Tag Archives: Cate Clelland

The Inheritance: postmortem

It’s been two weeks since my first full-length play The Inheritance had its last show at Belconnen Community Theatre. It was a short run – four days, five shows, and only six weeks of rehearsals.

The Inheritance program

The Inheritance program

What a ride!

I had a lot of anxiety going in: What if we don’t sell enough tickets? What if people don’t like it? What if an actor gets sick and can’t go on? What if everyone suddenly realises I’m not very good at this playwriting stuff?

Who’d have thought being a playwright could be so stressful!

Luckily, my play was in safe hands. Cate Clelland, our fearless director, ushered my story from page to stage with experienced finesse. Our actors brought their A-games. People turned up. Most seemed to have a good time (most!). And now that the dust has settled, I haven’t heard a whisper from the playwriting police demanding my playwriting licence back.

The world continues to spin …

Highlight of the week was being able to share my work with friends and family. I don’t see them enough, so being able to give them a glimpse into my silly little brain was a real treat.

I also got a kick out of talking to the friends and family of the cast and crew in the foyer after each performance. It was cool to see how proud and impressed they were with their loved ones, and it was great to know my little play could give them something to reminisce about down the road (“remember that ridiculous play you were in about the stupidly rich family …”).

The full cast and crew (well, almost … someone had to take the photo!)

The biggest surprise for me coming out of the production was seeing just how many people it takes to put on a play. It was humbling to see so many talented people volunteer their time and experience to get this thing off the ground.

With that in mind, here’s a big list of thanks …

To the crew, designers and set builders: Ryan Lee and all the other magical pixies! Don’t think I didn’t see you flittering about making stuff look great. Love your work.

To the front of house staff: Stephen and his many helpers. Every machine needs good lubrication. Thanks for popping those corks and keeping the happy flowing.

To the young cast: Erin Stiles, Vivian Murray, and Martha Russel. You started each show with a bang. If I had known we’d get such great young actors, I would have written more scenes for you!

The spectacular cast of The Inheritance!

To the “adult” cast: Linda Chen (for expertly playing the empathetic straight woman surrounded by class clowns); Jess Waterhouse (for taking “sassy” to a whole new level); Alexandra Howard (for making bitchy look dignified … and easy); Victoria Hopkins (for bringing depth, even from the confines of a toilet stall! Sorry!); Vivek Sharma (for bringing big laughs to a small role); Rob Defries (for keeping everything anchored in “reality”); and John Kelly (for bringing a dead guy back to life!).

To my fearless director, Cate Clelland: the script set you challenges, but you always had an answer. Big thanks for your frank feedback and words of encouragement. I learned a lot from watching you work. Best of luck with your future productions!

To my producer Kirsty Budding and Budding Theatre: thanks for taking a risk on me, and for your ongoing support. A lot of people seek permission to do theatre; you go out and do it. I love that, and I can’t wait to see what Budding Theatre does next. Until then, try and get some sleep.

As for reviews, The Inheritance got the full Hollywood treatment: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly! Some of the responses I expected; some caught me by surprise. Regardless, all the feedback has been insightful and beneficial.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned from The Inheritance is that you can’t learn until you do. It’s one thing to write a play, to hear a reading of it, to see it workshopped, to watch it rehearsed, to get written feedback on a script, to discuss it with friends etc. It’s something else entirely to see it in full flight on a stage with a set, lights, and audience. Only then do you see the full picture: what works; what doesn’t; what could have been done different; what special nuggets were always hidden inside. I can honestly say that the five shows I saw of The Inheritance has taught me more about playwriting than anything I’ve done before. I have no doubt it has made me a better writer for the experience.

A memory to take home. Love it!

So what next? Hopefully The Inheritance will live on in one form or another. I’ll make a few adjustments, send it around, see if anyone is interested in it. I have a suspicion this won’t be the last time I see this wacky family butting heads on stage or on screen.

In the meantime, it’s back to the keyboard. The best advice I’ve ever been given as a writer (apart from “read … a lot”) is to not delay tackling a blank page. So, I’m diving back in. I’ll do what all writers must do when they get to the end of a story – start again.

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A long story of a short play that became a long play: The Inheritance

The Inheritance, 16-19 August 2017 @ Belconnen Community Theatre

A few years back I was writing my first full-length play as part of the Hive development program (run by Canberra’s Street Theatre). It was going to be a serious play about serious things – family, death, secrets, betrayals etc. It was going to be deep and meaningful and emotive. It was going to be my first foray into “real” theatre writing.

Unfortunately, I got about ten pages in and was utterly bored!

So, I switched tracks. I abandoned drama and dove into the more familiar pool of comedy. I had another piece I had been tinkering with on and off for a few months. It was supposed to be a ten-minute play. But the more I wrote, the more it demanded that I keep adding to it, keep delving into it, keep letting it unfold. For the first time in my theatre writing life, the characters didn’t want to stop playing on page ten. They demanded more: more lines, more laughs, more everything.

Who was I to argue?

I toiled for a few months on a first draft. Most of it I wrote while on holidays in Townsville where I was visiting my wife while she was on work placement. I sat under a ceiling fan on the deck of an old Queenslander trying to ignore biting mosquitos and the screech of curlew birds nesting across the street. It was hot, sticky, uncomfortable. It was the best month of my writing life!

So started The Inheritance – a silly and farcical play about an eccentric family struggling to reconnect after the death of their billionaire father. I’m not sure where the story came from. Not personal experience. My family is odd, but not rich enough to be eccentric. But after weeks of banging words into a computer, there it was. A play. A long play. My long play.

An early draft of The Inheritance

Bristling with the kind of confidence only a newly completed manuscript can give, I took my shiny new draft back to the Hive for review. Unfortunately, they were not as impressed with my efforts as I was. The dramaturge and his offsider smiled and politely told me the script was “funny in places” and that “the last scene should be the first scene”. Essentially, they were saying, “Is this all you’ve got?”

To be fair, this was all valid (and helpful) feedback. The Inheritance is not a cutting-edge, boundary-pushing piece of writing. It’s not reinventing theatre or revolutionising drama. Not my style. I write to entertain. To have fun. To make people laugh. Sure, I hope to impart some insightfulness here and there, perhaps even shed some light on something innate or intriguing. But primarily, I want to make sure people have a good time watching my play.

The rather unenthused feedback left me feeling flat and dejected. I thought perhaps this playwriting thing wasn’t for me. Maybe I should be looking at other mediums. TV? Skits? That would be great, but there aren’t exactly a lot of opportunities in Canberra for that. So, I put The Inheritance in the bottom drawer and set about writing another play. Something new. Something dramatic. Something “theatrely”.

This second play took about six months to write. It had everything I thought a theatre company would like – family, death, secrets, betrayals etc. But alas, this play didn’t get much love either. Whatever the theatre folks were looking for, I didn’t have it.

So, I stopped. For a while. I wrote some short comedic pieces. Had a baby. Started to teach myself photography. You know, life stuff …

About a year later I woke up thinking about The Inheritance again. This was unexpected. Mentally I’d put the play to bed, filed it away under “Play Attempt Number 1”. But for some reason, it came back to me. I opened the bottom drawer and dusted off the last version I’d printed out. I took a read. Tried to be objective and self-critical.

The play wasn’t perfect. It had an odd structure, too many characters, the stakes were a little dubious. It took place entirely in an office and a toilet for crying out loud!

But despite its flaws, there was something compelling about it. It was funny. I don’t usually laugh at my own stuff, but I couldn’t help but chuckle as I flicked through the pages. The characters, though a little over the top, felt real. The family dynamic was authentic.

Put simply: the play had life.

I got to work again. I drafted, refined, cut some characters, added in new scenes, tried to give the story a better balance and a better arc. After a few more passes I was content that it was “a thing”. Unfortunately, I had no idea what to do with it.

So back into the drawer it went.

Another year passed. One day I found myself chatting with Kirsty Budding of Budding Theatre. Budding Theatre has always been a supporter of my work, and that of other writers looking for a collaborative place to experiment, have fun, and get their work in front of a real audience.

I took a punt and told her about The Inheritance. I said, “It’s a bit silly, and not exactly Shakespeare, but I’m pretty sure people would have fun watching it.”

To my surprise, she said, “Send it through, I’ll take a look”.

The Inheritance cast photo shoot (July 2017)

Before I knew it, The Inheritance started to attract supporters. We organised a table read with some actor friends. Kirsty found a director – the awesomely talented Cate Clelland (a bit of a Canberran theatre legend). A casting call went out. Auditions were had. A cast was assembled. Next thing I know I’m standing in a room full of people talking about my characters and getting photos taken for the play’s promotional materials.

The Inheritance had started to breathe.

I don’t know how the play will go down or what to expect. I still don’t consider myself a real “theatre writer”. I think “comedy writer” is closer. Regardless, I write for fun. If the cast has a good time, if the director gets a kick out of playing with my characters, if the audience has a few laughs and goes home feeling good about their night out, then I will consider the play a success.

Anything else is a bonus.

The Inheritance will be performed at Belconnen Theatre on August 16, 17, 18, 19 at 8pm, with a 2pm matinee on the August 19.

Tickets are available via TryBooking.

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