In Playwrights

This year’s National Play Festival playwrights answer Five Questions about playwriting craft and careers

SAMSON, by Julia-Rose Lewis, is a startlingly funny and touching Australian coming-of-age story about grieving, the search for belief and the discovery of beauty in unlikely places. Julia-Rose, who hails from Queensland but is now studying playwriting at NIDA,  was a playwright in residence in 2013 at La Boite Theatre Company, a mentee in the ATYP 4X4 Program and a Playwriting Australia Dramaturgy Intern. We grabbed a few minutes to talk to her about SAMSON.

Your play is set in an Australian country town that is never named, yet the locations in the play feel very real and deliberately chosen. Is the town of the play important to the story and how much of it is based on a real place?

I often start with place and character before all else when writing. For me, the most inspirational moment I have is when I can see a specific character in a very specific place. An image that excites me, this is what carries me through the drafts. With this play, I know the place where it is set, or places, I should say. It’s an amalgamation of several important places that I knew very well growing up

SAMSON, the play’s title, refers to a character we never meet, while the name also has biblical connotations. What is the role of religion and faith in the play, why did you choose to write about this, and what do you want us to take from it as an audience?

I don’t feel like I ever really chose to write about religion and faith in this play, to be honest it kept sneaking back in. The more I tried to move away from it as a theme, the more I was sucked in by it. I’ve developed a rather large fascination with organized religion over the last few years after a close friend chose to follow a church, and in doing so, chose to remove herself entirely from my life. Watching it happen had a very big impact on me and I’m still trying to unpack and understand how power manifests within organised religion. I think young people are thinking about these things, trying to figure it all out, just like the rest of us. Grief can perpetuate that, it can force you into a place where you’re really frantically searching for answers. This play, in some ways, is about the search for those answers.

Your play uses a range of forms and writing styles. Can you talk a little bit about these formal choices in the play, and why and how you chose each of them?

I did choose them, of course, but this was a very subconscious process for me. I don’t think I ever had a moment where I went: ‘Hell yes I’ll write this scene in this particular style’. It was just how it came out, and then a process of writing and re-writing helped to make them land. The dream stuff felt very important to me, but it was questioned and I was asked to find a way of articulating why I’d chosen to use this direct address, non-naturalistic style. Some writers are very good at this. Me? Not so much. I can sense why I’ve chosen a certain style, but finding a way to communicate that with others is very hard for me. I find it more useful to listen and figure out why it’s being questioned and then make a private choice about how to change, rectify or defend the text. I have a lot of respect for writers who can articulate their choices to others very clearly. Maybe I just need more practice

You’re a relatively new playwright – what is it like to have one of your first plays in this festival – and how did you get to this stage?

I’ve been very blessed to have a few beautiful people believe in me from the very beginning. They deserve my endless gratitude for that and I have no doubt they deserve a lot of the credit for some of the opportunities I’ve had. My mum reads my plays and she’s naturally a very good dramaturge. My sister, too. Family is good, yes very good. I also think first plays are an interesting thing. They usually come from a source of creative energy that has been stored up for many years making its way onto the page in a sort of firestorm or cyclone (well, that’s how it felt to me). I think many first plays are unique in that. I don’t know if you can ever get that firestorm back once your first play is written. I’ll have to get back to you on that

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?

Advice! advice? How frightening! I suppose I would say: don’t force yourself to think about your gender more than you normally would. Just write what you want to write. It’s hard to be reminded so constantly that things might be difficult for you because you are a women. Don’t ignore those facts, take them into account and then let them drift away when you’re writing. Life is very hard in general,  for lots of people for lots of different reasons,  so we fight when we need to fight and we rest when we need to rest.  Write a bloody brilliant play. I think that has to be the main goal at all times.

Friday 13 June, 8.30pm
Saturday 14 June, 6.30pm

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JR Lewis Headshot - Small Julia-Rose Lewis is a stage and screen writer based in Sydney. Julia has worked with companies including Griffin, ATYP, La Boite, Brisbane Powerhouse, Metro Arts and Grin & Tonic. In 2013, Julia was a playwright-in-residence with La Boite Theatre Company, a mentee in the ATYP National Mentoring Program and a Playwriting Australia Dramaturgy Intern. Julia’s monologue This Feral Life has been produced for stage and screen as a part of ATYP’s The Voices Project. The film adaptation is due for online release this year. Julia is currently undertaking a JUMP Mentorship with playwright Lally Katz and completing her MFA in Writing For Performance at NIDA.


Samson was initially developed with the support of La Boite Theatre Company through the 2013 playwrights-in-residence program.


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