We ask this year’s National Play Festival playwrights to answer five questions about their writing process and what inspired their work.
Albert Belz’s Astroman was selected through the second round of the National Script Workshops 2014 and received a week-long development in November 2014 in Sydney. Set in Geelong (Regional Victoria) in the ’80s, Astroman is the story of Jimmy (Jiembra) Djalu, a young indigenous boy with a love for arcade games and the IQ of a genius. Albert speaks to us about his inspiration for the play and the new writing culture in New Zealand, his country of origin.
What were your favourite Arcade games?
Ikari Warriors, Double Dragon, Star Wars.
Why those ones?
Ikari Warriors? I was really into Rambo at the time. It kind of took you there.
Double Dragon? Sho Nuff! I was really into a movie called “The Last Dragon” at the time; it kind of took you there.
Star Wars? Because…Star Wars.
A part of me wants to say the games all had a clear narrative that I could relate to as a kid. But that would ruin the 16 bit memories.
The hero of the story Jiembra Djalu happens to be indigenous and the World Video gaming championship happens to take place in Geelong, it feels like the most natural thing in the world when you read it but is there anything more to this?
I was living in Geelong and working in Melbourne at the time I wrote it. I figured if I was going to write a play, I’m going to write an Australian story. And this loud mouth indigenous kid, Jimmy wouldn’t get out of my head. Actually he’s based on a friend of my daughter’s at the time. She is one of the smartest kids I ever met. The video game stuff is my love letter to the 80’s.
How did the National Script Workshop contribute to the development of Astroman, and what do you hope to achieve at the National Play Festival?
I had three keywords heading into the Sydney workshop – ‘play, play, play’. I wanted to open the whole piece up to anything being thrown in there and ‘play’ with it. Thanks to the dramaturg, director, wonderful cast and pwa staff, the workshop was a perfect/ safe place to do this. I was looking forward to making some big mistakes in the hopes of confirming who the story really belonged to, and how much of that story he demanded. In opening it up it allowed me to hear the other characters more, ‘did I really need that much of their voice?’ Turned out – ‘no’. So by time I was ready to attack the next draft, I was ready to cull the less important strands of voice.
Am really looking forward to Adelaide, meeting lots of new people and seeing the piece on its feet.
New Zealand has a strong new writing culture and you are widely regarded as one of their leading playwrights as well as a real front runner of Maori writing. Do you think we have anything to learn from our cousins across the ditch? What are each side getting right?
We’ve started getting more Maori and Pacific Island stories coming through in N.Z and have theatre and acting programs specifically targeted at and catering to Maori and P.I in Auckland and Wellington.
With this in mind Aotearoa has started training more Maori and Pacific Islanders to become producers so that we can make even more of our own work on our own terms. Actually this usually has taken the form of upskilling Maori and P.I writers and actors to produce. And we still need more producers!
I’m not sure about Australia. I simply haven’t experienced enough Australian theatre politics to comment. What I do know is that Aotearoa has a helluvalot to learn from Australia about paying its playwrights.
See ASTROMAN at the National Play Festival 2015
Friday 24 July, 6pm
|Award-winning international playwright Albert Belz has written for theatre, television, film and radio for over a decade. His works have been performed in France, England, New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific. His theatre credits include Awhi Tapu, Yours Truly, Raising the Titanics and Te Awarua. Issues ranging from class, ethnicity and sexual politics to Gothic serial killers and religion resonate through his words. Albert currently makes his home somewhere over the Tasman Sea on Qantas flights where he regularly jets between Melbourne and Auckland to tutor in creative writing.|
Photo Credit: Albert Belz with cast and crew at the National Script Workshops 2014 in Sydney – from left to right: (top row) Isaac Drandic, Hunter Page-Lochard, Guy Simon, Iain Sinclair, (middle row), Lex Merinos, Kate Beckett, Jada Alberts, Albert Belz, and (bottom row) Doris Youane.