Peta Brady is a writer and actor, who most recently appeared at La Mama in Angus Cerini’s Save For Crying, earlier in 2011. She works for the Salvation Army and as a mobile health alcohol and drug safety outreach worker on weekends.

Her first play, Status Update, received two Green Room nominations: Best New Writing for the Melbourne Stage, and Best Female Performer. Her latest work, Strands, was one of four projects to receive funding from the R.E Ross Trust Award in 2011.

Peta Brady and Wilhelmina StrackePeta tell me a potted history of your writer/ actor background?
I guess it started in high school where I wrote a few scenes for the school production and they were received quite well. I went off to study to be an actor, studied performing arts at Ballarat Uni, did a lot of telly, worked for several theatre companies and have come full circle to write.

Do you have a vivid memory of reading a certain playwright that lingers?
I have memories of discovering Caryl Churchill, Sarah Kane and closer to home Patricia Cornelius. The joy of reading great plays by strong honest unafraid women was exciting. Later I was to work on a few of Patricia’s pieces as an actor and I guess the luxury of working with great material sets the bar as a writer.

I wanted to know what women of this century were writing. I wasn’t so much into Shakespeare and Chekhov and all the other dead men we were studying. Although brilliant, not what I wanted to snuggle up and fill my head with. I guess I was in search of roles and stories filled with people I could relate to. Where were all the women? And on that note I was quite taken by Medea early on in my readings.

What did this inspire or challenge you with at the time, what did it evoke for you?
Medea – strength, revenge, beautiful language.

I haven’t read it for a long time but it was a female role I played in year 12 and carried her around for a while. Lily and May was an early favorite by Patricia – about two old bag ladies, I was and am still too young to play either role but there was something in the language and the relationship between the two characters which challenged and excited me.

It seemed different to other plays I was studying/reading at the time. They were gruff and funny and real. It is quite empowering to do your own work, to be able to practice your art without the permission from others. I do love working on other peoples work though and highlights of that are Patricia Cornelius's Love and Angus Cerini's Save for Crying – these are the works I aspire to. These are the writers I enjoy to speak to as an actor and would aspire to write like.

Your work for the Salvation Army and as an outreach work, this care work must provide your inner writer with incredible true life narratives, characters, turns of phrase and events to draw upon?
I have been working here for about ten years or more – it allows me to eat and keep the lights on. I am more than lucky to get to work with the community in this role and I do get to see, share a lot of brokenness that is addiction and homelessness and cycles of abuse and poverty etc.

I guess the upside to this is it does feed my work, the downside to it is you can become quite numb to anything if you see it often enough. Finding the humanity amongst it is the key – it’s not all about what appears to be going on.

On reflection, something of the concepts, themes or motifs being revealed to you now in your writing?
I want to write great female roles. I’m interested in staying true to what I see around me and not filling them with just beautiful unbroken perfect people. Or what we have been trained to see as beautiful, I am interested in the chinks, the little imperfections.

I want to work with great actors who don’t necessarily get the big gigs coz their teeth might be wonky or whatever. I want to see more black, fat, gay, nasty, skinny, rashed-up and real people grace our stages and speak honestly about what they see and feel.

Strands is an evocative and bodily word – how did you arrive at this as the final title?
This little story stemmed from reading about the wood of a violin and how over the years it had changed. How it is a different wood, from trees grown in a different atmosphere and how things such as pollution have affected the tone of the instrument and then I read something on the affects of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and the two ideas started to marry.

I know, I gotta get out more. At least buy some less heavy readin’ material. But something started the writing and I think it was about how things just don’t grow well in poor soil. Be it plant or person. And whilst this piece turned out to be about neither of those things the strands remain.

I was enchanted by your reading at Cube during the Melbourne Festival this year – the human frailty of two siblings, how did this festival reading help or hinder your final writing process?
It’s always good to read something allowed and have a bit of feedback – at that stage I wasn’t finished with the script and by the way of feedback you get to hear what themes resonate with the listener. What they heard, hooked onto on that night I had a couple of middle-aged social workers approach me eagerly about the work, they said the language was very real to them and that they were quite moved. It’s nice to know it’s not just your take on things and you may be heading in the right direction.

I remember feeling at the time there was a thread of deep melancholy throughout each of the readings that night, new works by writers like Angus, Lally and Declan – what are your feelings about the event in hindsight?
I must be comfy with melancholy. I didn’t get depressed I was far too excited to be surrounded by some of my favorite writers and reading my work out alongside them. You get a whole different perspective writing. As an actor you can be quite removed from the process but as the writer performer you have had all the ingredients and have stripped it back to your own recipe. So you know what could have gone in, where things come from etc. I don’t know if this makes you a better actor I haven’t decided.

Status Update, another two-hander, grabbed my attention with your slippery witty gender play – gender bending and role play – having not seen Strands as yet, and at the risk of sounding utterly foolish, I wonder if this gender fluid theme is teased out in the sister's character's perhaps?
I have always been gender challenged, played cricket for an all boys team from 12-18 (the only girl) so I was always called "balls" or "butch" or something and this made me question what that was all about. Why the boys were so doubly annoyed if they were bowled out by "the chick" or just started bowling at my head coz I wasn’t a boy. I played for Victoria so there were a few bowled out whingers.

I do like to mess with gender, but I don’t really mess with it in this particular piece.

Agency – coming to terms with one's agency even in a time of brokenness – feels like an important theme being explored in your work, is this true?
I like it. I guess this is true. I know I do steer towards the broken characters. I guess the others can look out for themselves.

Strands by Peta Brady is currently playing at La Mama Theatre, Carlton until December 18, 2011. Further details»

Photo – Peta Brady and Wilhelmina Stracke

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