed all of it’? 

PM: Referring to the directors and actors, you mean?

AO: Yeah. Have you ever seen a production where you felt like it totally conveyed or exceeded your vision? Or are there always moments where you’re like, ‘You guys didn’t quite get what I was saying there’?

MR: I’ve only felt that, that it was the vision, when it was devised. So we were all working on it together, at the same time. Anything I’ve passed over to someone else has felt – and it’s not necessarily in a bad way, but it’s, ‘Oh, that’s not what I thought.’ 

FK: I’ve been very lucky. I work with a really tight group of collaborators and I am aware of how privileged I am, that I sit there on opening night with a lot of confidence that I’m about to see something beautiful. So I’m very aware that that’s lucky. The moment, though, that I find really distressing is actually usually the first readings. That, I find traumatic. I read my work out loud so much, and I think you have to as a playwright, to hear it as a voice, and I come in, and these voices are so alien in my words, and their rhythms are so bizarre. And I find that quite distressing, in a way more so than often the productions. 

CV: So what’s happened between the first reading and the production?

FK: Partly I’ve just slapped myself a lot. Just been like ‘Not everyone has your voice, Fleur, goddamnit! And that’s a good thing!’

Laughter. 

FK: And partly they’ve found the rhythm. 

AO: That loss of control I find really interesting. When you write a novel, you get to create an entire world, an entire form of existence, and then just give it to people and be like, ‘This is what I made.’ That giving away of something that you’ve created. There seems to be something unique to theatre in that.

MR: I think the real difference with theatre is that, with other things, with music or with a book, you can do it and then step away from it, and look at it. And theatre, you can’t do that, because it’s different every night. And so it’s actually, literally impossible to make exactly how you want to make it. That just has never happened, ever.

  From 'Liberate Yourself From My Vicelike Grip!!!' by Patrick McCarthy. Photo by Sarah Walker.

From 'Liberate Yourself From My Vicelike Grip!!!' by Patrick McCarthy. Photo by Sarah Walker.

PM: I remember someone saying to me once, I think it was when I was doing Kickstarter for Next Wave, someone came in and was talking about collaboration, and they said something like, ‘Letting go of your own ideas can feel really good, if it’s in service to the work.’ You’re always going to have preconceived ideas, and my process is a bit different, because I direct – I don’t let go.

Laughter.

PM: I don’t hand it over. But there’s still always that thing – like recently, in preparation for this show, you catch up with your design team, and they’re like ‘Oh yeah, we think it’s going to look like this’, and it’s totally different to what I’ve imagined, but it’s like ‘Well, that’s way better than what I would have ever thought of, because I’m not a set designer.’ It happens all the time with actors, too, where you’re like ‘ I would never have thought to say that line that way, and it’s way better than what I was imagining.’ There’s also the times where you’re like ‘That doesn’t sound that great, but we can find a way to make it sound good as well.’

Laughter.

PM: But I think that’s always the gauge – if there’s a bigger thing that’s beyond your own ego and stuff, you can kind of let go and that can feel really nice.

AO: So what is it about theatre, that keeps you coming back to this space? Because you all have extraordinary facility with words, so what is it that keeps you coming back here? Why theatre?

BM: ‘Cause you get to be around people!

Laughter.

BM: I think I’d just go totally crazy. You have feedback.

FK: Yeah, it’s the most collaborative form of isolation you can get. Being a writer is isolating, but we’ve chosen the most communal form of writing that there is. 

MR: And I don’t think that I could write a novel.

PM: Yeah, I don’t have a novel in me.

  From 'Lord Willing and the Creek Don't Rise' by Morgan Rose. Photo by Sarah Walker.

From 'Lord Willing and the Creek Don't Rise' by Morgan Rose. Photo by Sarah Walker.

Laughter.

MR: I don’t hear words that way. It’s live, what’s in my brain is live.

FK: I just love the voice. I love dialogue, I love how people talk, and I love hearing people talk. And I love the visual, as well. I think that that’s an incredible chance to marry your words with something. And to lock people in a room with it! I watch TV playing terrible games on my iPhone, or playing Solitaire with a pack of cards in front of me. I’m always multitasking, except when I’m in the theatre. Then, they have my complete and undivided attention. 

PM: What about going to the cinema?

FK: Well, I just don’t go.

Laughter.

PM: That’ll do it.

MR: And cinema’s like escapism, for me. A film, I’m going to veg out and not think.

FK: I think much harder in theatre than film.

CV: I think for me, what I love about watching theatre is the presence. The live presence. And so that’s why I make it, as well. That whole sense of collaboration. 

FK: It’s a chance to make people feel things really hard for a certain amount of time, and hopefully to send them out into the world having conversations. You could say that you could do that by giving them a novel to read, but it’s that you’ve got 50 or 200 or 1000 people all having the same experience at once, and then they come out into this foyer together, and hopefully have these conversations. I saw ‘The Last Supper’ the other day, and the conversations that I had with strangers following that were amazing. Sitting there next to strangers, asking them, ‘What would be your last supper? What would be your last meal? Have you ever heard someone’s last words?’ That’s incredible.

CV: Yeah, the rules for the audience, the theatre audience, are different. You’re allowed to talk to people, and you’re allowed to look at people.

AO: Yeah, that’s funny – I’ve never walked out of a film and engaged with any of the people that I was there with, apart from friends. 

PM: Yeah, what’s the difference?

  From 'The Dead Twin' by Chi Vu. Photo by Jave Lee. 

From 'The Dead Twin' by Chi Vu. Photo by Jave Lee. 

BM: But you write novels as well, Chi.

CV: Yeah, I think I like plays because they’re so structural. Like, if you get the structure wrong in a play, you’re gone, whereas in a novel, you can get away with your fancy words and lots of description. 

AO: So for all of you, thinking about characters that you’ve created, what’s a character that each of you has made, where you went, ‘I nailed that. That person that I made is so complex and so truthful?’

BM: I think I have a bit of a theme, with a character that I keep writing, that’s probably the same character. Like, Evelyn in ‘Kindness’ is the same as – I had this short play that had a tunafish character – 

Laughter.

BM: And I think that they’re the same character. They go into someone’s world, and they disrupt their patterns. So maybe that’s just a device that I’m giving away.

Laughter.

BM: Rather than a character that I nailed. But I enjoy writing that character.

CV: The trickster character.

BM: Yeah. I guess it just means that their presence allows other people to act in a way that they wouldn’t normally. Which is kind of what you need, for something to be interesting.

FK: (whispering to a beagle) Oliver, on your matt. On your matt. All the way.  

Laughter.

  From 'Yours the Face' by Fleur Kilpatrick. Photo by Sarah Walker.

From 'Yours the Face' by Fleur Kilpatrick. Photo by Sarah Walker.

FK: On your matt, Solace! I love creating men who are scared of their own poetry. Who say something beautiful and kind of freak out. There’s two men that I’ve written in the last couple of years, and one of them is in ‘Yours the Face’, and I love him. I love him, and he’s also a total dick, and I love knowing that. I really like creating characters that people will judge. With Peter, in particular, in ‘Yours the Face’, I love that I think people, at the beginning, will be like ‘This guy’s a jerk!’ And then they’ll go, ‘No, no, no, he’s deep!’ And then, by the end, ‘Oh, no, no, he really is a jerk.’

Laughter.

FK: I kind of love that unravelling, but there’s also something in that language. He can’t say something poetic without sort of backing off it with his hands raised, like ‘Oh, sorry. Shit! Fuck! Got a bit deep there!’ I love that. And I think I write those characters well, and not stereotypically. And I appreciate the blokiness of some of those characters, and enjoy them, and enjoy them as multifaceted humans that have beauty and depth inside them, in the midst of their swagger and bravado. I like those guys.

MR: I have the same thing, where I like writing fucked up guys. It’s weird. I feel like, on the inside, I’m like a 24 year old frat boy or something.

Laughter.

MR: That’s my spirit animal. 

Laughter.

MR: I like writing them. That’s my go-to. Sometimes I have to stop and be like, ‘Morgan, you can’t always be the frat boy.’

Laughter.

PM: I haven’t really written any big characters lately. Because I write usually pretty simple characters, that maybe then are in potentially an emotionally intense situation. Like in ‘Grief and the Lullaby’, it’s two of the characters in particular, going through something that’s pretty intense. The other night, I caught a bit of ‘The Dark Knight’ on TV, and just watched Heath Ledger for five minutes, and thought, 'That would be amazing, to write something that gave someone permission to do that much.' 

  From 'So Blue, So Calm' by Patrick McCarthy. Photo by Sarah Walker.

From 'So Blue, So Calm' by Patrick McCarthy. Photo by Sarah Walker.

Murmurs of assent around the table.

PM: And I haven’t written anything close to that. So that might be something that I would like to do, that I haven’t done yet. But so far, I’ve just kept it pretty simple. But then put people in situations that are extreme, rather than them being extreme people.

CV: I enjoy characters where I’m still learning about them. So at the moment, I’m kind of thinking about the backstory for the Howard character, which is the dad in ‘The Dead Twin.’ And I’m starting to suspect that he’s a bit cheekier and more reckless than I thought. And I kind of enjoy that. And one of the things that I really enjoyed when we were doing the VCA MA was Jenny Kemp giving us permission to not think about character. So rather than ‘My character is very efficient’ or whatever, and then every scene in the play, you’re trying to demonstrate your character’s efficiency, that’s a really boring, wooden way to do it. And then you tie yourself up in knots trying to demonstrate this character’s consistency, when we’re actually really inconsistent. 

BM: And the person who plays that character brings so much of themselves to what you write anyway – 

MR: And their body is the consistency.

A ‘yeah!’ goes around the table. 

AO: What are the works or writers that are inspiring or exciting you? It could be contemporary people, it could be the Ancient Greeks – who do you guys go to for inspiration?

  'Sun' by Hofesh Schechter.

'Sun' by Hofesh Schechter.

MR: Dance excites me the most. Maybe just because I can’t do it. My favourite piece I’ve ever seen is ‘Sun’ by Hofesh Schechter. You could stop thinking and just feel it, and then go out and try to process that and put thoughts into the feelings, and I really liked that. I really like not having to figure it out, and just being able to sit back and let something just take you over, and then process it afterwards.

FK: Smash against you. Not even just take you over, it was so aggressive in its physicality and intelligence, fierce intelligence going on in that work.

MR: Yeah, and you just trusted that there was something underneath it, even if you didn’t fully get it, you were like, ‘I know you have a thing that you’re saying, and if I can’t nail that down to a sentence, it’s okay, because I felt it. Whatever it was, I felt it.’

CV: It was designed. The experience was designed, not just exposing something, anything to you. They deliberately did something to you.

MR: Yeah, they did it to me, that’s what it was! I could watch that once a month for the rest of my life. 

Laughter.

AO: What about the rest of you guys, what’s exciting you?

  'Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday' by Roslyn Oades. Photo by Jeff Busby.

'Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday' by Roslyn Oades. Photo by Jeff Busby.

BM: I liked Roslyn Oade’s last show, ‘Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday,’ and ‘Love and Information’ was pretty incredible. But I think it’s writers that trust their audience, that don’t just present a worn narrative, or a worn structure to the audience. That they’re experimenting with different forms. That’s who I find inspiring. 

PM: Yeah, I feel like we’re all kind of on the precipice of something.  If you look at movements of formal enquiry and content and things that we’re drawn towards to write about, as a broader theatre-making community, rather than as just playwrights, we’ve kind of gone through this period where the thing that was really exciting everyone was these really radical adaptations of classics. Which I think are great, and I love that kind of work, but if we’re getting to the end of a level of excitement about that, then the question is, ‘What is next?’ And it seems to me, and listening to conversations like these, that we’re about to enter into a more freer, open relationship with what writing for performance is, or could be, and that will inherently be interdisciplinary, and will disregard a lot of rules that have been in place about the way that you should or shouldn’t be doing things - whether that’s relationships to other art forms, or making work that is less formally stable, or that uses creative or collaborative models that haven’t been used before, or haven’t been used much. And they get more resources and attention. So I think that that will create a bigger diversity of work. But what that actually looks like remains to be seen. And who the people are who will make that work will remain to be seen. But I think we’re about to tip into something else. Which is kind of exciting. 

FK: Going back to what inspires me, I’m inspired a lot by dialogue. I do a lot of recording of people, and listening to people, and I just find how people talk incredibly inspiring. There’s also novels, books I come back to again and again. I read a lot of children’s books, because I think the way that they deliver a narrative and the way they create images that just are like Velcro, and just stick in you until forever, from the time that you’re four until you die, you will know that the way to get to Neverland is second star to the right. You’re just gonna know that. That’s an incredible thought. And that’s an incredible narrative voice that has stood the test of time. So that kind of stuff inspires me. Yeah.

Laughter.

  Still from 'Wet Hot American Summer.'

Still from 'Wet Hot American Summer.'

PM: I think for me, I’ve been watching more and more film and TV. I had a break from watching television for probably five years or so, and then probably a year and a half ago, started watching a lot of TV, ‘cause I realised there was a lot of really good stuff that had come out while I was not watching it. And yeah, like a lot of people at the moment, I spend too much time on Netflix. And it’s really great to go to the theatre and have your mind blown by, like, ‘Love and Information’, or going to see ‘Birdland’ and seeing a performance like what Mark Winter did in that production, or go and watch ‘Shit’ and hear language like that, which wouldn’t exist in any other medium, and all that kind of stuff. But at the same time, it’s also really healthy I think to stay at home and watch ‘Wet Hot American Summer’, which is just the silliest, stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. But that’s really great as well, and it’s like, well, sometimes it’s good to be reminded that you can just have fun and make fun of things, and giggle, and that’s good to know as well. Because I think when you spend too much time just seeing theatre, everything gets very serious. 

AO: Yeah, our industry has this approach where we have no patience for pure entertainment in theatre. We do in film. We’re so happy to go see trash on film, but it’s so rare that you hear someone say, ‘Look, it was just fluff, but I really enjoyed it’ about theatre. I think there’s this idea that theatre ought to be changing people, or saying something of note. I just feel like we’re suspicious of work that attempts to entertain.

MR: We don’t have that problem in the US. It’s like, ‘Great, there’s a musical’ –

PM: Yeah, we treat musicals like that. 

AO: With such disdain.

PM: ‘We make proper theatre, and musicals, they just entertain people.’

  From 'Some Blazing Light' by Bridget Mackey.

From 'Some Blazing Light' by Bridget Mackey.

MR: ‘It’s in a theatre, but it’s not theatre.’

FK: But I’ve seen some theatre this year that has just been pure entertaining fluff, and a lot of the time, the reason I haven’t liked it – because I think I’d be up for fluff, but a lot of the time, the reason I haven’t liked it is because it’s felt ill-thought through. That the reason it’s fluff isn’t just because someone decided to entertain, it’s also that someone didn’t thoroughly interrogate every choice they were making along the way. And ask why they were making it. ‘Jumpy’ being the perfect example. Sure, if it was just about having a good night out, great, but also, it’s trying to make this point about feminism, and about women and feminists and how they’ve changed over the years, when it is, at its heart, a women-hating play. It thinks older women’s sexuality is hilarious and young women’s sexuality is gross. So don’t do that and then say, ‘Oh, remember when we were feminists?’ Fuck that. Fuck you.

AO: Obviously feminism is something that people are really aware of in life, there’s so much conversation about it that I don’t think there was three or four years ago. Are you guys aware of having a duty to not necessarily portray or discuss, but just be aware of those kind of issues? I mean, we have four women at this table, and – 

PM: A token dude.

Laughter.

MR: What do you have to say, Patrick? 

PM: I’m just ruining the vibe.  

Laughter.

AO: I suppose generally, addressing issues of privilege onstage – how much time do you guys spend thinking about your duty as a writer, and this role you have to be like, ‘Listen to what I’m saying?’

  From 'Lord Willing and the Creek Don't Rise' by Morgan Rose. Photo by Sarah Walker.

From 'Lord Willing and the Creek Don't Rise' by Morgan Rose. Photo by Sarah Walker.

MR: I mainly just feel terrified that I’m going to fuck it up and people will say that I’m a bad person. And I think that some of the stuff I write could be interpreted as me being a misogynist. Namely, the one that’s coming up in Flight. 

BM: It doesn’t help that you have a gender-ambiguous name. 

Laughter.

MR: It’s true. I mean, I’m not a misogynist – 

PM: It’s good to clarify.

Laughter.

PM: Put it on the record.

FK: I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. I don’t make theatre that loudly declares its argument. There’s been some theatre on lately that’s very much ‘This is feminist theatre, and this is telling you what’s wrong with the world.’ I think I’m just very loudly whispering what’s wrong with the world. For example, ‘The City They Burned’, it just presents it, it doesn’t then say, ‘What are you gonna do about it?’ But the purpose of presenting that – I’m drawn to biblical stories, in a way that other people are drawn to Greek myths, because I think those biblical stories still have an impact on our society today, and aren’t interrogated enough. And so I picked that story because it is an incredibly misogynistic, traumatically so, story, that isn’t questioned, that’s just a part of this Good Book of morals. And I just wanted to showcase it, I didn’t really present it and then stand and shout at the audience, ‘What are you going to do?’ I just wanted to say, ‘This is in your book. This is part of our collective heritage as a society that has taken its lead on morals, on ethics, on laws, from the Bible. This is part of our heritage, and this misogyny is written into the very fabric of our world, in a really big way. Yeah. I think about it a lot. But what it often means is that I end up presenting a lot of violence, or distressing acts being acted out on women. 

MR: But I prefer that, as an audience member, to be able to make up my own mind. Just to see it and then not be told, not be nudged in any direction.

  From 'Banh Chung' by Chi Vu. Photo by Jave Lee.

From 'Banh Chung' by Chi Vu. Photo by Jave Lee.

PM: Yeah, I often think politics of a work is usually embedded in dramaturgy, more than content or character. If you go the other way, then it’s like, ‘Oh, this is something I shouldn’t be writing, this kind of person, or they shouldn’t say this kind of thing.’ You feel the need to moralise plot so that there’s a kind of point to what happens in the play. Whereas, if it’s in the dramaturgy a bit more, that frees you up to play with it a bit more, and just trust that what you think is in there.

AO: There’s this thing people say all the time, when you write a script and someone says to you, ‘What are you trying to say?’ What’s your reaction to that? My immediate response to that is, well, sometimes what you want to say is just, ‘I think this is an interesting story.’ Is there a duty for the play to have a function, or a message, or something to impart?

MR: I don’t know. I hope not, because I feel like I’m really bad at that. I’m really scared that that’s a requirement and I’m just failing miserably. People ask it a lot.

AO: Bridget, you’ve worked doing script assessment, and I feel like it’s a question that script assessors are always told to ask people. ‘What is this saying?’

BM: I think it’s an unrealistic question. I see what it exists. But again, it’s like that thing with film, sometimes we can just watch a film and be like, ‘That’s a good story. That was a good journey.’ I do think it’s unrealistic that a play can change anything. 

MR: Or that it can be summed up in one sentence. If that can happen, why don’t you just say the sentence? Why do you write a thousand sentences about it, if you can just say it in one?

CV: I kind of think – ‘What do you want to say?’ ‘To which audience?’ There’s usually an assumed audience, but someone outside of that group or that club will read the whole experience, not just the content of your play, quite differently. And I think Back to Back Theatre actually did this installation work, I can’t remember the name off the top of my head – they bought a booklet that told you exactly how to create this theatrical experience to scare the shit out of your audience so that they would become Christians.

AO: Oh, ‘Hell House.’

CV: That’s, right, ‘Hell House!’

MR: Oh, yeah!

CV: And Bruce Gladwin’s thing was, ‘We’re going to do it exactly as is. We’re not going to spoof it, we’re not going to pick on it. We’re just going to do it as-is, and the point of why we’re doing it, as Back to Back Theatre, is that it’s asking questions about who’s us, and who’s them.’

MR: And they did it?

  'Hell House' by Back to Back Theatre. Photo by Ponch Hawkes.

'Hell House' by Back to Back Theatre. Photo by Ponch Hawkes.

CV: They did it.

MR: Did you go see it?

FK: Are you Christian now?

Laughter.

PM: That was the most confronting theatrical experience I’ve ever had. Because you came out of it going, somewhere – well actually, all over America, it’s one of the most produced plays in America – 

MR: Oh, it’s a script?

CV: Yeah.

PM: It’s like a pack. A whole pack. It’s like a script, and materials, and recipes for the fake blood, and all this kind of crap that goes into it.

AO: It’s like a ‘How to Host a Murder’ except for real life.

PM: And this priest wrote it, and they’ve refined it by doing it, and it happens everywhere, particularly in the Mid West. And you were there in North Melbourne, watching it as Back to Back’s doing it, and you’re kind of watching it as, they described it as a kind of anthropological experiment. But as you’re watching it, a lot of it’s pretty confronting, and there are kids that get taken to this. And they had forums after each show, but I just left afterwards. I didn’t want to sit around –

MR: So it’s like, some girl having an abortion and then you see demons take her or something?

PM: Stuff like that, or like car accident – someone’s been drink driving and there’s dead bodies on a car. All kinds of stuff like that.

CV: Which we do on our TV ads. 

  'Hell House' by Back to Back Theatre. Photo by Ponch Hawkes.

'Hell House' by Back to Back Theatre. Photo by Ponch Hawkes.

Laughter.

PM: But I think the abortion stuff, there were dead babies in jars and stuff like that. It was really – I just left feeling – I think there's a better question. ‘What do you want to say?’, is – I understand why people ask it, but it’s the wrong question. You should be saying, ‘Where do you want to take your audience?’ or ‘What do you want your audience to feel?’

MR, BM: Yeah!

AO: Because again, this is not about the page, this is about the live experience. 

FK: ‘What do you want the audience’s experience to be?’, that’s a question that I’ve put into the MKA script assessment.

MR: That’s good.

FK: I think it’s a really important one, and a very contemporary one, as opposed to just ‘What do you want to tell people? What bit of information, if you were the expert and they were the uninformed, what thing are you going to preach?’

MR: Yeah, it’s not a speech, man.

FK: And ‘experience’ is a more holistic word, compared to ‘tell’, which is a one-way exchange.

PM: Yeah, if you want to say something, you should write for the Guardian.

Laughter.

PM: Which is fine.

CV: And how can you expand that circle of audience? So Back to Back were reaching out to not just theatre goers, but people who are described as having a disability. And then Arts Access do work with people in the deaf community, etc. So I think it’s where these edges are, where there’s both a mainstream audience and then another audience who may not get to see theatre very often. That’s where some artistic innovations can happen. 

AO: So I have to go in a minute, so if there’s anything you guys want to say, anything you’re burning to talk about, you can do that.

FK: (To Morgan and Bridget) I’ve got a question for you two in particular. Tell me about your feelings about traditional dramaturgy, about traditional play structure. I think both of you have particular responses to that.

MR: I get personally really bored in plays, and I’ve stopped watching movies, because all of them are like this, where it’s got the same emotional journey for the audience member, and physically, it feels the same. You have the same physical experience. Your body tenses in the same moments, and you know what it’s going to feel like. Even if you don’t know the plot, or what’s going to happen, you know what it’s going to feel like. I can’t watch movies any more. Because I just know what that’s going to be like. And I’m interested in things that give you a different feeling. And that feeling can be nothing, it could be just sitting there, completely relaxed, nothing happening. It could be tense the entire time. There are just so many different rhythms that we can find, and I don’t know why everyone insists that this one way is the correct way, and that’s what has to happen or you’re bad at what you do. 

  Viv Albertine.

Viv Albertine.

BM: Yeah, it doesn’t make sense to me, that that’s what a good play is – a play that has that rhythm. I don’t know if this is related, but I was reading Viv Albertine, who’s the singer from the band The Slits, and she’s recently written an autobiography, and she said that she doesn’t understand why drummers in bands have to keep time, the same time. Because she says, in Indian music, you go on and off the beat. She’s like, ‘Why do I have to keep time?’

MR: Wow!

BM: It just doesn’t make sense to me –

MR: The idea that there’s a formula to art is just fucking wrong. And anyone who tries to sell that to you, and is like, ‘You have to do A plus B and then you have art’ – that’s just not true. It’s not!

Laughter. 

FK: So how are you trying to combat this in your own writing?

MR: I feel like that’s why I’m so interested in dance, because it doesn’t have to do that. And I feel like when I write, I think a lot about the rhythm of things. ‘So, the audience has been lulled into this state, how can we pull the rug out from under them?’ Then they get comfortable with that. That’s something that’s in dance, that your eye gets used to whatever movement is happening, and you have to switch it up. And I feel like I think of text in the same way – how do you change it, change it constantly, ruin their expectations? 

PM: You can do whatever the hell you want, as long as it’s done with rigour. I’m more than happy to watch something that’s kind of traditional in structure, as long as it’s really fucking good. But then, likewise, I’ve also seen stuff that completely breaks a lot of rules that’s really exciting, but then stuff that breaks lots of rules that’s really boring, because it hasn’t been thought through, and there’s no internal logic. 

Oliver the dog snorts heavily and pants anxiously.

PM: Yeah, exactly.

Laughter.

CV: That’s what it feels like when you watch bad stuff.

PM: Yeah, I’m quite big on formal clarity. So, whatever you’re deciding, whatever road you go down, think really clearly about each decision. Kind of what we were saying before – you’ve got to think out each moment and how all this speaks to each other. And that applies, whether you’re doing a three act play, or a durational music piece.

BM: But I think there’s an assumption that, as a writer, if it isn’t a three act play, then you haven’t been rigorous.

FK: Yes. That you forgot how to write a play, or forgot how a play goes, as opposed to people making incredibly deliberate choices. Like, for example, with ‘We Get It’, there’s a really obvious solution as to how to make this an easier experience for the audience, and they didn’t take that solution. They knew it. They’re smart enough that they how to make that an easier theatre-going experience, and they went against it for very particular reasons, and to say something really particular. 

AO: Did you have any idea of a writing challenge that people could do?

FK: I’ve got one. Write a play that’s entirely stage directions.

AO: Great. I feel like Beckett has some good examples of this. Beautiful, thanks team. Have a lovely night.

More information on Flight Festival can be found here.
Show information and bookings:
'Kindness' by Bridget Mackey.
'Yours the Face' by Fleur Kilpatrick.
'The Dead Twin' by Chi Vu.

'Grief and the Lullaby' by Patrick McCarthy.
'Virgins and Cowboys' by Morgan Rose.