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.
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”.
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.