With the play opening in July (around six months from the time of writing) the show is in an intermediate stage, at least from a the position of the writer. Theatre offers plenty of evidence that once you’ve got a script you don’t even need the writer to be alive to make a play but happily I am. Most of the things I’ve written I’ve also shepherded into production in one role or another, and I’ve never had a ‘mainstage’ production really, so the experience is a bit more fragmented than usual from my perspective, as the momentum is now coming from elsewhere. Some of this stuff might seem a bit obvious if you’re already in the know about how theatre is made but I’ll write it as if it’s not.
(by the way, this is all about writing a play that ended up winning an award. You can go back to the start of the story here if you like.)
Most of the creatives are now in place – Director, Designer, Projection Designer, Composer, Lighting Designer, and Sound Designer. They’re all Brisbane artists, which matters to me, but more importantly they’re all people whose work I admire and expertise I trust. They’ve all had their own decisions to make in terms of signing on, not least whether they can fit it into their busy schedules.
The company asked for my suggestions when composing the potential team, and I was glad of that opportunity – they threw themselves into the process of creative development that I’ve documented elsewhere in this account, so have engaged with the work previously, and truly brought themselves to it, adding valuable perspectives in their interpretation.
A key part of the team is actor Bryan Probets – this casting decision was an easy one and an early one. He will handle the role beautifully. We’d had a chance to work together on one of the early developments. The company needed to confirm his involvement as a priority, balancing his availability with the need for the show to have a ‘face’ for inclusion in brochure and marketing materials. A photo shoot was done, and some images of Bryan emerged that will end up selling the show. I don’t know how they were conceived of or created, but I assume Bryan would have brought some embodied knowledge of the character to the studio. A brief description of the show was written, redrafted by me, and approved for publication.
I don’t know much about marketing, but I do know that theatre companies are perpetually challenged by the need to create images and copy a year in advance for a bunch of shows that haven’t been made yet. It’s always interesting to see the angle at which this unfolds.
Bridget Boyle (the director) and I were contracted to co-present at the season launch, a celebration when the theatre company shares the plays it will produce in the succeeding year. It’s a big event, attended by company supporters, media and dignitaries. We were asked to speak for two minutes as well as spend the day being interviewed and snapped by a pre-determined list of media, photographers, bloggers and journalists. I spent some time in the weeks prior writing my remarks, which Bridget and I then edited and rehearsed before we hit the lectern, a giant picture of Bryan behind us. Some of the photographs and interviews appeared after the launch, but some will be kept in reserve as the season approaches. Though I’ve prepared, and I know the score in terms of sound-bites, when interviewed I’ll tend towards the ponderous, whereas Bridget’s responses are bright and brief.
In the dressing room it’s interesting to chat to the other artists about their shows and how it’s going for them. There are more pre-show nerves in there than I’d expected, especially given that many would consider these artists ‘successful’. It’s all very well organized and I stay for a drink or two then head home.
Very large pictures of Bryan now circulate the town on bus advertisements for the show, and flap proudly on banners outside Queensland Theatre’s headquarters in South Brisbane.
Bridget and I travel to Melbourne to perform two shows of Warmwaters at The Butterfly Club. When we’re not sound checking or performing I use the time and seclusion of the hotel room to work on the ‘final’ draft of the script, instituting some aesthetic changes and firming up some broader patterns in the script, mindful that it will form an artistic and technical blueprint for a much bigger team than the key creatives. I submit this to the company on my return, and this is the last formal draft required of me as a writer. It may change later, but it doesn’t have to.
Bridget, as director, runs these. We need two actors: a middle-aged woman and a young male actor who could pass for being 12 years old. Bridget runs a first round, fielding company suggestions and input from agents who put their charges forward for the role. She creates a shortlist, and I’m invited to the recalls, where six female actors, each equally capable of performing the role, run through two scenes with Bryan and an adult stand-in for the child character. From a writer’s perspective it’s interesting to see the same scene played a number of ways (and still ‘work’) as well as seeing the complexities and new energies that different actors apply to bringing it to life. The intersubjectivity of the action is both evident and elusive. Good theatre is made not by people but between them. It’s a very difficult decision, too subtle to explain here, but a decision is made and that role is cast.
There’s some initial investigation into the younger actor and we* decide to leave it until a time closer to the start of rehearsals – six months is a long time in the life of an adolescent, and we need to cast that role carefully.
*I say ‘we’ but by now the decision is not at all up to me, though I’m consulted sometimes and offer my thoughts when asked to.
Rights to Music & Visual art incorporated into the play
The script makes some quite specific references to music and visual art to be incorporated into the action, and as such the ‘Dramatic Context’ rights to these works must be secured if they’re to be integrated into the performance. Some are available, some are not, some are potentially pending. I imagine there’ll be a further set of decisions later once it’s worked out how much they might cost.
The slightly pedantic work I’ve done in naming tracks, composers, artists and durations has apparently made this process easier. Nobody’s told me how the visual art side of things is progressing. But I assume someone’s on it.
Preparation for publication
Playlab would like to publish the play, so I read and sign a contract outlining the process, and begin work on writing an introduction, and considering what elements may be included or excised from the play as it appears as literature, rather than as a working document.
Sean Foran created a raft of pieces for the creative development he was involved in. We met and talked through the script at his request. He’s sent a selection of demos to me for a listen, and asked for my thoughts on them. At the time of their composition I was consumed with the developing script, and all I knew was the music I heard worked. Now, given a closer listen, I can hear in more detail the delicate balances he’s aiming for, and let him know which ones I love the most. I listen to them on headphones during an early morning walk, looking, appropriately enough, at the sea.
Towards the end of January there’s a preliminary design presentation, where the various elements of the work, largely the set and video design are shared by those who know it best, with those whose job it is to resource and build it. These designs, while informed by some of the development work we did last year, have largely occurred without me being involved, so it’s interesting to see them unfold.
The meeting’s in wardrobe – not an actual wardrobe, because that would be too cramped – but Wardrobe, where the company’s costumes are created and stored. I can see Styrofoam heads with wigs, sewing machines and a weirdly sinister room full of shoes. Twenty people are gathered around the work. Bridget introduces the show, then Sarah and Nathan speak to a miniature model and drawings of their designs. Lee, the new artistic director, has a couple of questions, but for the most part enquiries are technical and practical. Underneath the discussion is a subtext of what these ideas might eventually cost in the broader scheme of thing. I imagine the show already has a budget envelope, divided into sub-sections, and quite a few people present have those figures in mind. I don’t.
It comes to me that one of the challenges as the work scales up is maintaining the intimacy it depends upon – in process and in product.
It’s intriguing to see the words I wrote on a page interpreted as a beautifully rendered balsawood model, sketches, plans and samples. Some ideas directly translate. Others are slanted and transformed, others are completely new and imposed. The words ‘page’ and ‘stage’ happily rhyme and are easy to write, but the journey from one domain to the other is far from simple, and far from singular. The feeling that it’s getting away from me is how it’s meant to be.