Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Playwriting odyssey

Half my lifetime ago (almost) I was in Year 10 at what was then called Wodonga High School and it was time for work experience. For some reason, I hadn’t organised what I wanted to do. This was out of character for me, because I was a disgusting overachiever. I was the kid with the waving hand who always knew the answer and had a ridiculous amount of extra-curricular activities—public speaking and debating, working on the school magazine, SRC, playing in three bands, doing speech and drama lessons outside school, performing in school plays and learning how to operate lighting, and writing in my spare time. Aside from my lack of interest in PE and my preference for writing poetry in my maths class—which eventually led to me being excused from maths lest I damage the bell curve—I was a good student and usually well organised. But here was something where I didn’t have the answer.

Work experience came around and I had no idea what to do. Some of my friends were doing practical things, like working at Target or McDonalds in the hope that it would lead to an after-school job. Others were doing glamorous things, like doing placements at the local TV station. Others had figured out what they wanted to do after school and were experiencing life as a vet or nurse or teacher.

The fact that I hadn’t yet figured out what I wanted to do with my life was probably behind my failure to act and find a work experience host in time. So, at the eleventh hour, one of my teachers put in a call to HotHouse Theatre. I was interested in acting, and had vague thoughts that if that didn’t work out, my ‘back-up career’ would be as a writer. I sometimes think I must have been equal parts arrogant and ignorant. And yet, for most of my grown-up life, I have made my living as a writer. And while playwriting takes priority, I still perform a bit too.

I was aware that HotHouse existed, if only because it shared office space with the Fruit Fly Circus, which friends of mine trained at. HotHouse management at the time was reluctant to take me on, because there had been an influx of work experience students so there were none of the usual type of work experience tasks left. But they agreed.

As it turns out, I was a terrible work experience student. I kept accidentally hanging up on people when I tried to transfer calls, and I was too shy to spruik the programs well at the matinee show I worked.

But then, on the third day, I was put in the theatre for the day. It was bump out time for the show that had just finished, Andreas Litras’ one-man show Odyssey.

Andreas Litras applying white face paint in his Odyssey. Sorry I did a crap job selling your programs Andreas.
I got to explore the fascinating backstage area of the Butter Factory Theatre and Andreas made conversation with me and showed how he had kitted out his prop suitcase—with white greasepaint that he applied mid show. I remember asking him how he put on the makeup without a mirror and he joked and said ‘with little success’. 

My supervisor that day was Rob. He’s still working tech at HotHouse, including for The Pyjama Girl. He doesn’t remember me from back then, but when I was on work experience, he tricked me into vacuuming and sweeping all of the theatre, and then tutored me in the invaluable craft of ‘wrapping leads’.

I loved it. I was already a believer in the magic of theatre, and now I felt I was entering a secret world that gave me a glimpse into a hidden world.

Little did I know that, 10 years later, I would finally discover what I wanted to do with my life—to inhabit that world and create theatre. 

Having The Pyjama Girl come to life on that very same stage I once swept so enthusiastically is therefore pretty special. 

Me, circa 1999. 

It has taken me a long time to figure out I want to be a playwright (when I grow up). Unlike my teenaged self, I don’t think I’ve got all the answers, and I’m glad I’ve had to take a journey to find this one.

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