This year’s National Play Festival playwrights answer Five Questions about playwriting craft and careers
Angela Betzien’s MORTIDO is a break-neck ride from the slums of Mexico to the cafés of Paddington; from the edge of the Amazon to the backstreets of Cabramatta. Looking at the global drugs trade and blending elements of magical realism and thriller, it’s a frighteningly contemporary piece. We sat down with Angela to discuss.
Your play is set in range of overseas and exotic locations, as well as being set in ‘the pho infused streets of Cabramatta.’ Can you tell us a bit about how you chose the locations, and which one were you drawn to write first?
I can proudly say that I’ve spent time in all the locations in the play… except Cabramatta. I should probably go there on the weekend.
I once rode a bike down El Camino De Le Muerte (the Road of Death) in Bolivia. I had a bad case of gastro in a German run hotel in Coroico, a town located on the edge of the Amazon. Last year I travelled to Chilpansingo, a barrio of Tijuana in Mexico and I’ve spent many hours eating cake in the cafes of Kruezberg, Berlin.
Primarily the play is set in Sydney. I moved here a year and a half ago and I wanted to write a kind of love/hate letter to the city. It’s a beautiful city but it can be a nasty, greedy, seedy, selfish place. Sydney is very much a character in this play.
‘Mortido’ – what does the word mean, and where does it come from? Has its meaning changed for you in the writing of the play?
Mortido is a term sometimes used in Freudian psychoanalysis which refers to the energy of the death instinct. While I’m conscious Freudian psychoanalysis should be viewed through a sharp critical lens, I was fascinated by the idea of Mortido and I wanted to write a play that explored the notion of a death instinct, a destructiveness, a cruelty in both individuals and systems, specifically capitalism. If capitalism were personified, he would be a cruel, criminal, coked up sociopath hurtling at break neck speed down the road of death.
How has the play changed since you initially brought it to us, and since being workshopped?
Radically. Initially I was interested in the relationship between journalism, cocaine and capitalism but I think I was biting off far more than I could chew. The journalism element had to be extracted and I’m now planning to work that through another play. Mortido has been through four mammoth drafts and I’m positive that by the end of the National Play Festival there will be a fifth or even a sixth…
You’ve worked with Leticia Cáceres (your director) on many of your plays now. Can you tell us what it is about your writer/director relationship that has proven so successful?
Leticia and I began collaborating after graduating from Uni. After thirteen years making theatre together we’ve developed a really strong aesthetic as well as a kind of short hand. More than anything the strength of our collaboration is our shared politics. We believe in making theatre for the same reasons. We’re also just doggedly determined, we never bloody give up.
This year’s National Play Festival main plays are all written by women. As a female playwright how much has gender played a role in your career and in light of this, what advice would you give to a female playwright starting out now?
I think it’s terrific that the plays are all written by women.
As a female playwright I’m always conscious of gender. This includes how women are represented on the stage. I’m conscious that Mortido is a very male driven story. There are only two female roles in a cast of 12 characters and the story itself has a very masculine energy. I actually really enjoy writing male characters but I aim to represent these characters through a particular political lens.
Some people believe women write differently to men. I think this is rubbish. We must not be pigeon holed into telling particular kinds of stories, stories that are small and domestic. I would encourage young female playwrights to think big, to cast the narrative net as far and wide as possible. On my computer is a sticky note with a quote by the pioneer American playwright Lillian Hellman. ‘You need to write like the devil and act like one when necessary”. These are great words for young female playwrights to live by.
Thursday 12 June, 8.30pm
Saturday 14 June, 2pm
Mortido was co-commissioned by Playwriting Australia and Belvoir.