Friday, November 23, 2012

A letter to Arts NSW

Update: Stoked to hear that common sense has prevailed. Arts NSW is giving HotHouse Theatre transitional funding for 2013 (at the amount originally requested) so HotHouse can continue making and presenting locally and nationally significant work. Also goes to show that writing rantypants letters (see below) can help.

It was amazing to see the surge of support from across the country and the good folk at HotHouse reckon the enthusiastic and widespread letter and email writing campaign to Arts NSW and Arts Minister George Souris had a definite impact on this decision. They sincerely thank the local community in Albury Wodonga and the national industry for their support during this tumultuous time.

Well done to everyone at HotHouse and chookers for the 2013 season launch next week!

I am writing to express my outrage at the appalling decision of Arts NSW to defund HotHouse Theatre in 2013.

Beyond the concerning absence of fair process and transparency from Arts NSW, this decision further undermines the value of the arts in Australia and isolates people living in regional Australia.
Wayne Swan said no Australian should be disadvantaged because of their postcode. Growing up in the postcode of 3691, I experienced the isolation, social exclusion and lack of opportunity that the federal Government has worked so hard to tackle in the past few years.
I wasn’t good at sport, so I didn’t fit in. I was so shy and socially undeveloped that my primary school had me tested for autism. In secondary school, I felt acutely disadvantaged because even with distance education, my school of 1000 students was unable to offer the same curriculum as metro schools.
Then I discovered drama. Through the arts, I learnt how to express myself, think critically, interact with others and other crucial life skills; I wouldn’t be where I am today without theatre.
At 16, I did work experience at HotHouse and saw how it was doing so much with so little. Telling local (and national) stories, providing emerging artists with their start, and building an organisation of influence and high regard. Transforming a tin shed into a significant arts venue.
The effect of arts may not be easily quantifiable or tangible and that is precisely why government funding is so vital.
Denying funding to such a key organisation is not only emblematic of the recently popular myth that the arts don’t matter in a country where sport is king—it’s heartbreaking.
The fact is, HotHouse has experienced sustained growth and remains a valued institution, by the local community, by artists, and nationally.
Art is not fat that can be trimmed. 
If you’re not willing to put a price on it, then how can artists? By devaluing the work of a vital Key Organisation you set a dangerous precedent for a slide into a cultural wasteland. A far call from the vision for a creative Australia that had bi-partisan support at the Australia 2020 Summit.
Here’s my stake: I’m an emerging playwright who has spent 2012 developing a new work through the Australia Council JUMP Mentorship program.
HotHouse, which remains one of the few remaining companies specialising in the development of new work and supporting emerging playwrights, was to produce this new work.
In fact, just a few days ago, I was delighted to proofread the publicity artwork.
Today, I was devastated to learn that once again regional Australia has been sidelined. The message seems loud and clear: you don’t matter.
Emma Gibson

Thursday, November 22, 2012

What I'm doing now...

No, this blog hasn’t gone dark. I’ve come to the end of my Jump Mentorship, so have been allowing the dust to settle post-acquittal.

Thus I reach the end of phase 1 of this project. More on that later.
First, I want to acknowledge the great support I got throughout the Jump mentorship process, particularly from Jan and David at Canberra Contemporary Art Space, and of course, my mentor Colette, who warned me of the Dark Side but then trusted I had enough of the Force to be able to decide myself whether or not to cross over. She’ll shortly be rewarded with an utterly heinous Scandinavian snow globe, which I expect will take pride of place on her mantelpiece.

Not this snowglobe though, sorry Coda.

Here’s what I’ve learnt:
• Dream big
• Work hard
• Have integrity
• Take up every opportunity you can
• You can’t please everyone all the time (so instead: write a good play).

Yes, they’re all platitudes and yes they’re things I already knew. Not to sound like a know-it-all. I think they’re things most of us know—but putting them into practice is often a different story.

The biggest accomplishment for me this year is the way I view my craft. I still want to be more disciplined and structured. I keep telling myself that I want to write for at least an hour a day—but that often doesn’t happen. Instead, I’ll spend hours on the laptop researching, editing, planning —because often, those types of things consume more of your time.

So I’ve learnt to write when and where I can. I’m very fond of 30-minute creative bursts. In fact, on my lunchbreak today I jotted out an early draft of a scene in my notebook sitting in the grass at the park across the road from work.

I also feel like I’m getting more involved in the arts community, and I’m definitely spending a lot more time at the theatre. That’s where I’m headed tonight.

So I no longer view myself as a hum-drum dabbler. I don’t think I’ll be getting Nobel prizes anytime soon either, but I do feel like I’m slowing clawing my way out of the metaphorical womb to one day become an ‘emerged’ (past tense) playwright. Though I don’t think the development journey is ever really done.
So, where to from here?

I’m still researching and am meeting an interview subject this weekend. Following a successful reading in Albury in October, and good feedback from actors and audience members, I’m working on the third draft as we speak.

I’ll be workshopping that with some actors and a director and then we’ll be having a reading at the Street Theatre in Canberra, in front of an invited audience.
From that—well, I’ll then start work on draft 4.

Early next year, I’ll start development activities with HotHouse Theatre, which will produce the pyjama girl play almost exactly 12 months from today.

It seems like a long way off, but part of the beauty of writing plays is the collaborative aspects and partly because of this, the development process can take time. For me, the average length of time I spend writing a script is a year on average. The last one was closer to 2.5 years. It was an epic though, to be fair, and what I’m terming my ‘apprenticescript’.

I learnt a stack from that. I’m learning a stack more from this one, and I know there’s more exciting stuff waiting for me next year.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Hearing voices

A few days ago, I sat in HotHouse Theatre's studio space and heard the play read aloud by actors for the very first time, which is always a thrill. It’s also terrifying. Much like an amusement park ride (including the sensation of butterflies in my stomach immediately before).
Hearing other people give voice to the characters has helped clarify the story for me—and more importantly, the voices that are missing. I know I have more work to do on the script. I know this gives me wonderful opportunities.
And while I couldn’t stop myself from making some small revisions, I also know that it’s important to leave it with the actors for now and see what they find in the script, without the writer in the room.
While I’ve shot back to Canberra for a few days, director Travis Dowling has been working with the HotHouse actor ensemble and the delightful Susie Dee, as well as HotHouse artistic director Jon Halpin, to prepare the public debut of The Pyjama Girl play.
It’s a great opportunity for audience members to see something so early in its development and have their say on it—and this is important to me because many people in the community have expressed a sense of ownership or connection to the story.
At the same time, the talented emerging actors taking part in the read are getting to learn more about the process of developing and workshopping a script.
When I hit the Hume Highway on Friday night (the same road travelled by the Sydney detectives in 1934 when they were summoned to investigate the murder of the woman found in the culvert) to travel the familiar road to Albury/Wodonga, it will be with a great sense of anticipation.
So, if you’re in the area, head along to the Butter Factory Theatre (Gateway Village, Wodonga) to hear HotHouse present a rehearsed reading of The Pyjama Girl. Twice! 3 pm and 7 pm. Entry is a gold coin donation, going to Betty's Place Women's Refuge.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Verbatim theatre and the road to the truth

Now, as we all know, we often find ourselves on unfamiliar roads. Not sure how we got there, but fairly sure it will still take us to where we want to go.

I set out out on a journey to write a play about an event I think has played an important part in the consciousness of the community.

I thought the best way to do that was through an on-stage documentary, and I chose Verbatim Theatre as my form.

Verbatim Theatre is a specific type of theatre that involves interview people connected to a particular event, and then using those transcripts (and other ‘found’ materials like newspaper articles or court transcripts) to fashion a script. It’s an area that has long fascinated me, but I’ve never written a script before, so this has been a great opportunity to learn about it for me.

But here’s what I’ve discovered: the pyjama girl—the story I think needs to be told—is perhaps not best suited to the verbatim form. 

This is, in its simplest way, because verbatim depends on getting the words from people who experienced the event. This of course, is challenging because a) not many of the people who lived in the area at the time are still alive and b) how connected to the pyjama girl—the actual girl—are the residents of the Albury area anyway? It’s argued often that she wasn’t a local, and that the killer can’t have been a local, otherwise he would’ve known about the apparently bottomless pool of water a bit further down the road. A much better place to dispose of a body.

So what I’ve got is second hand information. It’s important to note that rumours were flying thick and fast and we, as human creatures, are all biased—even me, as a playwright.

One of the things Verbatim Theatre seeks to do (something that current affairs journalism often fails at) is to present information in a way that allows audience members to take away the truth.

But you’re seeing that through my filter.

So, what I’ve figured out is that this story needs a little bit of fiction in the way it is presented. I haven’t altered any facts about the pyjama girl, but I have invented a character to give us an idea of what the pyjama girl, whoever she was, might have been like. After all, she could have been anyone—and that’s one of the points I make in the current script.

My mentor, Colette, explained that in Verbatim Theatre, the playwright speaks ‘with’ not ‘for’ the characters.

But by creating a character, and constructing a voice for her (based on research), I am in fact, speaking ‘for’ the character.

Which means this play is not what we would strictly term Verbatim Theatre. It is, however, still research informed.

And I don’t mean this in the way Hollywood movies claim to be ‘based on a true story’.

The shape will change as I work with HotHouse to develop the play, but all the interviews I conducted with people in Albury and elsewhere, and extensive research I’ve undertaken, in libraries, museums—and of course, the Albury LibraryMuseum—have played a part in building the current script.

Ultimately, I want to use theatre as a way of getting to something truthful. But it’s unlikely there is anyone living who knows that full truth of the pyjama girl mystery. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

ANOTHER overdue blog: Stockholm

And another international excuse.

I'm sure I project an image of a glamorous jet set life style, but I assure you this is absolutely not the case. In fact, I'm typing this from my couch with a snuggie blanket over my knees and my cat at my feet.

In August, I went to Sweden for the Women Playwrights International Conference. It was awesome. It was utterly inspirational, and in has indirectly changed the direction of this play. More about that next time.

Personally, I reckon I’m pretty terrible at networking. The very word terrifies me. Standing around in a theatre foyer gossiping or discussing the show I’ve just seen comes naturally, but tell me to sell myself or my work – in the same theatre foyer with the same people standing around – and I discover my gob suddenly glued shut.

In Stockholm though, I gained confidence in talking about myself and my work. Suddenly it was okay, because by being at WPIC, I felt I deserved to call myself a playwright. For me there are two reasons a) I realised how important it is to me and b) I felt my writing must be a little bit okay given my script was one of 100 selected from around the world to be presented there, though I was absolutely in awe of the people around me, particularly the enormously talented Australian contingent.

Swedish actors perform my play (not the pyjama girl)

Speaking of, I'm going to defer further description of Stockholm adventures to two other lady playwrights of my acquaintance, Zoe and Jenny, with whom I shared a squealing reunion on a cobblestone street in Stockholm)--go on, read their delightful blogs. 

Taking on my identity as playwright was a big breakthrough. Second major breakthrough was the realisation that we’re lucky in Australia. Sure, European countries have fabulously structured theatre industries, where actors have wages mandated by experience and in some places working in theatre is the type of career choice that won’t break your parents’ hearts. Necessarily.

BUT I realise how lucky I am to be able to create work just because I want to create it. Not because it needs to be created out of protest. Not because it is the only way to have an issue heard. Not even because it is a tool for education and community building. But simply because I have something I want to say.

Theatre is a wonderful tool for all of those things. Of course I can still write political theatre. But I can also write a romantic comedy if I want to. The freedom to be purely creative is not a luxury enjoyed by playwrights the world over, particularly female playwrights. Freedom of expression is another issue entirely.

We all know the power of theatre, and the conference theme, the Democratic Stage was apt.

As an emerging playwright from a non-metro city, I felt like a grade 6 moving to the big school—there is so much out there that I don’t know about the industry, both in Australia and overseas.

In Egypt, where theatre is telling the stories of revolution that journalism failed to tell; In India, where theatre teaches people that it’s okay to have a daughter, in the ten countries across the world participating in an international theatre project built around the shocking fact that domestic violence kills more women worldwide than cancer.

And this made me realise just how important it is to tell the story of the Pyjama Girl. 

I was lucky enough to attend a research-informed theatre workshop run by some wonderful Canadian playwrights. One of them, Tara Goldstein has written a book on it Staging Harriet's House: Writing and Producing Research-Informed Theatre. Now, back in Australia, nearing the end of the JUMP project, I've been reading this book as I redrafted the script and have come to an important realisation. The play I'm writing is not verbatim at all. It cannot be. 

And on that cliffhanger... I'll leave you until next time.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Overdue blog part 3: Bathurst

Yet again we can take it as a sign that I've been too busy working on the project to blog. So what have I been busy doing? Assembling, editing and working on the first version of the script.

This process began with a trip to Bathurst a few weekends ago, where I worked with my mentor Colette.

I'd already compiled the transcripts of the interviews I'd conducted, along with "found" materials--court transcripts, newspaper articles, a letter, and so on. I'd put together chunks of text divided into different key themes and sent them through to Colette. So armed with all of this printed on a small forest of paper, we locked ourselves in a room (in fact, it was an observation room in the psychology department at the university; only towards the end of the day did we notice the two cameras in the room observing us and realised what the sign on the door said) and began shuffling pages.

The method, which we've now christened 'paper on the ground' (also known as POG!) is just as sophisticated as it sounds.

Rather than culling from an enormous amount of text, we instead selected key bits and laid those down on the floor, moving, chopping, and swapping text until we arrived at some sort of structure. 

This took a very intense four hours. Then we painstakingly collected all of it and photocopied it in order, just to be doubly safe.

Then we headed out to a bar for some wood-fired pizza and wine as a reward.

The next step was assembling this all on my computer to get a first cut. This was quite easy, as it was simply a case of cutting and pasting for a few hours. I expected a first draft wouldn't be far off. Now I realise I'm going to have to take my time with it. Once I had the first cut on my computer, I started making small edits and moving things around. Then I remembered some additional content I wanted to include and had to find where to add that. Now, the balance of the structure had been thrown off, so more changes might be needed. This is before I get to the point of line by line edits. This is also before I get to the point of assigning/creating characters--but I need to have a clearer direction in terms of content before I can begin shaping to that level.

So while I'm calling this the first draft, it's already had multiple revisions--before any actor even sees it. I want to make sure I've done as much as I can before I get some actors to workshop a reading with me.

At the same time, one of the great traps of this story is the extraordinary level of details so I must always be aware of an audience that is new to the case and the story. Will they follow the story? What level of detail is necessary? What is the best way to link these two things, while working within the constraints of verbatim?

I'll have answers to some of those questions next time.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Overdue blog part 2: Sydney

Yes, that’s right, another interstate trip.

Following my return from Albury, I’ve spent the last week and a bit gathering more research. I headed along to the National Library of Australia in Canberra, where I spent an afternoon scanning through 1930s editions of Truth newspaper, until I got seasick from the microfilm.

Then to Sydney, where I visited the Home front: wartime Sydney exhibition at the Museum of Sydney to get context on the time in which the pyjama girl case unravelled. I also visited the Museum of Contemporary Art and saw part of Vivid Festival while I was there—all in one whirlwind day.
The main event of the day though, was the Justice and Police Museum, housed in the historic building that was once home to the water police and court. Inside it’s a place of heavy sandstone walls, labyrinthine corridors, and old cells that would be eerie if they weren’t so neatly kept. Inside, you’d hardly know you were just steps away from Circular Quay.

The x-rays of that led to the discovery of a bullet

My reason for visiting was the exhibition dedicated to the Pyjama Girl, which includes her penultimate resting place—the lead lined coffin in which she was preserved for 10 years.
When people hear that she was submerged in a formalin bath, they often imagine something like a bathtub—or else, something in the way of a glass coffin. Even though I knew that wasn’t the case, seeing this receptacle in person gave me goose bumps. In fact, it made me feel incredibly sad. I tried to work up the nerve to touch it—after all, it was just a wooden box—but I couldn’t.

I left the room—an old cell—and wandered through the narrow corridor of the historic building to the next room. When I walked into this one, I saw two men in police uniforms with their backs to me and at first, I thought they stuffed manikins—ghosts on display, along with the photographs that lined the cinderblock rooms.

The lonely second-last resting place

Then one of the police officers shifted his weight, rolled his ankle in circles like someone who had been on his feet too long already that day, and moved across to the next row of photos.
I shuffled around the room too, following them without making eye contact—I was too spooked to look up.
We were all silent, until they began to leave the room, and I heard a radio crackle.
Later, I went back into the room where the Pyjama Girl’s casket was kept. This time, I touched it.

It was a wooden box,  hollowed, empty.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Overdue blog part 1: Albury

Apologies for the radio silence, but I’ve been busy working on the Pyjama Girl Project—as evidenced by the lack of procrastination-by-blogging.

Since my last update, I’ve been gathering research, ideas, and the story of the Pyjama Girl. This has included time trawling through Trove, library visits and a couple of trips down to Albury.
My first major milestone for my Jump project was to send excerpts of interview transcripts to my mentor, Colette. When I got Colette’s feedback, I realised I’d made a facepalm-worthy rookie mistake. You see, I’d already conducted so much research that I knew the story inside out. And when people were speaking to me, they assumed I had this level of knowledge. This meant I didn’t manage to capture anyone talking about the origins of the story—the dead girl found by the side of the road.

And at its heart, that’s what the story is all about.
So I resumed my hunt for talent. Without being sure what to expect, I tracked down Richard Evans, historian, criminologist and author of the Pyjama Girl Mystery–an exhaustively researched and definitive examination of the evidence, and beautifully written to boot. I think I ran around my office squealing when I heard back from Richard, who happily agreed to be interviewed, and even very generously offered to dig through his archives for some research I’d been chasing.

A week after interviewing Richard, who is the living expert on the case, I then had a go at pretending to be the second-foremost authority, when I gave a talk at the invitation of the Albury LibraryMuseum as part of Law Week 2012. The topic was Law and Justice: Our Murky Past. A local solicitor, Kym, spoke about the legal perspective of the case.
Afterwards, we had a photo shoot in front of the Pyjama Girl’s death mask, which is on display in the LibraryMuseum.

The death mask--and unfortunate reflective glare.
Believe it or not, this was my third time looking down the barrel of a camera next to that mask—but this time was very different—the glass case was unlocked and one side removed, and Kym and I were asked to move closer to the mask by the photographer. Obediently, we moved our heads into the case, occupying the same space as the mask (no copy, but the actual plaster cast that was once pressed against the dead girl’s battered face). It smelled sterile, like a hospital. That was the strangest thing. The cast looked sadder and smaller without the pane of glass separating us and bouncing my own reflection back at me. The photographer asked us to smile. It was hard to manage.   

Thursday, April 5, 2012

My mother told me...

One of the reasons why I wanted to tell this story is because it's not just a single story. There are many stories, myths, and conspiracy theories that resulted from this murder mystery. Of the people I've spoken to so far, every single story has been different, many contradictory, and yet told to me with such conviction that each time I speak to someone, I am convinced I am hearing the real truth of the case.

Well, mostly. 

Until next time, here's a mini-myth to keep you entertained, taken directly from the transcripts.

..."When she was identified, I said to my mother ‘what’s all this about the pyjama girl?’ And mum said ‘oh poor lady came from Melbourne with a suitcase of her clothes and it was all stolen and she had to go back to Melbourne in her pyjamas.’"

Now, as people ask me about the play I'm working on, their next question is often 'Who was the Pyjama Girl.' As that in itself is a far too complicated answer, I'm tempted to begin borrowing the story about the suitcase!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

On the road

Howdy. Just a quick post from Nashville, while I have good internet access. The radio silence on the blog is due to me being away on what may now seem like an unfortunately timed holiday--immediately after completing my first round of interviews for the Pyjama Girl Project. But don't worry, the project is not on pause. While I may not be at work, I'm still working.

Over the last week, I spent some time in Chicago, where I went on a mobster tour--obviously. Purely for research, of course. In fact, there were some interesting tidbits to come out of the tour, including questions around identity (which is a key theme running through the Pyjama Girl case) and the Black Hand. The contrast between the 20s, 30s, 40s in Australia and the US is quite interesting, and the similarities, particularly the two I noted above, even more so.

While I'm away, my Magical Typewriter Monkey is transcribing the interviews/conversations I've already recorded. Most of these took place following a meeting of the Albury and District Historical Society. I was thrilled by the enthusiasm and generosity of the people who came to meet with me. Also with the offers to lend books, photocopies and other sources of information for my research. I'm looking forward to meeting with more people.

I was also blown away by interest in this project. It just goes to show that it is still relevant today. Just weeks ago, a drop of blood from the Wanda Beach murder site raised fresh hopes that the 1965 case--the murder of two schoolgirls--might finally be solved. A few people have asked me about the possibility of exhumation and forensic testing, like DNA to confirm the identity of the woman buried in the grave marked Linda Agostini. As a playwright, it's not a question I can answer, but it is one I plan to ask of those more qualified.

Already, I've had some media coverage of the project, which all started with ABC Goulburn Murray breakfast announcer Gaye Pattison--no media release necessary. I haven't yet had a chance to thank her, but I imagine she must have acted as my publicist, fielding calls and forwarding my contact details to other local media outlets.

Coincidentally enough, Howard from the Border Mail called me when I was sitting in the Albury LibraryMuseum looking at 1934 issues of the paper on microfiche. I'd been lamenting the fact that the Border Mail isn't available on Trove (the National Library's digitised newspaper collection) and Howard explained that it was due to a fire, which destroyed all the archives several years ago. You can read the article here.

Prime News also did a story. In it, you'll see me standing in front of the Pyjama Girl's actual death mask. You can watch the video here.

Thanks to newspaper syndication, the story was even picked up in Brisbane. The good folks at 4bc have posted the interview online.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I don't have answers but I do have questions

“I never knew her in life. She exists for me through others, in evidence of the ways her death drove them. Working backward, seeking only facts, I reconstructed her as a sad little girl and a whore, at best a could-have-been--a tag that might equally apply to me. I wish I could have granted her an anonymous end, relegated her to a few terse words on a homicide dick’s summary report, carbon to the coroner’s office, more paperwork to take her to potter’s field. The only thing wrong with the wish is that she wouldn’t have wanted it that way. As brutal as the facts were, she would have wanted all of them known.”

So begins James Elroy’s novel “The Black Dahlia”, describing itself as a novel based on Hollywood’s most notorious murder case.

The two cases of course, have some things in common--attractive young women, found dead, brutally battered. It’s interesting to note that the Pyjama Girl murder took place in 1934, well ahead of the 1947 Black Dahlia murder--although this is certainly one thing we wouldn’t want to claim as a first.

It’s no an exaggeration to say that the Pyjama Girl is Albury’s most notorious murder case, if not Australia’s.

But with other cases before and since--mysteries with the same elements of the salacious, the gruesome, the tragic--why has this particular murder mystery endured?

That’s what I’m here to find out.

In 1932, in Ayr in Far North Queensland, a man from the electrical company was checking the meter on a house when he made a gruesome discovery within. Clad only in her nightgown, the body of the beautiful Jean Morris was pooled in the blood resulting from a reported 35 stab wounds. It’s certain that Morris wasn’t her real name, so the intrigue of alternate identities is something this case has in common with the Pyjama Girl mystery.

And there’s another important thing in common--a potential victim. Anna Philomena Morgan was considered a possible match for the dead girl found just outside Albury. 

Much of this was due to the efforts of a Dr Palmer Benbow, who fancied himself a detective. Eventually, much of his evidence was dismissed. 

And Anna Philomena Morgan was crossed off the long list of names as it was believed ‘She was identical with Jean Morris’. This is an idea that since seems to have been dismissed as the ugly duckling photograph of a young Philomena hardly suggested that she could turn into the beautiful Stiletto Jean.

Tonight, I meet with the Albury and District Historical Society, where I'm looking forward to hearing more stories, connections, and contradictions.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Connecting with the community

One of things that interests me about this project is contrast. Contrasts between rich and destitute, between satin pyjama clad city gals and sensible rural ladies in cotton shifts they'd sewn themselves, and most fascinating of all, between headlines and reality.

Albury was a town that became the dumping ground for a notorious murder, the mystery of which caused rifts and for some, damage to their family reputation. At the same time, it was an event about which little was said. Locals didn't want to take ownership of it, to be associated with a brutal murder.

Instead, it would rather be remembered for another significant local event--which also took place in 1934. The Uiver

*Not the Albury Uiver... This is a Dutch postcard advertising "Ovomaltine". Like eating crusts will grow hair on your chest, this malted milk drink must make you man enough to fly a plane.

Picture it... An iconic Dutch aircraft, flailing about in electrical storm, in need of an emergency landing.

The hero? The local community, who, responding to a radio broadcast, jumped in their cars and drove to the race course. Lining up their vehicles with the headlights on (in a way vaguely reminiscent of James Dean's chicky run in Rebel Without A Cause), they created a makeshift airstrip... and a safe landing for the Uiver.

You can listen to John Walker's excellent radio play thanks to the local ABC here.

The point though? Is that when communities come together, they can do wonderful things. I've started poking around, finding people to meet and speak to for this project. The people I've contacted have been receptive and helpful. The historical society even went to the trouble of deleting a section of their newsletter so they could include my call for stories!

I've also got another exciting lead to follow, but in the meantime, I'm sleuthing away, connecting links, and looking forward to beginning conversations.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Jumping in with both feet

Soon, I'll write something more coherent about this play, but now I'm focused on phase one -- mad research.

I'm trying to look into as many different angles as possible, before I head out and start conducting the interviews that will make up the text of the play. Thematically, I'm interested in connections and contradictions. There are plenty of both so far. But some of the connections and coincidences I've found in the last few days have been so exciting I told my wise mentor Colette that I'm tempted to create my very own serial killer-esque photo wall and connect common threads with a spider web of red wool.

It's, yes, a story of murder and mystery--but also of communities in turmoil, poverty, fascism, mobsters, planes, trains and automobiles. Beyond that it's a story of broken women: flappers, hookers, drunks and runaways.

This was the era of Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh, but Darlinghurst was a very long way from Albury NSW, although Big Bill Mackay is a key character here too, managing to apparently solve the Pyjama Girl murder, all while enjoying a free lunch from his favourite little Italian place. If you believe the statement of confession, all it took was for the hulking Irishman to ask the diminutive Italian waiter -- 'Why so glum Tony?' And after 10 years, Antonio Agostino uncorked as easily as a bottle of Lambrusco.

But was that really the end of the story? And as for the beginnings... well, that's where I am right now.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The girl murdered in her pyjamas

Albury, New South Wales. 1934.

A murdered woman, wearing silk pyjamas, is found by a road near Albury, and her body is preserved and displayed for 10 years.

She is eventually identified as flapper Linda Agostini, and her husband is arrested. But his prior connections with police officials and other inconsistent evidence raises the possibility that he was a simply a scapegoat for a crime that remains unsolved.

Then there’s the fact that the body’s eyes were a different colour to Linda Agostini’s.

This iconic murder mystery is the subject of a new play I'm working on, thanks to a JUMP mentorship.

Using Verbatim techniques, my focus will be on themes of connections and contradictions, from the enduring effect of the murder on the local community, to the sensational, fictionalised headlines and newsreels. I hope the finished play will interrogate these myths and possible solutions to the mystery, while reflecting the broader Australian and local context of the time.

It's the early stages, but I'll soon be getting out there with a recorder and interviewing people. Let's see what I'll dig up!