A few reflection on the playwright’s journey. The session focused on how to get your writing on – and bits of advice for writers hoping to get started and survive the new-play terrain…

Going from the solitary writing desk to the buzzing rehearsal room. Where do sound, lighting, publicity and casting come into it? How do you maintain some semblance of control as a writer? With Vanessa Bates, Hilary Bell, Ian Meadows. Chaired by Timothy Daly.

Something I have always been sensitive to as a director: the transition for the writer from a black and white medium of text – to the ferocious passionate colours of sound and space. It can be a shock to the system – the sounds of words blasting out of living creatures – intuitive and brave creatures: actors.

It was 2007 when I first met Hilary Bell at the Griffin Playwriting Course (which I highly recommend details here) I had been rejected by the head of NIDA’s playwrights studio on the basis that I “do too much” and they “didn’t feel certain that I’d commit to just being a playwright” Ken Healy recommended I do Hilary’s writing course instead. (And how could I disagree with that rejection? I completely agree – I don’t think of myself as one thing AND I like to be busy. And it hasn’t stopped me writing PS I’m going to pick up my cheque tomorrow for the musical I co-wrote which was on in Canada last month. Hurray!) Hilary’s course helped me re-think writing and inspired me to launch “Meta/morphases” a show of works in development I produced – and has since lead to my dedication to New Australian writing. I attribute a lot of works since to conversations I had and heard in her class. (And I’m very glad I didn’t get stuck in a NIDA playwrights studio with those who felt writers should just write and do one thing at a time.)

In 2009 I met Timothy Daly who said a couple of things that also helped me re-think and re-configure my expectations of writing: “Have many pots on the boil, many eggs in many baskets, so that if one doesn’t work out, it doesn’t seem so bad” and “if you can’t be a painter who creates grand oil paintings, aim to be an excellent watercolour miniaturist.” He was a part of Brand Spanking New in 2009.

Ian Meadows I met in 2006 when I was working at the NSW FTO. I have reviewing his acting work, written feature articles on him… I read his film script “Between Two Waves of the Sea” which is now a play about to be produced by Griffin this year… and I’m a fan of his – he’s lovely.

Vanessa Bates and I have worked together plenty. I directed her piece” The Night We Lost Jenny” for New Theatre, she was a part of “Brand Spanking New” and “Stories from the 428,” I directed her work in “I Contain Multitudes” and we are currently working on a 7-On Playwrights project together called “Platonic” due for production this year. I’m a fan. I adore her and her writing. And she has an excellent collection of skirts.

Daly told the story of Suzie Miller (currently working with Robert Lepage in Canada) – getting a production out of a spontaneous chat in a bar with a New York producer. She pitched her play within the 45 second window of his attention span and got a production. It’s a great story. A story of fearless “fuck it, what have I got to lose?” mentality. It reminds us that fortune favours the brave. Always.

Bravery. Also a topic of discussion. A confession or two that even the best known playwrights absolutely hate pitching, fear rejection. Bates tells a story of sitting down with a programmer to pitch – nervous but with a piece of paper. But complete belief in the idea.

And a reminder also: just because you’re brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared.

Meadows spoke of getting experience as an actor – making the knowledge of how a rehearsal room works, work for him as a writer. The message there: transferrable skills – all work and all experience is valuable.

Bell spoke of getting work on – getting practice in the rehearsal room. Self-producing -getting together with like minded writers, working with your friends and starting to develop a track record so you can have the confidence to approach companies and people you’d like to work with.

Daly spoke of not heading into the rehearsal room without hearing your play aloud first – He has traded a bottle of wine for a lounge-room read of his work on many occasions – so by the time a company or a director hosts the first reading of the rehearsal period there are no surprises and you are confident in the sound and shape of the piece.

And there was advice to “shut up and listen”… “let the actors solve it” … “don’t be too available to answer questions or make changes” … “be flexible – make practical changes especially if what you have written creates spatial or temporal problems”…

All great advice.

I’m going to add a couple of small notes of my own to this:

1. See theatre. If you are writing for theatre, see as much theatre as you can. Listen to how words sound in large venues. Watch how space and actor proximately effects meaning/dynamic/pace. It’ll also give you a common point of artistic reference with people you may want to work with.

2. Remember the names of people involved with productions. Approach them. Talk to them about their work. Get to know them as artists. Be interested in other people’s work and those you may want to work with. Find out before you commit to a project if you are on the same page.

3. When looking to produce your own work – never work with people you think you are “helping.” Art is not a charity. You should never look down on or be condescending to people you work with. You work with others because they are brilliant at what they do, not because “they’ll do.”

4. Don’t be seduced by a director or actor’s status in the “industry” – Work with people who understand your work. If they don’t get it, that’s ok… but find someone who does – Find someone who loves your work and understands it, who cares for it and wants to tell that story. Don’t work with those that make you feel like you are crap. Likewise only ask advice about your play from people you really respect.