This year’s National Play Festival playwrights answer Five Questions about playwriting craft and careers
Kathyrn Ash is a playwright, actor, dramaturg and co-founder of JUTE Theatre Company in Cairns. Kathryn’s play THIEVES is set in an inner suburbs bottleshop and is hilarious, macabre, gothic and explosive. She shared with us how the play came about.
THIEVES manages to seamlessly interweave a rich, poetic, almost gothic writing style, with a wonderfully rough urban Australian naturalism in the world of a bottle shop. Stylistically is this something you always do and which of these writing styles comes most naturally to you?
Strangely enough, yes, it is something I’ve played with on two previous works. In both previous examples (Bag O’ Marbles, and to a lesser extent Flutter) the central character is out of his or her element somehow and is forced into a kind of inner dialogue that more reflects their true mind. I like the contrast of the two resulting vernaculars as well as the representation of inner and outer journeys.
You have the most beautifully written detailed stage directions which an audience will rarely get to hear (though at the festival reading they will!) How important is it to you as a writer that these stage directions are adhered to in a production?
Confronted with a blank page and an idea, I decided to write a piece of prose that entered the world descriptively. The words served to tempt and immerse my mind into the world. Elements of that prose made it into the stage directions because I wanted them there to continually remind me of the visual elements in the play. When the directions are read aloud they tend to have the same effect of immersing a listener quickly into the world. A director or designer reading them might find them useful springboards but it is not absolute. Simply a tool to trigger a creative dialogue with other theatre makers.
Your play draws from a range of epic plays, stories and fables – can you tell us about a play that you feel has influenced you, and which element drew you to it?
So many plays, so little time! Generally I’m drawn to plays and productions which automatically create an exciting ‘depth of field’ within a staged world, using visual symbols, minimal illusions, dramatic gesture—plays that ask the audience to indulge the world, if you will, by means of accepting certain elements as symbolic shorthand or are in some way versatile in communicating the nuts and bolts of a story. Theatre does this exceptionally well. Some feel this sort of talk is the role of the designer, but why not the playwright as well as the designer? It is about the business of making theatre rather than just writing theatre. Plays that come to mind here are Needles and Opium by Robert Lepage, which I saw in 1991, and The Romance Of Magno Rubio by Lonnie Carter (from a short story by Carlos Bulosan) , which I saw in 2002, and more recently the most extraordinary Bare Witness by Mari Lourey that I saw when it toured to Queensland last year. These plays literally play with the visual and the physical world of the play. This is not to say I am not utterly interested in plays driven by character and plot. Tempting an audience into the world is one thing, but you’d better have a good story when they get there! THIEVES is definitely propelled by character, borrowing some modest references from the myths of Dadelus and Icarus and Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
The title THIEVES refers to the act of thievery in the play, but also asks the question ‘When is thievery an acceptable act and are we all thieves of one kind or another?’. Did you come up with this moral dilemma/question first, or did the question arise out of writing the story and the characters?
The idea of theft came quite slowly. The first kernel of the play was not about thieving, but rather sprang from a personal experience of coming across a scene of public violence by a woman who seemed well-to-do in a suburb that was well-to-do. To tell the truth the plot came first: two socially disadvantaged bottle-shop workers find themselves in a position to blackmail a rich business woman and swindle their way out of poverty and despair. But when I started looking at who these bottle-shop workers were and what they did daily, the ideas of ownership and theft kept coming up. Social advantage and disadvantage is often framed in thoughts about what has been misappropriated. Even the profession of the rich business woman, a real estate agent, smacks of certain theft and swindle.
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?
It’s terrific to see an all female line up of writers this year. I know that statistically female writers in this country are up against some staggering odds, and gender bias in theatre is evident. Hopefully this will have a flow on effect into production! Advice to female playwrights is the same advice always. Write big ideas and write a lot. Enter every competition you are eligible for. Do not hesitate to tell people you’re a writer. Say yes a lot. Bring a positive open energy along with your work when you enter a rehearsal/reading space.
Director: Corey McMahon
Dramaturg: Jane Bodie
Cast: Blazey Best, Colin Friels, Haiha Le, Pearl Tan and Dan Wyllie
Friday 13 June, 2pm
Sunday 15 June, 6.30pm
|Kathryn Ash is a playwright, actor, dramaturg and co-founder of JUTE Theatre Company in Cairns. She has written over twenty works and has had sixteen professional seasons of her plays. One of her most successful works is Bag O’ Marbles, was read at the ANPC conference (2001), the ANPC/New York Dramatist’s Award winner (2002), published by Playlab Press (2002), and has received five professional seasons, including Queensland Theatre Company (2002) directed by Michael Gow. Other works include Flutter(shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Award 2003), Surviving Jonah Salt(2005), and Cake! (JUTE, 2010). Kathryn is currently working on several projects, notably a multi-playwright project for Brisbane Writer’s Festival.|