To begin this account at what might seem like the end, the play I have been working on has been selected as the winner of the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award, which entails a full production of the work by Queensland Theatre in 2020.
Being a finalist in this award entails a process of creative development and redrafting, which I’ve narrated here and here. The third and final loop of creative development activity was focused on the staged reading of the script before an audience, upon which the panel of judges would make their decision.
Having worked closely on the script for the preceding three months, absorbing and interpreting dramaturgy and discoveries of previous work on the floor, or round the table, I was less concerned with last-minute reinventions than ensuring the text was responsive to its new status as performance rather than text.
I was open to changes, particularly to stage directions describing some of the visual elements of the piece. Having someone tell you about a vision is different to reading it – we found the images could be evoked using less (and often shorter) words than I’d employed on the stage than on the page.
The creative team of Bridget Boyle (director) and Dramaturg (Peter Matheson) alongside actors Anthony Standish, Kathryn Marquet, Jackson McGovern and Walt Webster-Curran worked over two and a half days to get the script on its feet. I’d decided not to do extensive rewrites or cuts during this period. My instinct was to ask the team to interpret what was already in the script, rather than what might or could be. I felt that given the little time we had left, the time for deep experimentation or reinvention was long past, or potentially in the future.
Sometimes they’d question the nature or intent of a line, or seek clarification on what was driving a scene. Sometimes I was there to respond in person – to agree or qualify. Sometimes I went into a neighbouring room to do the rewrites I’d promised myself I wasn’t going to do. None of these were substantial. Generally speaking I tried to keep out of the way.
The ‘moved reading’ of a new script is a bit of an artform unto itself – and the script needs to be ready for it, and obviously what a creative team does to stage a script will depend on a range of contextual factors. For this reading, screen content remained in the realm of description. Certain features of the set were evoked and interacted with. Some of the propositions in the script were explored and rendered, and others simply pointed to. I’d selected and placed music which we used strategically. It was good to hear a small selection of the music I’d listened to while writing the piece, soundtracking its first steps towards performance.
One non-verbal sequence was fully ‘blocked’ – meaning the actors moved into positions resembling those that they’d assume in a real production. Some of the time they read the script from lecterns. Overall, the event that Bridget shaped allowed the ideas of the script to be communicated with clarity and heart. It also surfaced some of the features of the script that needed more work, and I was OK with that.
The reading was in a rehearsal room on a Saturday night, before and audience. I’d spent the day watching the plays of the other finalists, and really enjoyed them. Anna Yen’s epic piece Slow Boat involved elements of Chinese opera and skilled manipulation of objects to tell its tale, so the audience had a sense of how the story would be articulated in performance. Hannah Belsanzky’s funny and meditative piece don’t ask what the bird look like was a ‘straighter’ read, allowing the Australian gothic stillness its words framed to be carefully exposed. All three pieces, including mine, made different demands of process, and therefore had to be shared in different ways as staged readings. As compelling as actors can be, it’s the scripts that were centre-stage.
I hadn’t seen a full run-through of The Holidays, having stepped in and out of the last few days work. It was good to see it played, and good too to hear the audience respond to the work. I watched it with my family beside me, stood around for a bit after, chatting to and thanking people, then we made our way home through one of those awful traffic jams that large football games inspire.
Then myself and the other finalists had a wait in store that we’d been warned about. The status of the project as a Queensland Premier’s Drama Award meant that the announcement had to come from the government, rather than the company. I think all three of us found that two weeks of not knowing rather unusual. The call came from the company at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon, and the next evening the winner was announced at a function after the opening night of a play called Good Muslim Boy, at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, looking out over the Brisbane river.
Sam Strong, the artistic director Queensland Theatre, said a few words, followed by the Arts Minister Leeanne Enoch who responded with intelligence and compassion to each of the works or playwrights, including the show we’d just seen. This might seem like faint praise, but it’s fairly remarkable for a minister of the arts to take a genuine interest in the arts. I stood there waiting while my son fixed my collar. My name was announced, so I went to the podium and said too few words of thanks. Then the rest of the evening was a short blur of photos and unskilful networking on my part.
Word gets out quickly in the teacup of the arts, and people say kind things to people who win things. These things happened. It seems so simple from the outside. I have to answer some questions from the media. The work will be produced in 2020, which is the 50th anniversary of the company, so there’s another wait in store, as well as more work on the script, and the putting together of a team that will realise it, and the gathering of audiences who will experience it.