24:7 writer Phil Setren’s play PRETEXT is playing at the You Are Here Festival in Canberra, Australia as part of an exchange programme between the Festivals.
This is a blog with some observations from his first experiences of the Australian Theatre.
It’s today. My director is Canberra based, and we meet at his house to load the scenery, props and costumes into the cars for the technical rehearsal.
Everyone seems very laid back about time keeping, whereas in UK Festival timekeeping we know that tech time is precious. The set goes up quickly.. the lights and sound take longer, and then there’s a dress run.
Well, have you ever had a dress rehearsal in the loudest barn ever?! There is a loud meeting of 15 people behind a curtain right next to the stage, and the theatre feels like Piccadilly station with the noise. I am not used to this, but as the actors and director don’t bat an eyelid, I just accept it as the australian way and try to watch what is going on. What would be the point of asking loads of people to please be quiet? Its a large Hub space with lots of different arts going on at the same time, so I realize that I have to adjust. And all the performances are quiet. Oh, how prone to worry we writers are.
Its the half hour call. One of the actors is in a panic over lines. I think he is fine and doing a great job, but I can only say break-a-leg and let him look at his script. “PRETEXT” is written with a very specific rhyme and rhythm scheme in certain sections. He fears he will ruin that if he misses a line. They decide to do a final line run, and I take a walk around the block to collect myself.
There is a transition that happens for me as a writer when the rehearsal work is shared with the public. It becomes time to say hello to your friends ( two pals from Sydney have travelled up) and just find a comfortable seat. I usually like to sit about 3/4 of the way back to absorb the audience response.
The opening gets a few laughs as I want it to. Thats good. People seem to be listening and taken in by the story. A few lines are dropped, but the actors get right back on it. The staging is simple and inventive and I like it.
It’s also a bigger crowd than I expected which is great news for comedy. There’s a few little tech mistakes, but nothing that can’t be sorted before the next show.
Final applause. Clearly an engaged and upbeat audience, and a few nice comments from the crowd.
I speak to whoever wants to talk to me, and go congratulate and thank the cast. They said they really enjoyed it.
Did I? I think so. For me, I like to think about what the play does to an audience later. I still feel like noone will get my humour or what I have to say, but I certainly gain confidence from every public performance. Its just that I wait so long and have to work so hard to get a play on, that there is still some disbelief when it happens.
When other writers begin conversations with me about the love story in my play, I feel great because it tells me they listened and had a positive experience.
My friends, one of which is also a playwright, reassure me that this is simply the teething pains that are natural before the writer gets used to being produced all the time.
That is a really nice thought.