The many voices of Raimondo Cortese

25 May 2011


Raimondo Cortese


The recipient of the inaugural Patrick White Playwrights’ Fellowship was announced last week as Raimondo Cortese.

The Fellowship is a $25,000 year-long position for a established playwright. 

Raimondo Cortese is a founding member of Ranters Theatre, of which he was the Artistic Director from 1994 to 2000. His plays include: Lucrezia and Cesare, The Room, The Large Breast or the Upside-Down Bell, The Fertility of Objects, Features of Blown Youth, Roulette, St Kilda Tales and Holiday.

We took the opportunity to have a chat with Raimondo about the fellowship and his career to date.

What was your reaction to hearing you had been awarded the fellowship?

Andrew [Upton] texted me to give him a call; I assumed it was about The Threepenny Opera; maybe there was some problem he had; so I was both surprised and very thrilled to learn that I’d won the fellowship instead.

Is it possible to quantify the effect the award will have on your work?  Will it change your direction, do you think?

I’m not sure how it will affect my work; certainly it’s given me confidence to pursue my work in the way I want to, without compromise. It’s very nice to be acknowledged by Sydney Theatre Company too – because they are both progressive and mainstream – and also because I haven’t had any real relationship with them in the past. It’s always difficult to earn enough to support my family with writing so an award like this takes the stress out of the year – and stress is not a good thing for the brain – not that writers necessarily need one.

Part of this fellowship is to mentor emerging playwrights.  It’s an interesting thing to do, but what does it really mean?  Do you believe in working closely in terms of craft, or is your approach more general?

Mentoring can mean many things. For me it’s about encouraging young writers to discover what it is they’re really trying to say. I apply a detailed dramaturgical approach to the texts I work on. It’s about trying to get writers to ask the right questions of their dialogue – to look at the work from a different perspective – but it’s not about judging, more about understanding the dramatic consequences of making a particular choice over another.

Did you have a mentor when you were younger and, if so, what impact did that have on your career development?

I didn’t have a mentor as such; but at the Victorian College of the Arts I worked very closely with [former Head of Drama] Richard Murphet on my plays. I learnt an enormous amount from him in terms of structure and, most importantly, understanding the dramatic content inherent within speech; it was a very open and non-literal way of working. I sometimes find people can be very literal when reading scripts, so it was great to have him at an early stage in my career.

As a playwright, have the themes that interest you shifted dramatically over time? Or is there only one theme, explored over and over again?

I’m basically interested in the relationships between people – and while that sounds generalised – well you can say that about any play – but my work is not about conscious political or social argument - it’s not theme based - it’s much more about the underlying tension, discord, harmony, desire, pretension - the frailties and vulnerabilities that reveal themselves unconsciously (through dramatic action) when people engage each other.

I’ve always been fascinated by the way people create elaborate social mechanisms to hide their true feelings, to keep their private thoughts to themselves and, I suppose, to enable social ease – as a way of pleasing. I find everybody pretty interesting to explore. I don’t have any preference in terms of male or female characters or anybody really. Tolstoy once said that we possess all human qualities and that’s something I draw upon when writing. I’m a lousy researcher, though I like to meet people; I guess that’s where my research begins and ends.

I should say my work is quite eclectic in terms of style; I adapt to the people and companies I work with. So working for Ranters Theatre, is very different to adapting The Threepenny Opera for Belvoir Street or Malthouse Theatre, or working with Alicia Talbot at Urban Theatre Projects or Melbourne Theatre Company, or the Chapter Arts Centre (in the UK). I enjoy the challenge of making work in different ways, within the parameters of what’s required.

I’ve never been satisfied with this idea a writer should find their voice. For me it’s about having many voices – and I’ve always loved Pessoa’s use of multiple heteronyms (I think he had 72 all up) – but you would never make any money doing that!

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