Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Spinning Straw -Mounting a Production, Oct 29, 2008

Mounting a Production

Spinning Straw, by playwright, Kate Herbert
Carlton Courthouse Theatre, Oct 29 to Nov 15, 2008

Jenny Lovell, Julia Markovski, Geoff Wallis in Spinning Straw. Photo; Joe Calleri

Creating a new play can be joyous, playful and endlessly rewarding – if you are lucky. If you are unlucky, all the demons of theatre conspire to make it a living hell. Think of all the time and effort, all the things that can go wrong when planning a wedding. The wedding goes well – then you have to do it again every night for three weeks. That’s theatre.

I have been luckier than most in the development of my new play, Spinning Straw, being blessed with three talented and intelligent performers who challenge me as both writer and director. Yes, I am doing both because, when writing a script, I create not only the words but also the entire vision of the piece on stage. The sound, lights and design form a background for the voices and physicality of the actors.

During rehearsal, Director Me often asks questions of Writer Me. “What did you mean here? Can we change this or cut that line?” I swap hats and Writer Me looks puzzled then responds. The script changes in the rehearsal room with actors. When I hear dialogue coming out of their mouths sometimes lines need tinkering – or cutting.

Spinning Straw is a comic-tragedy; it’s both funny and grim. I can’t seem to write a play that is strictly one or t’other. This is challenging for the actors as they map their path from characters dealing with alcoholism or family violence to mad, cartoonish creatures in the Rumpelstiltskin fairy-tale.

The play is about a young, pregnant boozer and pill popper called Annie – she prefers to be called Pig – and her older neighbour, Margaret, who tries to keep Pig sober during her pregnancy.

The script evolved from various stimuli over the past year. I was moved by a documentary about long-term heroin addicts trying to straighten up when they had a new baby and by the public concern about widespread, teenage binge drinking. I was horrified when my tertiary students told me that they got plastered from Friday night to Sunday every week.

I saw another program about the high incidence of teen pregnancy and spoke to someone who worked in adoption and foster care. The drama work I did with kids in detention gave me a background to the dysfunctional home life for Pig.

We are bombarded with so many romanticised images of infants that we forget that babies are hard work. Trying to kick a substance habit while dealing with a newborn must be a nightmare and managing a baby when still a child yourself must be terrifying and confusing.

If you are wondering how this play could be a comedy, this crazy kid, Pig, is funny despite her failings. Se emerged fully formed from the back of my mind and continues to amuse and astonish me.

Kate Herbert

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