You may have noticed I’ve not been out and about as much as usual. The reason is because I have been observing for The National Play Festival. It’s been a long time since I have been a rehearsal observer. The last time was in 2000 (Yes, 11 years ago!) when I was the rehearsal observer for the MTC and Company B (now Belvoir)’s production of Yasmina Reza’s The Unexpected Man directed by Simon Phillips. I was a bright eyed 20 year old – an honours student at The Centre for Performance Studies at Sydney Uni – and I was just in awe. Many moons have passed. And unlike many directors of my age or generation, I have been in many director’s rehearsal rooms – those directors include Lee Lewis, Rachel MacDonald, Cristabel Sved, Madeleine Jaine, Jo Couch to name a few. But on this occasion I am observing Griffin Theatre Company’s Artistic Director Sam Strong who is working on a staged reading of Melissa Reeve’s “The Real World”.

It’s a strange experience for me for a few reasons and these are very particular to me – as the hybrid reviewer/theatre maker (I think Rex Cramphorn may have known the feeling). Sometimes I feel a little bashful because I have reviewed, stage managed, or been interviewed by all but three of the nine people in the rehearsal room. It’s times like these when I feel an identity crisis coming on… who am I? What is it that I do? How can I be most useful? Though there is well trodden ground, there are a lot of new experiences. And although it’s a little awkward but I’m focusing on the play and keeping my ears open. A lot of firsts. It’s the first time I have been in a writer’s process whom I have not commissioned ( to be a part of Brand Spanking New, Stories from the 428, Metamor/phases or Off the Shelf). And it’s the first time of me being at the National Play festival. It’s the first time I have taken two weeks off from my other jobs to be soley committed to a project. It’s the first time I have seen Sam Strong in rehearsal and he is exactly as I suspected – a delightful, positive, director – firm and friendly in rehearsal and generous to actors. I would have guessed this from seeing his productions – but now this is confirmed. But my aim is to listen – and not to get in the way. I’m just watching how it works.

Next week the festival gears up at Parramatta Riverside Theatre with the readings made public. Here’s the blurb from PlayWriting Australia and you can read more here:

Fine Draft
Playwriting is for artisans and this part of the Play Festival allows for chisels and anvils, sutures and scalpels, gimlets and handsaws. These plays are four very fine drafts, plays of real and rare distinction, that each receives 10 days of workshopping prior to presentation at the Festival with the finest actors, directors and dramaturgs. Though presented with minimal staging they are shown in their entirety and, no matter how basic the staging, the sheer force of their argument and emotion, ideas and characters, charm and fury is like theatrical rocket fuel. Drink up the very best of these fine drafts.

The Real World
By Melissa Reeves
Melissa is a multi-award winning playwright best known for The Spook, Furious Mattress and Who’s Afraid of the Working Class.

Frank: I believe in no god and I don’t need one. I don’t know why we’re here and I don’t care. Nor do I believe in genius. It’s all luck, nous and hard work. I don’t believe in love or friendship. I have confided in people and they have betrayed me. I believe in neither left nor right. Everyone is corruptible. Why did I give you the money? I had the idea and I had the money. Simple as that.

Rachel is imprisoned in a tower. Her Dad, Frank, is a toweringly rich businessman and he’s given her everything, including a private menagerie, mostly of monkeys, plus he’s locked her in the tower. He now wants her married off and pays four short blokes, an ex-cop, an ex-jockey, an ex- TV host and an ex-footy player all previously publicly shamed to give it a go. They work together, then they don’t, and somewhere in the middle is Rachel, Money, ambition, stupidity, deep sadness and animal cruelty collide in this bittersweet cautionary tale.

Wednesday 16 March , 7pm
Friday 18 March, 4pm

It’s two weeks of honing in on story, developing dialogue – for Melissa Reeves her play has blossomed and grown massively in 4 days (I’ve never seen anything like it!) and Sam has the play on it’s feet, shaped by six of Australia’s most respected actors – Alison Bell, Bruce Spence, Alan Flower, Terry Serio, Wade Briggs and Syd Brisbane.

Although week one of the National Play Festival has come to a close but there is never any rest for the theatre folk – weekends are for working – I believe there is a dramaturgical discussion happening in a hotel room somewhere as I type.

Perhaps I’ll see you in Parramatta next Wednesday?