Four plays will take the stage

By Otago Daily Times | Posted: Thursday May 24, 2018

Four short plays are to get their moment on stage, despite Fortune's closing, writes Kim Dungey.

Feby Idrus says watching her play being rehearsed recently was like seeing the insides of her brain being 3D-printed on to a stage.

"This thing had lived in my head for 10 weeks and suddenly people were acting it out ... It was strange and cool."

The 31-year-old, who has published short stories but never a play, is one of four people who have taken part in an emerging playwrights' initiative run by the Fortune Theatre since March.

The four playwrights were mentored for 10 weeks by award-winning playwright Emily Duncan and each developed a new 15-minute work for professional production.

When the Fortune Theatre suddenly closed three weeks before the plays were to be presented there, Idrus felt numb.

But former theatre staff Jordan Dickson and Shannon Colbert ensured the plays would go ahead: they will now be held at Allen Hall this weekend.

Emily Duncan. Photo: SuppliedWith masters degrees in music and English and a day job with the Arts Festival of Dunedin, Idrus applied for the free annual programme because she felt she had reached an impasse in her writing and needed a "push".

Her "romantic dramedy", LOve Letters, is about two people who match on Tinder but cannot meet immediately so have to conduct the beginning of their relationship entirely over Facebook Messenger.

The story was partly based on her own experience trying to continue a long-term relationship while she was in Wellington and her partner was in Dunedin "and understanding how weird it is ... when you can't see the other person's face or even hear the other person's voice and the misunderstandings and the misreadings of tone that happen in a relationship conducted in that way".

"We saw each other every two or three weeks but the majority of the time discussions were had over Messenger, using GIFs and memes and emojis ..."

It was the first time she had allowed anyone to read an initial draft of her work and because she was not happy with it at that point, she was uncomfortable sharing it.

However, feedback from the weekly workshops led to revisions - five drafts in all - and the better the shape the play got into, the happier she was to have people look at it.

"I learned a lot more about how to build characters ... and a lot about collaboration and what a positive experience that can be."

One of the main differences between writing prose and writing for theatre was a practical one. In her first scene, she "innocently" wrote that the stage had a bed, bookcases, ring binders, a big suitcase, two computer monitors, headphones and a poster for the 2017 movie, The Shape of Water, she says.

"If I'm setting a scene in a play and say there's a double bed on stage, that means an actual person will have to go and find an actual double bed. In a short story, you can say whatever you want because words are cheap ..."

Script adviser Emily Duncan describes the weekend's offering as a diverse one, with one play based around Maori identity, another set in an Essex nightclub in 1999, and a third an apocalyptic piece about four young people on a night at the end of the world.

Script advisers, or dramaturgs, try to create an environment that challenges a playwright and helps them make their work the best it can possibly be, but also where the writer still feels they have ownership of the process, Duncan says.

One benefit of the playwrights meeting as a group was that they learned from each other.

"They're focused on their own work but they also have to reflect on each other's work, which is quite different from their own. So they're constantly thinking about different ways to write and make theatre."

The project, which started in 2012, was funded by Creative New Zealand via the Fortune until May this year. Duncan is determined it should continue despite the theatre closing.

"What I think is really valuable about this programme is you're preparing writers to develop their work," she says. "You don't just write a play and then it exists ... You need to learn to reflect on and interrogate your work over a period of time."

"I see it as an excellent vehicle for developing local writers and a pathway to producing local theatre work."

"We'll have to start from scratch but I believe in it and there are other people who do as well."

The readings

Short plays developed during the Fortune Theatre’s 4 x 4 emerging playwrights’ initiative will have rehearsed public readings at the University of Otago’s Allen Hall Theatre on Saturday and Sunday at 7pm.

The event features new works by Kerry Lane, Shannon van Rooijen, Ruth Carraway and Feby Idrus, directed by Alison Embleton and Mac Veitch.

Tickets are $5

© Copyright Dunedin City of Literature