In Conversation with Fleur Kilpatrick

Fleur Kilpatrick (pictured top left) won the 2018 Max Afford Playwrights’ Award for her play Whale. The Max Afford Playwrights’ Award has been established in the honour of Malcolm ‘Max’ Afford, for a young playwright to further their education in the field of drama and to improve the general public’s appreciation of Australian drama and playwrights. This is a bennual award offered by Perpetual and administered by Playwriting Australia.

As part of Fleur’s award win, Whale received creative development by PWA, we chatted to Fleur following the reading of her play at the end of its development.

1.How would you describe your play in five words (can be less than five!)?
Well… personal/political, self-deprecating/very cocky

2.What inspired you to write this play?
I think I was trying to work out if I was a good person: if it is possible to choose a career in the arts and still make a difference. 15-year-old Fleur was transcribing the hearings of handcuffed asylum seekers, she was marching and ranting. 32-year-old-Fleur writes plays.

Then there was an image. It started out very United Nations – a room of serious looking people in suits with microphones in front of them and glasses of water beside them piles and piles of papers and interpreters in their ears – all gathered together to save the world by doing something truly awful.

3.How has the play changed from when you first entered the Max Afford Playwrights’ Award until now?
I think I submitted maybe draft 3 or 4 to the Max Afford Playwrights’ Award. Now I’m on draft 12 and they have been big changes. I don’t think I’ve ever had a play change this much. But I’ve also never been so certain of where a play is going and what it is trying to say. This certainty at the core of the work has actually made me a lot more willing to try new things. Certainty frees you up, it creates possibilities rather than ends them. A big thing that has changed is the way I facilitate the audience/performer participation. That is the kind of thing that developments give you space to do: invite people into a room and play with how to feed them a story.

4.Commenting on your win, you said “theatre makers can at times be fearful of being too didactic when it comes to climate change or politics so these subjects become metaphors or subtext rather than direct discussions.” Following the work’s creative development and reading, do you feel the work is as direct about climate change as you hoped it would be?
I think it is very direct but it is also full of metaphor. It builds metaphors up and cuts them down, often in quite a self-deprecating/self-critical way. No one will leave this play wondering what it was about but my bigger goal is that they also leave with a clear, actionable way to help. Through consultation with experts in our development we are building a plan for what we might be able give our audience as they leave: a way to connect with us or with other communities, a very specific thing to ask of our politicians, something that means they don’t just feel sad about it all. I think we are powerful. I want people to feel powerful. I think Whale gives us a chance to rehearse being powerful and to rehearse winning an argument that many people feel they have been losing for more than 30 years.

5.What is the difference in process between the development room and a public reading for you as a playwright?
In developments, I try not to think too hard about the showing or reading for fear that we will shortcut that great, deep thinking we can do as a group when we aren’t trying to anticipate the final outcome. Not thinking about the end frees us up to be bold in the middle. To have someone say ‘I was thinking something like this is missing’ and to just go and try to write that missing part for them, secure in the knowledge that other drafts are saved and that you’re surrounded by people who will be fearless and generous if you are.
I feel this development in particular was about us as a group of women meeting each other in this conversation and about my collaborators coming to feel ownership over this thing that has been mine alone for a long time. The actors’ names are written into the script so – while they are very much fictionalised versions of themselves – I want them to feel empowered and respected by my writing. As I write on page two of every script, ‘my play is a workplace’ and I want it to be a good workplace: joyful, rigorous, caring and brave. With biscuits on offer.

6.Who are your playwriting heroes?
debbie tucker green, Roslyn Oades (I don’t think she’d consider herself a playwright but I think her plays are remarkable and she was my dramaturge on this project, I am VERY lucky), Caryl Churchill, David Finnigin, Morgan Rose, Patricia Cornelius. Total heroes. Every one of them.

Whale will make its world premiere at Monash University from 16-18 May 2019. Click here for more info.

For more information on the Max Afford Playwrights’ Award click here

Below are some photos from Whale’s development, courtesy of Sarah Walker.

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