When I walked into the main function room at the Paddington RSL Club on Saturday March 19, I heard an unfamiliar sound. It was day one of the Currency Press Australian Playwrights Festival – a rare and very welcome gathering of theatre makers, performers, academics and interested members of the public – to celebrate 50 years of Currency Press as a publisher of stage plays and other work about the performing arts in Australia.
So, of course, the first thing I heard in a room filled with approximately 150 people was the microphone amplified sound of two playwrights speaking about how they write their plays and, even more interestingly, why they write their plays.
Onstage was storyteller Debra Oswald, being interviewed by another writer Elias Jamieson Brown in a session called “My Playwright Crush”. It was a candid, funny and completely charming exchange of views and although I was immediately interested and engaged, it was the other sound in the room, the sound coming from a spellbound, largely silent audience that compelled my attention. It was the sound of a large group of people gathering together to think in public. Not to be at home on Zoom and listen to each other via digital means, but to sit beside one another, to smile, to nod, to laugh aloud in a group and to talk about what they love about the art of writing stories which will entertain, provoke, inspire and unsettle audiences who come to see work in Australian theatres.
It was a beautiful sound, this sound of an audience listening actively – I might even say listening hungrily – to the people who spend their lives crafting dialogue, imagining scenes, and creating structures which convey meaning and drama on stage.
As the day progressed I was given my own opportunity to contribute my thoughts on the onstage microphone on the panel “Staging the Real: Transforming Lived Experience into Compelling Drama” with S. Shakthidharan and Angela Betzien and chaired by Tommy Murphy. Our session was a collegiate exchange of views about basing work for the stage on real life characters. Shakthi, who wrote Counting and Cracking for Belvoir put his philosophy of writing most eloquently when he said, “It doesn’t really matter if you’re right or wrong, what matters is your capacity to sit and hold space for someone who disagrees with you, so I’m always looking for ways to engender that feeling.” This deep truth was met, not with silent assent, but with spontaneous and heartfelt applause. Long may Currency Press continue to publish Australian plays and celebrate the contribution we make to the national conversation.
Alana Valentine’s play Wayside Bride, drawn from the living testimony of people married at the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross from 1964 to the present, opens at Belvoir Theatre on April 2 and plays until May 29. The unwaged performance for Wayside Bride is Thursday April 28 at 1pm. Unwaged members of the community can attend this matinee performance free of charge by presenting an eligible Pensioner Card, Health Care Card or Veteran’s Affairs Card. Seniors, Students and groups of 10+ are eligible for discount tickets to other performances.