Nicholas Tan is a recent recipient of the Erin Thomas Playwright Fund, facilitated by Playwriting Australia. Supported by the Thomas Family, the Fund seeks to commemorate Erin’s optimism and her creative talent and further her generous contribution to the arts by helping emerging writers to pursue their dreams. In November this year, Nicholas travelled from his regional town of Mandurah in Western Australia to Newcastle, New South Wales. Below is a reflection of his experience.
I am grateful for the opportunity given by the Erin Thomas Playwright Fund to travel from my regional town of Mandurah in Western Australia to Newcastle, New South Wales for a week in early November. My main goal was to see my ten minute play, MELTED BUTTER, performed at the Tantrum Youth Arts’ short plays festival, Hissyfest. In addition to watching my play, I wanted to seek advice from Allison Van Gaal, director to develop MELTED BUTTER into a full length play.
Allison Van Gaal was the director of my ten minute play Five, Six for Tantrum Youth Arts’ Hissyfest 2016. She is also the director of my ten minute monologue Melted Butter for Hissyfest 2017. I discussed with her directorial vision for both of my pieces. Allison is drawn to character-driven work and she explained that she wanted a simple set design using minimal props in order to let the story and the characters shine.
To maximise my time in Newcastle, I also wanted to learn from the staff at Tantrum Youth Arts and gain industry knowledge from the professionals driving the Theatre space in Newcastle. James Chapman, Associate Director at Tantrum Youth Arts arranged for me to meet Lucy Shepherd, Tantrum’s Artistic Director and Tamara Gazzard Tantrum’s Producer. Lucy and Tamara are also cofounders of Paper Cut, a contemporary performance collective in Newcastle that specialises in verbatim theatre. During my visit I also was given the opportunity to meet award-winning playwright, Vanessa Bates.
Reflections from my time with Lucy Shepherd and Tamara Gazzard (Tantrum Youth Arts and Paper Cut)
Even before I submitted my play Five, Six to Tantrum’s Hissyfest in 2016, I have always wanted to visit Tantrum Youth Arts. I was delighted to interview Lucy and Tamara, who work to promote new writing by local youth and allow young artists to express themselves. One of the questions I posed to them was how they worked with children. They noted that they have never been in a situation where a young actor could not perform a role. This is because they allow young actors to contribute creatively to the development of the character. The character is made meaningful to the actor (the actor is asked: what do you think?) rather than just being a set of moves and lines.
Tamara and Lucy are also two thirds of Paper Cut, a collective that develops verbatim theatre, which also draws on physical theatre and other contemporary methods. It was great to understand how they are contributing to the Newcastle theatre scene.
Reflections from my time with Vanessa Bates
I am so grateful I was able to sit down with Vanessa Bates, an award-winning playwright, who has written for stage, television and radio. She is also a former PWA Playwright in Residence at Griffin Theatre, Sydney. One of the questions that I asked her was how she dealt with dealing/writing multicultural themes/characters, and what happens when someone from the same cultural background of the character criticised her portrayal of that character. As an emerging playwright from a CaLD background, I was interested to know how as an established playwright she deals with cultural sensitivity. Her advice to me was that there will always be aspects of a character/theme that you will have to research but for things that you do not have personal experience in, there are other experiences that you draw on. She says that as a writer, you have to stick to your vision and know who you are writing for, even if it is for yourself. It was also comforting to hear that she agrees with my belief that it is hard to dramaturg your own work. Vanessa attended the opening night of Hissyfest and thankfully, she liked my piece.
I am very thankful to the Erin Thomas Playwright Fund and Playwriting Australia for offering me the opportunity to travel to Newcastle to watch the performance of my play as well as gain industry knowledge from professionals in the arts. I am also thankful to meet with Vanessa, Lucy and Tamara; and to see James act in MELTED BUTTER. It was great to gain useful information from these experts, receive feedback about my current practice and know that I am on the right path.
Learn more about the Erin Thomas Playwright Fund here