Robert Reid is an award winning playwright as well as Artistic Director of independent theatre company Theatre in Decay. His play The Joy of Text received a public reading as part of the MTC 2009 Cybec Readings and has just opened as part of the MTC mainstage season.

Reid was awarded the St Martin’s Playwright of the Year Award in 2000 and his play Portraits of Modern Evil was shortlisted for the 2007 Wal Cherry Award and Griffin Award. His production The New Black was shortlisted for the Kit Denton Award in 2009. Other works include Sweet Staccato Rising, The New Black, All Dressed Up, Noone to Blow, Screaming in America: The Bill Hicks Project, All of Which are American Dreams, A Mile in her Shadow and Empire.

Robert Reid talks to Australian Stage's Paul Andrew.

Robert ReidDescribe your play The Joy of Text in seven words?
Smart is sexy, fast, dangerous and fun.

Your play title reminds me of Roland Barthes short book written in 1973, The Pleasure of the Text, any co-relation or reference at all?
An early draft actually had a joke about writing degree zero and the death of the author. But other than that there’s no direct relation.

Speaking of books published in the 1970's, there was another, a series in fact, The Joy of Sex, can there possibly be any relation to these books too, if so how so, memory, puberty perhaps?
Yes, that’s where the joke is. 

It’s a fairly cheap joke in a way but there’s also a kind of poetry to it as well, the play is so much about text and how all the ways we can understand it, the many different interpretations which is joyful in its way.

The subject of subjectivity, tell me something about this within the ambit of the play?
So many of the issues that I cover in the play turn on issues of subjective assessment but we want them to be grounded in something black and white. Truth, morals, literary excellence.

Student teacher relations, what a minefield Robert, how did this setting and concept come about for your work?
It grew out of my fascination with the two Helen’s books. Putting the issues of truth and authenticity that surround The Hand That Signed The Paper by Helen Darville and the sexual politics of The First Stone by Helen Garner lead me pretty naturally to forbidden high school relationship.

‘God is dead’, ‘the author is dead’, who decides these things?
Wow, so, big questions. I really don’t know that there is an ultimate decision to be made about these things. I think issues of power and authority, the logos and the locus, are always in ongoing flux. I think it’s naïve to think that existence is a set of puzzles to be solved once and for all.

Education and it's discontents – what makes this a subject compelling and entertaining for audiences?
Almost everyone has had some kind of educational experience, we all remember having our favourite teachers, or feeling outside the school system. I think also that the discontents with the pedagogical system are pretty closely related to any industrialised office system.

Self-reflexivity now, tell me about your personal favourite quote in the play, why you love it so?
Oh well there are so many. “Revenge is not redemptive”. Probably the bit I like best. Or this one; “Chaser sucks by the way, totally blows”. There’s the tragic misunderstanding at the centre of the first and the rhythmic inversion in the second that I feel makes a fairly cheap shot a lot more interesting structurally.

Tell me about the concept to stage development process, what you learned the most as a playwright at the reading at the MTC Cybec readings in 2009?
What was most evident to me at the Cybec readings was the superfluous character (there were originally five), this situation was over loading the second half of the play and lead to an unsatisfying conclusion. 

Removing that character meant the whole play tightened up around the themes and the action of the play grew out of the new stresses fewer characters placed on each other. 

It’s been through maybe four or five major redrafts and, I’m not sure, maybe fifteen significant changes and countless minor tweeks; still making them now actually.

Is there something from this development experience you feel compelled to share with other writers?
GET A PUBLIC READING FOR YOUR WORK. I cannot stress this enough. Any opportunity to show your work to the public, the real public not your friends and industry contacts, there is no better teacher than the audience.

And indeed something new, unusual or different you learned about “the audience” too?
It’s not something new I learned but it’s something I believed that has been confirmed for me now. You can ask a lot of an audience. They want to be challenged and stretched. Give some thought as to why they would want to keep watching and they’ll go a long way with you.

Melbourne Theatre Company presents The Joy of Text by Robert Reid. Now playing at the Arts Centre, Fairfax Studio until 23 July, 2011. Further details»