Daniel Keene

This year marks the 30th year in which Daniel Keene has been a playwright for theatre. His works have travelled all corners of the globe, and translated into several languages. This winter, Keene has written eight short works, four revivals and four world premieres, performed by If Theatre and titled The Cove. In the midst of performances, Anna Lozynski interviewed Daniel Keene about the concept.

Daniel KeeneWhat history rests behinds the plays comprising The Cove?
There is a ten year gap between the writing of the four new plays and the four older plays that have been put together in The Cove. The older plays were written in the context of the Keene / Taylor Theatre Project, which was a unique moment with its own particular demands and energies. At that time I was privileged to be in the company of some wonderful, dedicated actors; the plays were written for them, driven by a desire to create roles that would challenge and delight them (and their audience).

The new plays were written at various times over the past couple of years. They are a continuation of my interest in stripping a play back to its essentials; finding a way to say the most possible with the least possible amount of words.

Each play is born out of a particular necessity or obsession. I have never begun writing a play knowing how it would end. For me, the writing of a play is a kind of excavation: I am searching for the raw impulse that caused me to imagine a particular character, a particular situation, an image or a particular piece of dialogue.

Overall, what can the audience take away from the eight pieces?
Hopefully something that they won’t forget.

Which moment in the work resonates with you?
The moment the actors walk onto the stage and the play I’ve written no longer belongs to me, it belongs to them.

Matt Scholten describes you as a true citizen of the world in his director’s notes. How have you earned this acclaim?
Since 2000 there have been more than 75 productions of my plays staged in Europe, predominantly in France, but also in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Spain and Portugal. In France my work has been produced in theatres including Theatre de la Commune and Theatre de la Ville in Paris, at the National Theatre of Toulouse, The Theatre of the Tempest, The National Theatre of Bordeaux, The National Theatre of La Rochelle and at The Avignon Festival. My work has also been produced in America, Canada, Japan and China. Seven volumes of my plays have been published in France by Editions Theatrales, all translations by Severine Magois.

How involved do you like to be with the direction of your work?
My involvement is dependant on the invitation of the director. I like to be at a first reading at the beginning of rehearsals. After that, I’ll be involved if it seems necessary and / or helpful.

What attracted you to become a writer, and in particular a playwright?
As a young man, I was a passionate reader, but I didn’t particularly want to become a writer. I did know that I wanted to work in the theatre, I simply had to discover in what capacity. After spending some time acting, then directing, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t very good at either activity. I turned all my attention to writing.

How do you track or compile your thoughts and stories as the bases for any future compositions?
I keep a notebook. I also have a folder filled with ‘works in progress’. At the moment I have about 25 unfinished short plays. I should add that I abandon more plays than I complete.

What does ‘writer’s block’ mean to you?
‘Writer’s block’ means nothing to me. There are times when I don’t write, because I have nothing to write. It’s important to spend periods of time not writing, to ‘lie fallow’ as it were; otherwise it’s just a meaningless grind. I don’t believe in writing just for writing’s sake.
{xtypo_quote_right}For me, the writing of a play is a kind of excavation: I am searching for the raw impulse that caused me to imagine a particular character, a particular situation, an image or a particular piece of dialogue{/xtypo_quote_right}
Describe your usual day when you are in the midst of penning a piece.
Writing from 9 to 5.

You have been writing since 1979. What do you know now that you wish you had discovered at the beginning of your career?
How difficult it is to write for the theatre, and how beautiful it can be if you get it right.

What do you most appreciate about the Melbourne theatre scene?
There is a tremendous amount of energy in Melbourne theatre at the moment. The Malthouse has become a vibrant centre of genuine creative energy. The new Lawler Studio at the MTC is a wonderful, necessary development; hopefully they’ll be able to find the resources to realize its potential. Companies like Black Lung, Hayloft, Uncle Semolina and Friends, Stuck Pigs Squealing and the like are ambitious, imaginative, outward looking groups that seem to be going from strength to strength. There is a new generation of skilled and talented set, lighting and sound designers showing us new ways to imagine the stage. What is there not to appreciate?

Finally, why did you name the performance as you have?
It was director, Matt Scholten’s choice to call the program of work THE COVE. I take ‘cove’ to be a secluded, protected place, a world unto itself, a place of refuge perhaps. The strength of Matt’s work is its restraint, its delicacy, its attention to detail and its enormous compassion. I think the name suits what Matt has created.

'The Cove: 8 short works by Daniel Keene' is now playing at The Dog Theatre, Footscray. Further information»

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