We Need to Talk About Patsy

3 Sep 2015

by Lachlan Philpott


 

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R

eleased into a theatre foyer after an opening night performance, I always make a beeline to the food. One recent night in Melbourne, over crudités and dip, I come face-to-face with Jana Perkovic.

I haven’t seen or spoken to Jana since the publication of her memorable article, on the very site you read from now, some twelve months before. The shit-fight that this article caused catapults straight back and spatters me like invisible babaganoush. And then things go like this.

Lachlan: Hello Jana.

Jana: Hi Lachlan.

[Crunch. Crunch.]

Lachlan: These are great carrot sticks.

Jana: They sure are. They’re really good.

Lachlan: The celery is really crisp too.

Jana: I know.

Lachlan: But not as good as the carrot sticks.

Jana: No.

[Crunch. Silence.]

[We separate and I seek wine.]

That feeble conversation has stayed with me long past the memory of the show we saw. With so much that could have been said, that is all we managed.

I have been wondering if Jana and I have caught the Fear Of Speaking Up Condition [FOSUC]. This ailment begins with the most rational thoughts - don’t say it now because it isn’t the right time - and then proceeds to get worse as there doesn’t seem to be a right time ever. Symptoms become exacerbated as time goes on, unspoken words devouring the carrier from inside. Look about at any industry function and you can see it doing its work below contorting foyer faces, like the devil lurking under the skin of the teenage girl in a b-grade horror film.

* * *

When commissioning this essay, Tom Healey asked me to address Jana’s article in some manner to contextualise it a year or so later. So here goes: Jana, I’m sorry I didn’t say this over the carrot sticks. But I want to say thanks. Some playwrights were pretty upset with some of the things you said in your article but in the end your article made playwrights talk. The conversations were not always pleasant but they galvanized us and led to some positive outcomes, we took responsibility and action - more action than you asserted was in a lot of our plays. One very tangible action was that the Playwrights’ Committee of the Australian Writer’s Guild began the creation of an industry Code of Best Practice in collaboration with PlayWriting Australia. This code aims to establish protocols and standards for the way people in the industry work together in positive ways.

We are yet to have the sort of conversations you hoped to provoke in your essay about the work we are writing. These sorts of conversations are hard to start at the best of times and of course, so much has been happening here since your article: Brandis and his hasty arts cuts; The subsequent conversations online; Dances in public; Petitions; Senate Inquiries; Responses to guidelines.

Endless questions about a DEAFENING SILENCE from many sector leaders.

In a business that is all about communicating it seems the most astonishing thing to hear so little being said.

Just as Brandis made his changes I returned from six months in the USA where I was undertaking the inaugural professional playwriting Fulbright Scholarship.

During my stint in the USA I had been let inside the theatre industry and my experience in that sector was starkly different to my sense of what is going on here.

My time in the USA was rich and rewarding. I was in residence at a very large theatre company led by Carey Perloff, a really inspiring female leader who also happens to be a playwright. While bringing up children Carey transferred from the East Coast to the West to reinvigorate a theatre company that had lost its theatre space in the ‘89 earthquake. She hasn’t stopped since. People either love her or they don’t, but she doesn’t seem to care. She has a tough skin and she has a job to do. What I noticed about Carey is how much she talks, and I say this with utter respect for every word she says. She is smart, funny, sassy, ten steps ahead of you, but full of genuine care. She does this thing with all the MFA students when they first start studying at her company and I believe it reflects her philosophy of working in the arts.

She asks them what do you bring into the room for free?

The answers can be pretty wide ranging, all about skills and values, things inherited genetically or culturally and then there are things she expects everyone should bring in. Like the capacity to communicate. And the capacity to show integrity.

During my time at this company I was included in a whole range of activities from outreach activities in the Projects to the literary federation – a group of people from across the company who read new plays and meet regularly to talk about the work. My wide range of experiences allowed me to increase my understanding of how a large company and actor training institute runs. What impressed me so often is how much people in this company had open, face-to-face conversations.

While I was in the USA, I contacted a range of theatre companies to set up meetings and they always got back to me, mostly on the same day, to say they would love to meet me. They weren’t only interested in my work, they were interested in Australian theatre. They wanted to meet an Australian playwright undertaking a Fulbright. They wanted to know more about Australia’s new writing, and so I talked more about new writing in Australia in those meetings than I have ever spoken about it in this kind of context before.

I had over twenty meetings with companies around the USA. Prior to each visit, the staff would ask me to send my plays. When we met they would have read them. Without exception. I had one meeting at a well-known theatre company in Chicago with four people (a mix of staff and interns). Each of these people had read more than three of my plays so that “we collectively had a sense of your body of work”. They made notes, with conversation starters about the plays and my body of work as a playwright. I felt so overwhelmed in that meeting that when I left I burst into tears outside the theatre company and got snowed on for an hour like some stunned wildebeest, the comments made ringing in my ears.

I had another American Artistic Director say that she had googled me and read a lot of the stuff about Alienation and Perth Theatre Company. She didn’t need to know what had happened, but recognised that it must have been hard for everyone. She said that she admired me for speaking up about it, and then asked me about whether doing that affected my career as a writer in Australia. Nobody in a theatre company in Australia has ever asked me that.

I have asked my mid-career playwright friends in the USA if the way I got treated was unusual and most say yes. They are accomplished writers with strong craft and things to say and most have trouble getting any response from the companies who were so eager to see me. Todd London wrote about this concern recently saying, "Emerging is where the support is, but maturity – chops – is what we want, ultimately, from our artists. Maturity is what they work toward, and it’s where we as a field abandon them… The wilderness of mid-career isn’t about age. It’s the American wasteland of no-longer-new, no-second-acts, of cultural attention deficit. It’s the time after your champions in literary offices have moved on, after an agent change or two, after the freshest voices of your micro-generation start giving way to the fresh voices of the next." 1

And that brings me back to the carrot sticks.

I stand in the corner and sip my wine and scan the room for Jana and as I do, I realise that Jana just wanted to start a conversation. I am sorry for the part I inadvertently played in cutting that possibility. Sure, what Jana said could have been more elegantly stated. Sure, she crossed a strange ethical line, but in an industry where the silence is increasingly loud, Jana was brave enough to speak up and bravery isn’t an exclusive act. You can be misguided and brave at the same time. I know that because I have been both a lot. This article might be just another example; I can already see my mother shaking her head as she asks me down the phone line “Why do you do it? Why? Why?”

I do it because I have a strong belief that saying it is better than not. And artists are meant to act provocatively.

So the hell with it, here I go again.

Jana’s article aimed to start a conversation about the perceived weaknesses in craft of Australian work, but the conversation didn’t go that way. It is still one of many conversations I reckon we need to be having, alongside a conversation about the damage we do when we stage works that aren’t ready for production.

However, perhaps before we can even cover any of that, we should examine how we can start conversations and improve the quality of them once they get going. I wish I had some answers. So while Jana’s provocation lies neglected on the floor, I want to offer another.

This article aims to start a conversation about the strange wilderness of being a mid-career practitioner in Australia. While it is focused on playwrights, I believe that the concerns go wider than that.

The notion of apprenticeship in the arts has changed significantly, and now means very different things for different generations. For many practitioners who worked hard to emerge the old-fashioned way, there is confusion in the way things appear to be working now. Many emerged artists possess rich skills that could be recognised and exploited more widely, given most industries celebrate and harness experience.

Personally, it took a long apprenticeship to emerge as a playwright. My first play was staged in a pub in Melbourne in 2000 and after ten years of co-op productions and frustratingly hard work, I emerged with my first professional production of a play in Australia in 2011. The path is different for everyone.

I acknowledge that I have been lucky to have a run of plays on in Australia since 2011. I am also very excited that my work is being produced internationally. But I suspect I have moved into a new phase here: this wilderness of post-emergence.

I’m not bitter about it but I’m not blind. I can see what is going on. I see people who have very strong skills holding the pom-poms at the side again. And, like many of my peers, I am trying to understand what that means for our industry.

So I will use the rest of this space to reflect on a few interactions. The voices, the characters, the conversations they have are all fictitious, but they do bear resemblance to actual conversations. I don’t write them to attack people, but I accept that they may be seen that way, and I point out that the reason I write them is because I hope that they may show where we all might need to consider the circumstances in which we communicate. Communication is our core business and we all need to take responsibility for that.

I choose to write in this form because I am playwright, not an academic. I acknowledge that it might be dumb or naive or wrong or in need of dramaturgy. It may not be very PC or articulate. And if you read it and it makes you angry, tell me please. Email me. Call me. Grab me in a foyer, or in Woolies.

Please, let's talk.


------------
The Emerged
------------

  

The players

Jack - an established playwright

Hugo - an emerging playwright/director/designer/dramaturg/actor/event designer

Patsy - a mid-career playwright

Trixie - an artistic associate [literary] at CTC

Lilili - an associate artist [dramaturg, part time 0.1 FTE] at BTC

Maddy - Hugo, Jack and Patsy’s agent

Johnny - a visiting American theatre artist.

Carl and Beth - two students studying playwriting at a major institution

Cassandra - Patsy’s partner (to be played by a woman, not a man in a dress)

Patrons and actors

* * *

January

Patsy writes an email to Trixie.

Jan 21,

Dear Trixie,

I do hope that you are well.

I am not sure if you got to see my recent independent production but if you did use the tickets I arranged, I hope you enjoyed the play.

I realise that you might be in rehearsals but I thought I should make contact because I hope to set up a meeting with you to chat about a burning idea I have for a play. While I don’t want to scald myself, I won’t tell you over email because I think it would be better face-to-face. I believe it would really appeal to CTC’s audience. So what is the best way to share the idea? I can send you a pitch or outline or chat on the phone, meet face-to face over a coffee or a drink? Whatever suits you is fine by me.

I really look forward to hearing from you.

Best,

Patsy.

A voice message for Hugo from his agent, Maddy.

Maddy: Hugo? It’s Maddy. Look. I know that you’re in rehearsal but I’ve just had a call from OTC. They want to talk to you about a commission. Call me when you can.

Patrons in the foyer just after the 45th Australian production of a play from the British canon.

Patron 1: Red Wedding or Jon Snow’s death?

Patron 2: Red Wedding. We’ll never see Catherine again but Jon’ll be back.

Cassandra and Patsy have just seen a new play.

Cassandra: What did you think?

Patsy: What did you think?

Cassandra: Oh, right, you’re doing that one. I thought it was sweet. For a first play. The audience seemed to like it. Might have been better in a smaller venue. Do we have to stick around?

Patsy: Just to say hello to Hugo. Don’t let me say too much. Kick me or… Because there is so much in it to like but… it is not the right time to talk about the play here.

February

A voice message for Hugo from Maddy.

Maddy: Hugo? Maddy. Such great reviews. The critics love love love it. Look I’ve just had a call from KTC. They want to talk to you about a new commission. Congrats!

Students Carl and Beth.

Carl: You heard that Malcolm’s resigning from ATC?

Beth: Wonder who’ll get that job.

Carl: I was thinking about the work he’s done there.

Beth: Oh. When’s he going?

Carl: End of the year.

Beth: Bet they’ll be recruiting. It’ll probably be James.

Carl: James?

Beth: He’s been doing a lot there.

Carl: But he’s only really just out of drama school.

Beth: So?

Carl: Do you think someone older might do a better job?

Beth: Someone older. Like who?

Carl: Geoffrey. Someone like that.

Beth: Lady Gaga would be fun.

After the reading of Jack’s play, Wharfies, in an inner-city art gallery in Melbourne.

Lilili: Jack.

Jack: Lilili. Thanks for coming.

Lilili: I wanted to hear your play. It’s a really moving piece.

Jack: Thanks.

Lilili: Great roles, and it’s very Sydney. Has anyone from up there grabbed it yet?

Jack: Not yet.

Lilili: Have you sent it to them?

Jack: Yes. I’m not sure they’re looking for Australian history plays from non-war periods.

Lilili: Well they should be. It’s not a story that’s been told on stage before. Audiences would love it, and the play is in such good shape. I would program it if I was up there…

Jack: Thanks.

Lilili: If it helps I can make a few calls to say I heard the reading and that they should take a look.

Jack: That’d be great.

March

Email from Patsy, playwright.

March 1

Dear Trixie,

I do hope that you are well.

I am not sure if you got my recent email, and I know you are busy and that there are lots of playwrights out there. I just want to let you know that that idea is still burning and I’ve started writing it. I’d love to meet soon for a chat. I can make myself free anytime you are. I promise I talk fast!

Warmly,

Patsy

A voice message for Hugo from Maddy.

Maddy: Hugo? It’s Maddy. I hope the first week of rehearsals are going well and that doco crew being in the room isn’t cramping your style. Don’t forget your meeting with FTC on your break. And congrats on everything.

Students Beth and Carl.

Beth: ATC…. Kevin Spacey.

Carl: Amazing.

Beth: I know right?

Trixie and Hugo at a cool coffee shop in an uber cool laneway with hipster skateboarders rushing past.

Trixie: So we spoke to your agent and told her we really want to commission you. And she said it’s cool.

Hugo: It’s very cool.

Trixie: We loved what you did in the last one.

Hugo: Thanks.

Trixie: You know we really wanted that play.

Hugo: Right. No I didn’t. Why didn’t you do a co-pro?

Trixie: Our hands were tied. But not to worry because it’s all tied up now and so, well I guess we want our own one. For January. You can do that right?

[A skater nearly knocks into the table]

Trixie: I’m not saying it has to be exactly the same as that. I mean you aren’t a machine or anything, are you? You remember that idea you mentioned at that Japanese place with the blowup harajuku girls?

Hugo: About identity?

Trixie: Yes. It sounded perfect.

Hugo: What did I say again?

Trixie: You talked about global obsession with identity. Facebook and stuff. Great starting point.

Hugo: Right.

Trixie: There’s just one thing. I asked your agent if you had much else on, and she said she’d ask you and get back to me. She hasn’t got back to me yet so… I guess I just want to check you’re ok with that timeline because she said something about you going to Germany.

Hugo: Yeah.

Trixie: That should be fun.

Hugo: Yeah Berlin. The Schaubühne.

Trixie: Great, well I’m sure you will get it done no matter where you are. I better let you get back to rehearsals.

Email to Trixie from Jack, established playwright.

Dear Trixie,

I hope that you are well. I believe both Lilili and my agent have been in touch about my play Wharfies. I hope you enjoy reading it and I look forward to speaking when you get a chance.

Best,

Jack

April

Email to Trixie from Patsy, playwright.

April 12 2015

Dear Trixie,

It was nice to run into you at Ikea on Sunday. Shame you were in a hurry, but as you said it was such a lovely day outside. And I was stuck behind the counter in that awful pre-Easter rush. But I guess that’s all a part of the freelance life right? We all have to pay the bills.

Your new man seems lovely by the way. (I hope he is better than my Cassandra at putting Swedish stuff together.) And he’s a great actor too. He was very truthful in Fyone’s play in January and he just shone in Hugo’s one. (Love a buff man in a dress). I hadn’t realized HE wrote the piece you’re directing later this year about the share house, which Hugo is acting in.

Just so you know, I’m only working at Ikea on weekends (it has been amazing fodder for my writing.) I tell you that so you know I can do meetings or workshops etc. during the weekdays. So to the point of the email… I’m just following up like you said I should. Coffee anytime this week or next is great. All days free, except weekends.

Look forward to it.

Pats.

A voice message for Hugo from Maddie.

Maddy: Hugo?

It’s Maddy. I hope dress rehearsal went well. Look I’ve just had a call from GTC. They want to talk to you about a commission. Congrats! And I’ve got a pile of new contracts for you to sign. I’ll nab you in a corner at your show this week. Chookas! Congrats! Conchookas! Hahaha!

Students Beth and Carl over muffins.

Beth: Kenneth Branagh.

Carl: Poor James.

Patsy, Maddy and Hugo after Hugo’s preview.

Patsy: Maddy?

Maddy: Yes.

Patsy: It’s Patsy. You represent me.

Maddy: Patsy darling! Have you done something with your hair?

Patsy: I just haven’t had it cut.

Maddy: Here he is. Hugo!

[Maddy claps and dances on the spot. Patsy and Hugo stare at her politely.]

Patsy: I really enjoyed your play Hugo.

Maddy: Isn’t it FUCKING AMAZING!?!

[Patsy and Hugo stare at Maddy.]

Maddy: I’ll leave you two to it. Call me Patsy. And you get some sleep for the opening tomorrow Hugo.

[Maddy blows big fishy kisses at them through the foyer air.]

Patsy: So are you happy with it?

Hugo: I think so.

Patsy: You should be. It’s ambitious.

Hugo: What does that mean?

Patsy: That it’s ambitious. That space is hard. I’ve seen some disasters in there in the past. They weren’t ready in time, which was a shame.

Hugo: Have you worked in there?

Patsy: Not yet.

Hugo: They should be doing your plays.

Patsy: Let’s not talk about that now.

Hugo: But I haven’t seen one of your plays for ages.

Patsy: There are a lot of people out there writing plays.

Hugo: But your plays are actually ambitious.

Patsy: Thanks mate.

Hugo: You know when we were developing this work they asked me if I wanted to work with anyone as dramaturg and I suggested you.

Patsy: What did they say?

Hugo: The production kind of crept up on us. I guess they didn’t get around to asking you. We got pretty stuck in the room, and before you know it, we ran out of time. The designer waved his arms about a lot. Trixie was great – she knew what to cut. What did you really think of it?

[Pause]

Patsy: There was so much to like, and I also have a few questions for after you open. Some thoughts on the second act. But only if you are interested.

Hugo: Of course I am. That’d be amazing.

Patsy: I warn you, there might be some tough questions.

Hugo: Bring it on. I’d really love that. Nobody asks me tough questions, and I wish they would. Maybe I can buy you dinner. I start rehearsals for the collaboration with Fyone* and Twig Legs** on Monday in Brisbane. But when I’m back in town. So anyway, what are you working on?

Patsy: Just an idea about race and political correctness. I’ve been pitching it. I put it in to the play festival, so you never know.

*Fyone - an emerging writer.
**Twig Legs- a post-colour collaborative performance collective.

Trixie and Jack at CTC’s offices.

Trixie: Thanks for coming in Jack. And sorry to keep you waiting.

Jack: No worries Trixie. Congrats on the show too. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve heard great things.

Trixie: And I hear ATC might be looking at doing a revival of Brown Snake. That’s amazing. I’ve never seen it on stage.

Jack: It’ll be great if they do it. But they asked me to cut the cast back a bit, do some doubling and… Anyway, did you read my new play?

Trixie: Not yet I’m sorry. But it’s at the top of a very big pile on my desk and let me assure you I will… one of our interns has read it. He hasn’t done the report yet because he’s been in the room with me as well, but he said it’s really interesting. And I will get to it as soon as I can.

Jack: Right. I guess I just hoped that you might have read it.

Trixie: I told you… the pile. But if Brown Snake is slated for next year…

Jack: When do you have to make decisions about cut-offs for next year's program?

Trixie: It’s pretty much done. We have a lot of projects that we’ve been planning.

Jack: So I’ve missed out.

Trixie: I don’t think we led you to believe that we were considering you Jack. Did we?

Jack: I thought it might be a possibility. I thought that might be why you asked me to come in.

Trixie: There is something next year. We are starting a new program to support the new stable of writers we are working with now and we are going to keep them all in residency next year to develop another work with us and we’re hoping you might mentor them, run master-classes, that sort of stuff.

Patrons in a theatre foyer just after the premier of the 23rd Australian production of an American play from the 1940’s.

Patron 1: Serial?

Patron 2: Oh my God, it was amazing wasn’t it?

Patron 1: And you’re listening to the new one now?

Patron 2: There’s a new one?

May

Email from Patsy, playwright.

May 19 2015

Dear Trixie,

Congrats again on the success of the play. I didn’t see you at the preview to say it in person but I hope you got my card. It is really ambitious work and you did great job.

I left it a few weeks after the opening to get in touch and I just tried to call you, but Jasmine at the front desk says you’re busy doing photos for next year’s season brochure. Wow! You really start early these days.

We haven’t managed to have that coffee yet but given the ticking clock I wonder if I should just pitch it in 50 words…never know.

So I’ve written a play about the notion of being PC in theatre industry and it’s called What Do You Want Me To Do With My Golliwog Now? It is centered around my childhood golliwog, Peter Frakani, and the shame my first partner Lena (who was African American) made me feel about my attachment to Peter, and the dilemma I faced at accepting that I had to get rid of the golliwog because it, he, Peter was a relic of racist oppression and a very uncool hegemony. So the play is about not knowing what to do with him.

I have changed the same-sex element to give it wider appeal (instead of wide on appeal). I wonder if I can send it to you because when I wrote it, I was imagining it in your smaller upstairs space. I just found out I got a workshop for it in the play festival so perhaps you can hear it read there.

I have also attached a longer one-page synopsis and a little sample synopsis and a small taster scene where I try to burn him in a bonfire and get accused of being a white witch. Blah blah blah…

Let me know?

Patsy.

Lilili calls emerging talent Hugo.

Lilili: Hugo?

Hugo: Yes.

Lilili: It’s Lilili from BTC. How are you?

Hugo: Good Lilili. I have an opening tonight – the collab with Twig Legs and Fyone.

Lilili: Amazing! Well chookas to you! I won’t keep you, but I just want to say I saw the play you did at CTC and I love love loved it.

Hugo: Thanks Lilili.

Lilili: So listen, I know that you are really busy right now – the commission with us and all – but we are running an intensive residency for emerging writers aged 18-26 and we wondered if you’d be lead teacher.

Hugo: Me?

Lilili: Yes.

Hugo: I’d love to but are you sure?

Lilili: Of course, why not?

Hugo: It’s just, you know, I’m only 27.

Students Beth and Carl have just seen an Australian production of a new international play.

Carl: What an amazing piece of writing.

Beth: I know. It’s really clever and bold.

Carl: I wish I’d written that.

Beth: You? Nobody in Australia is writing that sort of stuff.

Carl: No.

Beth: They wouldn’t be allowed to.

Carl: No.

Beth: They’d get told it wouldn’t work.

Carl: It wouldn’t.

Beth: I know. Do you want to get a drink or go?

Carl: Let’s just go.

A voice message for Hugo from maddy.

Maddy: Hugo. It’s Maddy. Congrats. And Chookas for this week darling. Look, I’ve just had a call from JTC. Nothing to worry about but they need that commission. Where are you at with it sweet cheeks?

Patsy at a Q and A at a drama school.

Beth: So how long did it take you to write that play?

Patsy: Three years.

Beth: Wow.

Patsy: Not sitting at my desk every day, but I had it in my head for that long. And I spent solid slabs of time on it – the research I did, interviews and reading, the drafts.

Carl: How many?

Patsy: Eight. Then workshops, the re-drafts, the rehearsals.

Carl: Wow. How much did you get paid for that?

Patsy: The commission fee.

Tutor: But it will make more money when it is programmed, right Patsy?

Patsy: If it is programmed, yes.

Carl: But what happens to it if it is not?

[Patsy shrugs]

Tutor: Any more questions for Patsy?

Carl: Any tips on the new AD for ATC?

Patsy: I heard Lady Gaga.

Carl: Latest is one of the Dominics.

Patsy: One of the Dominics?

Beth: West. Cook.

Carl: Hill.

Beth: We think Cook would be polemic.

Patsy: Captain Cook?

Beth: Yes.

[Patsy goes and the class continues.]

Editor's note: During May 2015, the government initiated unprecedented cuts to the arts that would impact directly on many of the people in this play. For a record of letters written by Beth, Lilili and Patsy as well as and a speech made by Jack please see the footnotes of this work.

To date there have been no public comments made by Trixie, Lilili, or the companies they work for.

June

Email to Trixie from Patsy.

June 22

Dear Trixie,

I hope that you are well.

Awful news about the funding. Will it affect you all or is it too early to say? Such turmoil!

Perhaps I will see you at the rally.

I know it is hard to focus on much else, but I wanted to let you know that there is some interest in What Do You Want Me To Do With My Golliwog Now? from a company offshore. They have been asking me if you have read it because they are looking for a co-presenter. I have attached the first draft of play for you in case this is something that you might consider. I am delighted to say that it will be read at the National Play Festival next week just up the road from you. It’s on either during the day or at night to make it simple for busy people to attend.

Very exciting stuff,

Patsy.

Reply to Patsy from Trixie.

June 22

Thanks for your email. I am currently away at a festival of new writing in Nova Scotia until July 9. If the matter is urgent please email reception@ctc.com.

See you soon,

Trixie.

Patsy has just seen a new play with Cassandra.

Cassandra: I kept thinking it was over, and then there was another scene.

Patsy: I know.

Cassandra: All that movement they were doing, that walking on the spot. It tired me out.

Patsy: At least they got somewhere in the end.

Cassandra: And all that talking over each other. Didn’t they get taught any manners?

Patsy: It’s a form Cassandra.

Cassandra: Was it just me or…? It doesn’t matter.

Patsy: What?

Cassandra: It’s doesn’t… It’s just… That scene where she had the tin with the mother’s ashes and they spilled. I mean it was funny and tragic and all, but I kept wondering, have we seen that before? And the little glass animals he brought her back from Prague. How many were there again?

Patsy: Seventeen. The last one with the cracked paws was symbolic.

Cassandra: I loved that they all went on holiday and ended up at the same place by the beach after the storm. I liked it when he gave her the handful of bottle tops but…

Patsy: Don’t be too hard on it Cassandra. It’s a new play, and it’s by an emerging writer.

Cassandra: I know that. I just felt like I’d seen it before.

Students Beth and Carl next to a bin.

Carl: Guess what I just heard.

Beth: Bindy Irwin.

July

In the workshop for the golliwog play at the play festival. The actors have just read the work and Lilili is beaming at the people around the table.

Lilili: Thanks for that. It’s really so good to hear this work aloud, isn’t it Patsy?

Patsy: Yes. It was really terrific. And helpful.

Lilili: So I guess maybe we can begin with everyone’s initial responses to the work. Just popcorn stuff, shoot from the hip, right Pats?

Patsy: Sure. Pop!

Actor 2: I loved the end. I thought it was so touching.

Actor 3: I loved what Peter Frakani said to her just before she kicked him off the cliff into the sea.

Lilili: Great! Pop! Pop. What about you Billy?

Actor 1: I am not sure how to say this but I’m just wondering about the politics of writing this play. Like, the golliwog. The role of the golliwog. I mean, it just seems a bit, um, er I don’t know, like, is it just me or….

Patsy: What?

Actor 1: Offensive. Who would play that role?

Lilili: We were just wanting initial responses to the work.

Actor 1: Patsy, you’re a white woman right?

Patsy: Yes.

Actor 1: So for me it’s a question of whether or not you have the right to tell this story.

Patsy: But this is my story.

Actor 1: How can you say that? I’m not talking about the woman. I mean you are a woman, so you can tell that story. But the golliwog stuff, I mean where do we start?

Patsy: But that’s the point of my play. Where do we start?

At the play festival. Lilili and Johnny an American visiting theatre professional.

Lilili: What did you think of the panel?

Johnny: I dig the welcome to country you guys do.

Lilili: It’s important.

Johnny: And there was such a lot of exciting talk about new writing.

Lilili: We do a lot of new writing here.

Johnny: We only get to see your amazing actors do the greats. So where are they all?

[They look around]

Lilili: The playwrights? Most playwrights aren’t part of companies.

Johnny: So...

Lilili: They are welcome to come but most can’t afford to get here.

Johnny: That’s a shame.

Lilili: But then you know, sometimes it’s hard to say what needs to be said with playwrights in the room. They’re so used to working alone that they can either be over-excited or just way too sensitive.

At the play festival. Jack and Patsy.

Jack: So, we’re a conglomerate of playwrights and we are all putting in money to commission a playwright. A voice that doesn’t get heard on the main stages.

Patsy: That’s a wide net to cast. So how much?

Jack: $500 each. Less if we get more playwrights. It’s tax deductible.

Patsy: It’s a wonderful idea Jack, but will the play get produced?

Jack: We don’t know. Let’s face it, you never do.

Patsy: No.

Jack: There are a lot of commissions out there that aren’t produced.

Patsy: Yes. That’s what I’m wondering… It’s a really generous initiative.

Jack: And it’s driven by playwrights

Patsy: Unlike cars. Joke. Look, what makes me worry that it might be sending out a message that playwrights are all doing so well that we can afford to pay for other people’s commissions. And I’m not doing that well. Are you?

Jack: I’m doing ok. Look, you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to.

Patsy: But if I don’t do it does everyone else will have to pay more?

Jack: Well, yes.

At the play festival. Lilili and Patsy.

Lilili: I loved The Mother Patsy.

Patsy: Have you read it?

Lilili: I was on the panel for The TRULYNEWVOICEPLAY Award.

Patsy: Oh.

Lilili: And I wanted to say, just between you and me, that it should have been on the shortlist. All the readers were unanimous about that. It was at the top of the list.

Patsy: But it wasn’t.

Lilili: No. We all thought it was going to win. Everyone on the panel agreed that it should.

Patsy: So what happened?

Lilili: You know how these things work. At least it went to a woman this year.

Patsy: Fyone. Yes.

Lilili: Have you read her play?

Patsy: I thought I’d wait to see it on stage.

Lilili: I don’t think they’ll do it. I mean it’s an interesting piece but… it needs a lot of work.

Patsy: Right.

Lilili: Are you ok? I’m sorry I probably shouldn’t have mentioned that. It’s just that The Mother really stayed with me, it’s such stunning writing. I’d love to see it up. Has it been programmed?

Patsy: No, not yet.

Lilili: I’m sure it’ll just be a matter of time.

At the festival. Students Beth and Carl.

Beth: Really?

[Carl nods]

Beth and Carl: Adam Goodes!

A post-festival email from Patsy.

July 28

Dear Trixie,

We missed you! I hope that your time in Canada was rewarding and that the new writing festival unearthed some gems. Shame it clashed with the festival here but these things happen. I did quite a bit of work on my play. Lilili was amazing and everyone encouraged me to send it to you. So it’s attached. If the jet lag hasn’t hit you too badly maybe I can drop by and have a chat next week.

Patsy

Trixie’s reply.

July 31

Pasty,

Nice to hear from you and yes, it was a shame. Heard good things P. Congrats. We’re all really busily locking down next year's program right now. I don’t want to waste your time making you come in for such a short time but promise to be in touch after that.

T

August

A voice message for Hugo from Maddy.

Maddy: It’s Maddy. Look I’ve just had a call from KTC. They’ve had an idea about your unfinished commission. Have you acted before?

September

Program launches begin. Interviews carried out for ATC and a huge veil of secrecy covers the theatre and the entire street it is in.

A voice message for Hugo from Maddy.

Maddy: Guten Abend darling, it’s Maddy. I’ve just sent you the link to the arts pages. There’s an article about the ten theatre productions not to be missed next year and you’re in seven! Oh, and I’ve just had a call from The IOC. They want to talk to you about a commissioning a segment for the opening ceremony for Rio.

Patsy sits and stares out the window, humming gently to herself as a pigeon on a ledge stares at her and coos.

Cassandra: Pats, I’m off to work. Are you going to try and get dressed today?

Phone call to Jack.

Penny: Jack, I just want to let you know you have been successful in the VERYBIG Fellowship. Congratulations. Not only have you have been chosen over artists from every medium for the largest philanthropic grants in the country, but this is also the last time we are offering it, so it is really truly very special.

Late November

An email from Trixie.

Dear Pasty,

Hello you! I feel like the year has really gotten away from me. I am sorry it took so long to get back to you. I did read your play. Sorry it took so long. It’s not for us but do continue to keep us in the loop on the things you get up to.

I’m sure I will I see you at some of the crazy Christmas parties or even Christmas shopping? But if I don’t see you, please don’t be a stranger. Get in touch in the New Year!

Trixie x

THE END

Editors note:

Hugo continues to work over five continents and has well and truly emerged. He has added actor to his long list of emerged skills.

Patsy’s play What Do You Want Me To Do With My Golliwog Now? went on to premiere at Romania’s Teatrul Imposibil. She has applied for funding to support her to travel to the premiere and awaits the outcome.

The coveted position as Artistic Director of ATC was announced just prior to Christmas. Trixie Chadstone leaves her post at CTC to take a big step up to her first Artistic Director’s appointment. Her media release quotes her as saying “I am excited that storytellers of all backgrounds will continue be at the heart of all the work I do.”

 

* * *

To conclude my call to shift FOSUC, I ask you to comment on this article. Before you do, ponder the shit-spatter that followed Jana’s article that, like this one, was intended to start a conversation about a specific topic.

Let’s acknowledge that we are all vulnerable. That it can be difficult to say stuff that needs to be said, to express an opinion with honesty and without ego, to find the right time to say it and to hear it, to own what you have said without fear of repercussion.

We all love what we do and if we want our industry to be strong and resilient we all need to be LOUD. Not silent.

The responsibility to communicate lies with each one of us.

 


 

1. From 'A Lover’s Guide to American Playwrights—I Married a Playwright: Karen Hartman' - See more at howlround.com

 

 

Lachlan Philpott

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Lachlan Philpott is a Sydney-based dog person, playwright, advocate and teacher. As a playwright he has collaborated with artists in companies which include Amnesty International, Australian Theatre for Young People, Bell Shakespeare, Checkpoint Theatre Singapore, Crowded Fire Theater San Francisco, Griffin Theatre Company Sydney, Iron Bark London, Kansas State University, Kenyatta University Nairobi, La Boite Brisbane, The Lark New York, The Magic Theatre San Francisco, The Mac Belfast, Melbourne Festival, MKA New Writing Theatre, PlayWriting Australia, Q Theatre Penrith, The Playwright’s Centre Minneapolis, The Playwright’s Foundation San Francisco, Rock Surfers Sydney, Sydney Theatre Company, TheatreofplucK Belfast, The Traverse Theatre Edinburgh and Tantrum Theatre Newcastle. As the inaugural Australian Professional Playwright Fulbright Scholar, he has just returned from working at The American Conservatory Theatre San Francisco where he was playwright in residence and teacher on their distinguished MFA program. Lachlan is currently developing work with The American Conservatory Theatre and Crowded Fire Theatre California and The Traverse Edinburgh. 

 

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Chris Tomkinson
Posts: 10
Comment
Late Conversations
Reply #8 on : Tue December 01, 2015, 20:22:21
Remarkable Lachlan,
Funny and sharp as a knife.

What do we do? What should change?

Was Brandis right? Is the Oz Co a closed shop? Or was he shooting the wrong target?

Is it the theatre companies behind a closed barricade? And is that just because they don't have the time/people to do the job they want to do/we want them to do?

Should we change funding structures so that companies have to take 10% of their shows from the independent scene (offering the original cast first refusal)? Or argue for more new writing?

We're afraid to rock the boat & miss out on the scraps - and many of the folks in these positions are, sort of, friendly acquaintances.

Do we demand playwrights get to appoint their own dramaturg and/or director?

How do we change the culture of back-slapping the emperors new clothes? And how do we as artists receive criticism in a constructive way?

Is there any system, in any field of human endeavor that doesn't betray its core purpose? Should we then just accept that and work (at IKEA) outside the system?

What would folks like to see change out there?
Kate Rice
Posts: 10
Comment
We Need to Talk About Patsy
Reply #7 on : Tue September 08, 2015, 15:36:01
Thank you Lachlan Philpott! You are one of the good guys. Your charming, insightful, generous portrait of what it's like to be an under-performed mid-career middle-aged female playwright makes me much less resentful of your success. I'm clinging to the rock-face of Australian theatre by my fingernails and if I fall off, I will feel better knowing that you're on a ledge somewhere.
Hilary Bell
Posts: 10
Comment
Re: We Need to Talk About Patsy
Reply #6 on : Tue September 08, 2015, 11:45:59
Lachlan, thank you for your honesty and courage. Your mother may shake her head and ask why, but she obviously brought you up well, to be brave and to act according to your conscience. I hope this encourages the rest of us to do the same.
Noƫlle Janaczewska
Posts: 10
Comment
We Need to Talk About Patsy
Reply #5 on : Tue September 08, 2015, 10:55:48
What a great piece. An important piece. What a timely conversation starter. Brave, thoughtful, sobering, laugh-out-loud funny, and all too horribly familiar. If I didn't know better I'd think you must have hacked my email account! Thanks for writing it, Lachlan.
Vanessa Bates
Posts: 10
Comment
We Need To Talk About Patsy
Reply #4 on : Tue September 08, 2015, 10:50:07
Thankyou Lachlan. And yes please to conversation about this. In the end we are all wanting the same thing surely, a vibrant, exciting, living Australian theatre. Totally understand your response to the theatre in Chicago. Sorry that should be theater shouldn't it.
I laughed reading your play Lachlan. But I was very very sad by the end.
jane e
Posts: 10
Comment
We Need to Talk About Patsy
Reply #3 on : Sun September 06, 2015, 12:09:00
I bloody love this piece. So rapt that you have written it. And not just the play bit, but the preface regarding your time in the U.S. Your emotion post-meeting in Chicago is so understandable. What an amazing, respectful response to have had to your work. So so so glad to read this. It needs to be said. Thanks Lachlan.
Matt Edgerton
Posts: 10
Comment
We Need to Talk About Patsy
Reply #2 on : Sun September 06, 2015, 01:02:23
Thank you so much Lachlan. A provocative and thought provoking piece of writing capturing the particular challenges of being freelance as a playwright relating with theatre companies. I know everyone's stretched for time, but I believe there's an obligation for those working on a salary at a company that receives public funds - as most still do - to get back to writers and other theatre artists promptly and respectfully. We have to remember who the primary creatives are and to remember that we all start as freelance. Thanks for starting the conversation.
Suzie Miller
Posts: 10
Comment
Re: We Need to Talk About Patsy
Reply #1 on : Fri September 04, 2015, 20:53:04
Brave, evocative piece Lachlan, illustrating the strange world of playwrights where things are so clouded by the 'tyranny of the new'. There is such enormous playwright talent in this country - yet so often some of the most beautiful, insightful and truly landmark plays just get passed by. We playwrights read each others' works and often the genius works, the politically extraordinary pieces just don't get programmed. Inviting playwrights into theatres is fundamental to creating dialogue. Emails like Trixie's are the opposite of that aim. Thanks Lachlan Philpott. And yes it is important to speak out and speak up, even if we often get it wrong (and we all will from time to time) the alternative is a silence that is devastating, and creates a theatre space that lacks dynamism and bravery.


 

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