We ask this year’s National Play Festival playwrights to answer five questions about their writing process and what inspired their work.
Phillip Kavanagh is a playwright based between Adelaide and Sydney. His latest play Deluge was selected as part of the National Script Workshops 2015 and received a week-long development in Sydney in late April. Deluge is presented at the National Play Festival 2015 with the support of the Adelaide Festival and Flinders University. Phil speaks to us about what inspired the world(s) of his play and his long time collaboration with director Nescha Jelk.
Your play Deluge deals specifically with the way changes in information technology has affected the way we deal with the world. It seems that every time a new element of information technology emerges there is a dystopian panic response, what’s different this time round?
I started this project in collaboration with a director, Nescha Jelk, and we were interested in how the unprecedented access we now have to vast resources of information, constantly at our fingertips, affects the way we exist in any given moment, and how it alters the way we connect to each other.
Is there a widening of the generational divide? And what are the chances of these massive changes being a good thing?
There’s certainly evidence to suggest a generational divide; given our brains are constantly changing, with younger brains able to change more drastically in response to their environment, there is a generational divide between how people relate to this access to information. If you grow up with your focus constantly dispersed between different stimuli, it becomes harder to sit comfortably in one thing.
In a lot of ways they are. Deluge is less about presenting an assessment of these things, and more about exploring a single aspect of our relationship to information technology, fragmented through ten varied experiences.
You often refer to this piece as five separate plays running at the same time. It’s a bold structural choice, what are the benefits of launching into the world of concurrent multilinear narrative? What challenges does it throw up to you?
The form allowed us to take a bigger picture look at how we engage with different sources of information in our daily lives. It’s a concrete realisation of both our mind chatter and the various media we cycle through from second to second. One of the biggest challenges in writing has been balancing the individual needs of each character, of each play, and of the complete work; to make sure I’m doing justice to all and that the sum of the whole is greater than its parts.
You have been creating this piece alongside a director Nescha Jelk. A lot more theatre works are being made with director writer collaborations than before. As a playwright who has written plays alone what is the difference of writing alongside other artists? Does it still feel like your work?
I don’t feel like I’ve ever written anything alone. Even works that may have started in isolation require an act of collaboration before they ever come to life. Theatre is an inherently collaborative art form. Working with Nescha from the very beginning has been a joy. It’s much less lonely throwing ideas around with another person than vetting them to walls, plants, and animals. The work that I’ve done still feels my own, but the work as a whole is very much the product of all the artists who’ve been involved in creating it.
You are a playwright with a particular knack for exposing the raw nerve of a particular public secret. What would you say the public secret is in Deluge?
Deluge was developed with a cast of actors at Flinders Drama Centre. Nescha and I had been researching based on the assumption that everyone, whether they express it or not, is in some way suffering from information anxiety—a sense of anxious overwhelm from existing in this world of information overload. In our first development, before the script had begun to form, one member of the cast shrugged in confusion at the concept. Everyone laughed and asserted that he was the most zen person in the world, completely incapable of an anxious thought.
A year later when we regrouped with the actors, this one actor casually mentioned that his idea of hell is total silence—something needs to be playing at all times or he’ll go insane. In that moment we all had to admit that even those seemingly untouched by anxiety are affected in ways they may not consciously realise.
Wednesday 22 July, 8.15pm
Saturday 25 July, 2.30pm
|Phillip Kavanagh is a playwright and dramaturg based between Adelaide and Sydney. He completed a Bachelor of Creative Arts (Honours) and a Master of Arts in Creative Writing at Flinders University, as well as a Graduate Diploma of Dramatic Art (Playwriting) at NIDA. Phillip was awarded the 2011 Patrick White Playwrights’ Award; the 2011 STCSA Flinders University Young Playwrights Award; the 2011 Colin Thiele Creative Writing Scholarship; and the 2014 Jill Blewett Playwright’s Award. He has also been shortlisted for the 2014 and 2013 Philip Parsons Emerging Playwrights Fellowship. Deluge began its life as part of a 2013 Australia Council JUMP mentorship with Andrew Bovell. Phillip’s other works include Jesikah for STCSA and Ecobots for Buzz Dance Theatre.|
Photo credit: Phil Kavanagh, with Nescha Jelk and Iain Sinclair at the National Script Workshops, April 2015. Photo by Enzo Amato