What do you feel is the difference between Truth and Truthfulness?
Good question - I think Truth is a fact and Truthfulness is a trait. The truth will not change, but as humans - we can change the way we recall or identify the truth. We choose to be truthful or not depending on who we’re talking to and what we’re talking about.
There is a great line in the play about people believing what is ordinary to be extraordinary - what are you revealing to us?
Claudia is having breakfast with Robert - he is trying to convince her to do another book - she says;
There is no satisfaction in chronicling the ordinary, especially when the entire country seems to think that the ordinary is so bloody - “extraordinary”. Interviewing Pearlman - was like talking to bread. If this breakfast is you offering me another “opportunity” to ghost write for another - baguette like that, I’m gonna be on my way.
Big Brother, New Idea, Current Affair, the Australian cricket team, Today Tonight.
I think we are conditioning ourselves to believe that any photograph in a magazine is a scoop and any quote from a television personality is worth reading and any review printed in a newspaper is written by an expert. Gossip is news and news is pop culture. You put a sports star into the mix and you’ve got ratings and sales.
This play came about as an MTC commission. How does it feel so far?
I was an affiliate writer at MTC in 2001 - under Peter Matheson. I wrote a play called Cold Light of Day. I had a workshop and a reading at MTC and then - at the suggestion of Simon Phillips - I applied for a residency at the Royal Court in London. I was successful and got picked by the RC. In 2002 I went over and spent five weeks working on CLD - we did workshops with Joe Penhall, David Hare, Caryl Churchill etc - I learned a lot and discovered I was doing the right thing - I came home renewed and committed. I wrote a play called Domestic Animals and did it in the Fringe and made 15 dollars. Julian Meyrick saw it and invited me to submit an idea. I wrote an outline for GHOSTWRITER - it was massaged and rejected - I wrote another and another and the company commissioned the idea. I worked on the play for two years - the company rejected it. I continued to work on it - we took it to the ANPC conference in Perth and work shopped it there in July 06 - upon return - the company programmed it.
It has been journey of discovery. A wonderful, painful, exciting, exhilarating, experience of commitment, perseverance and tough skin.
Have you ever been a ghostwriter?
No. Sorry about that.
Ghostwriters are a bit like the medieval scribes employed by the church or state to tell other peoples stories?
I like the idea that a complete stranger is employed to the most personal expression of another. There is a need for trust to be established in a very short amount of time.
I think in real life - there are times when we have been more honest with strangers than with our loved ones. There is something freeing about the fact that this person does not hold the emotional baggage over the account of an event - they just wanna know what happened - they don’t judge you - they listen and they compile and they try to understand your point of view. There are rules and a limited time span for the engagement - there is a ritual to be observed - through Q & A. These are the sacred boundaries I was interested in exploring. Claudia needs these qualities from Brihanna, just as much as Brihanna needs them from Claudia. In fact - all the characters in the play make these demands for truth, trust and privacy from each other.
Is the play a whodunit?
The play is about stories. The concept of a “whodunit” if you like - is a story we are all familiar with - this involves judgement and bias. It was always going to be about stories and so… yes it was always there. Why do we want to judge someone so quickly? - Is it to protect our selves from truth? Is it to make ourselves feel better about something that is wrong with us? Lindy Chamberlain was convicted in some minds long before she was ever put on trial. The idea of whodunit didn’t enter our heads - we decided early and just waited for the judgement. So often now - sections of society ignore the detective work in favour of the punishment - I think that’s the more disturbing thing - we live in a society that has people who want to see other people punished - more than they want to see justice served. Why?
The characters are a great insight into the cusp of Generation X and the very early Baby boomers - what are the major generational differences?
Power and opportunity. I thing you’re pretty accurate by describing Claudia and West as cusp Gen Xers. They are. They are intelligent, creative, responsible, determined and still waiting for something to begin… because the Baby Boomers are still holding the reigns.
When the Baby Boomers are eventually put out to pasture and understand they have to finally - retire - Generation Y will get the chance - because X will be seen as too old. We’re in between worlds, customs and reason. We want answers to questions because we’ve had the time and the education to learn how to ask these things. They taught us and now they hate us. We’re a threat - an intelligence that cannot be denied.
Grief is a popular theme in plays today (and the ancients) is this because we as a society are still grappling with how to grieve- and how to truly grieve?
I think grief is a strong theme because the world is a very sad place. The climate is changing - towers are falling - governments are lying and still surpluses are being declared. People are locked up in the deserts of our world and the question of “why” does not get asked - children go missing and the question of “whom” - does not get answered.
I feel sadness is a default setting for many of us. Compassion is also an element of what we call grief - it is a state of longing or desire for healing that determines us as human beings. I think the fact that we are trying to examine what grief might be - is a positive step to remembering what it is to be human in a world full of contradictions and lies.
The casting is terrific - was the play written with particular ethnicities or cultures in mind?
None of the characters was written with a specific ethnicity. As a writer I am interested in what this person wants from that person and what will they do to get it. The cast does reflect Melbourne in a wonderful, truthful way. It has shapes and faces that we see in the street. Four individual adult actors who bring a strong heritage of stage craft to the play. They are a pleasure to work with - they are mature and intelligent and committed to telling Australian stories - a dream for new work and new writing. Raj, Margaret and Belinda all worked on the play in Perth. John is the new boy - a marvelous, experienced man, with a generous heart and a protective nature.
Who is your favourite character in the play and why?
I think Robert - for his bluster and pain and then I think Claudia for her quest for an answer and then I think Brihanna for her need to be heard and then I think West for his fury within and then - I think of Megan. Every night when she arrives there is a silence in the theatre and - this silence - this is the very essence of what the ritual is all about. We respect her - we want to hear her and we love her - unconditionally. She has to be my favorite. I think she forgives us all.
It strikes me that the play is magical realism?
I don’t think of style - when I am approaching my work - I am trying to identify dilemmas and demands. I think theatre is a place of possibilities - it can allow for several realities to be served at once - something that film struggles to do - but in the end - it is what it is - a delivery mechanism for a story. The parameters can be blurred if the desires of the characters demand this.
Tell me about the restaging of No Man’s Island in NYC?
There is a company in Brooklyn who is going to stage No Man’s Island. This is a play I wrote in 94 - it premiered at La Mama and was picked up by the Melbourne International Festival. It came about because they were looking for new work - they read a reference to it on Dooley.com and followed an email / google search trail to find the play published in a little shop in Australia. They read it - loved it and applied for the rights. They’re great people. The play is set in a prison. There are two men. They have no idea when they will be released and we don’t know what they are in for - it is explores the way they support each other through a terrible period of time. The company in NY is going to do an awareness-raising programme for David Hicks to accompany the play. It opens in Manhattan at HERE in May 07.
Tell me about your role at and vision for The Store Room?
I am one of several artistic associates. I think the Store Room is hoping we will make some interesting work - try things that we have not had the chance to try before. I have a play that will be staged there this year - it’s a time of experimentation I suppose.
What advice would you give to someone young or old, who is passionate about playwriting?
Write something that means something to you. It can take a long time to get produced so it has to be an idea that you will believe in five years time. The Ghostwriter has been criticised by some for being underdeveloped and then by others for being over developed.
Clearly the truth lies somewhere in between. Don’t listen to those who don’t understand your goals - try to identify the professional people you trust for feedback. Get with some actors and work with them as much as you can. You are writing for performance. It is not a poem or a book - words need oxygen to survive.
Todd MacDonald is an actor, director and former Artistic Director of the influential Store Room Theatre in Fitzroy, Melbourne. After a triumphant season at Belvoir St, he returns to Melbourne for a...
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