It’s been almost a month since the 2011 Fresh Ink National Studio.
That’s a month without thinking about jumping in the Shoalhaven River, without attending a workshop on playwriting, being cooked for, thinking and talking about monologues, eating lots of dessert and being asked politely “not to tweet that”.
Having the critical distance now to reflect entirely subjectively on the week, I thought I probably should.
We began with a very serious bus drive from atyp to Riversdale. Serious because the bus driver was on some kind of mission unbeknownst to us that would be thrown wildly off course if we were to even stop for half an hour. We nevertheless did, much to his displeasure and made it on to Riversdale with only a mild amount of panic as we descended a particularly steep hill.
After finding our rooms that were lovely, kind of spartan, not quite inside, not quite outside bunkers with views of the valley, we had a quick introduction and broke into workshop groups.
Tutors Peta Murray, Caleb Lewis and Ross Mueller all took six writers and worked on a series of exercises. I shadowed Caleb’s group which I codenamed: “Group Average”. This was because I knew there would come a time when I would need to reflect on this and to have them represented too kindly would create jealously in the other groups. It’s kind of like when your parents are teachers or sports coaches and have to over-compensate to avoid favoritism.
Group Average worked on autobiographical exercises, drawing out moments from their own lives that were seminal without being emotionally traumatic. It was a way to practice introspection and drawing on personal experiences as a way to begin work.
The first night was spent in a discussion about death and dying, the theme of this year’s monologue showcase THE VOICES PROJECT: THE ONE SURE THING (opening in Feb 20120), facilitated by Kerrie Noonan from The Groundswell Project.
We kicked things off on Tuesday with the first Masterclass given by Ross about Dialogue. “Dialogue allows a character to lie”, Ross said. It is an opportunity to show them in their truest form and is full of action and used to progress a scene.
With Group Average, I watched Caleb extend this in his workshop where they applied the rules of character in dialogue to the monologue form. Caleb asked the group to write a monologue and switch between tenses, reporting from all different perspectives and with varying motives. Just because the narrator is in control, doesn’t mean they have to be reliable. Nor do we want “a story on rails”, Caleb stressed. “You have the opportunity here to pose a question to an audience that you may or may not answer”. It was from this challenge to create something interesting and that said something substantial to an audience that the writers all set off to begin these monologues. Throughout the next few days they met individually with their tutors and worked with one another to figure out what they were doing. There was a lovely balance of reading helpful plays, looking at a selection of readings provided by Peta, and lots of writing.
On Wednesday morning, Caleb ran a discussion on Comedy and Tragedy and how these things operate on a structural level. It involved a dissection of the old ‘man slips on a banana peel’ gag and looked at the elements that made it funny. You’d think this would eventually make the joke less amusing. Not so. ‘Man sees banana peel, steps over it, falls into open manhole’ continues to be my personal favourite. That afternoon, Group Average spent their workshop session deep in discussion. What was proving to be most challenging was finding a voice for the character. Caleb suggested asking them things that delved into the humanity of their character: What do they identify with? What is the way they wish to be perceived? What is the language available to them?
On the Wednesday night PlayWriting Australia‘s Chris Mead paid a a visit and facilitated The Write Stuff, a roundtable discussion with the tutors about their craft and their career pathways.
Thursday continued with another masterclass where Peta lead us through a building metaphor to illustrate the craft that goes along with writing, while in Friday’s masterclass Caleb discussed the elements of narrative. He talked about finding the central elements of a narrative, asking questions such as Who it’s about? What is their problem? How do they solve it? and How do we show the character through their actions and not just their words? . On Thursday and Friday evenings the monologues being developed over the week for THE VOICES PROJECT: THE ONE SURE THING were read so that the writers could hear their work and get feedback from the other participants and tutors.
Before departing on Saturday, Ross summed up some useful tips for practicing as playwrights. He emphasised that everyone has an individual method and that being a playwright is not about writing 24/7. In fact, sometimes a few months off could be very useful. As could learning more about actors and really acquainting yourself with the theatre. Everyone then had a chance to share what they’d learned.
The overwhelming feeling was how valuable the sense of community was and how generous the advice had been throughout the week. The opportunity to test each other in making work in a short time period had allowed the writers to challenge and surprise themselves as well as better discover their practice. All these things equated to a week that left everyone with a greater sense of direction, a wider outlook on the writing practice and the excitement of returning to the real world to implement it all.
Fraser Corfield, Artistic Director of atyp, reiterated that the week was not only about writing a monologue, but the burst of energy that surrounded these new connections.
I very much enjoyed my time with Group Average and all those at the 2011 National Studio.
It’s hard to be too sad though.
Considering the continuing presence in the theatre community of the previous National Studio attendees (amongst them, Jessica Bellamy, Joanna Erskine, Phil Spencer, Zoe Hogan and Tim Spencer), I’m positive I’ll be seeing these guys again very soon.
Read more from Jenni from this year’s National Studio, here.
THE VOICES PROJECT: THE ONE SURE THING opens at atyp in February, while the call for the 2012 Fresh Ink National Studio opens in May.