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Advertising the latest – and ditching the past

First off, don’t forget the upcoming ten-minute play show at the 1812 Theatre in Ferntree Gully called Board Shorts. The season is only a short one – June 28 – 30 – but it includes my piece False Trail, directed by Robert Williams and starring Samir Odedra and Jason Triggs as two men who discover only one of them has eight minutes left to live…

Go here to book! All tix only $15.

Well, now that’s done:

It is not Spring here Down Under. In fact, Winter has just started, and a cold couple of days it has been. Am I too late to do a Spring clean? Having reached and left the age of 50 what can I let go of?

Plenty, it turns out.

The following are just some of the junk that I will never see again:

-early drafts of plays (unlike Beethoven, I don’t think anyone’s going to be interested in these in a 100 years’ time! Hell, I’m not even interested now!)

-old notebooks (see the Beethoven comment above)

-early diaries (full of the trivia of 30 years ago. Was I really this banal?)

-printed emails from publishers and play producers I haven’t heard from in ages

And all of this is paper! A lot of writing water has come up to the bridge, banged on a couple of piles, and finally managed to slide under. Writing I’ve never looked at in the last year, let alone the last 30.  I have realised so much in our lives can be stripped away and we can still carry on as if nothing has happened. Is this what they call Minimalism?

One thing I noticed as I trawled through my shelves was the amount of work that had been started, and not completed. As organisational consultant Peter Walsh puts it: “People are finding that their homes are full of stuff, but their lives are littered with unfulfilled promises.”

(Another intriguing thought is that of Idea Debt. Just go here to find out what that’s all about and how it’s holding you back in your creative projects.)

So if you are trawling through a recycling bin, or scanning an egg carton, and you come across words of adolescent heartache or brooding assassins, remember that they belonged to me.

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1F 30 Minutes 3M Comedy One Act The Plays

eBay Doomsday

In the old gold mining town of Charters Towers Melissa and Danny are about to have a baby, but to get some much needed money Melissa has decided to sell off everything in the doomsday shelter that Danny’s late father, Ron, has built. However, Danny’s older brother, Billy, shows up, and then so does their supposedly late father, and Ron is a little upset when he discovers that the world isn’t quite over yet…

eBay-Doomsday-Perusal-Copy

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The Latest on the Theatre of Life

I can believe that I haven’t written a blog since 2015. A lot has happened since then. Life changes, mainly. Maybe one day they might be the subject of a play but I think it’s unlikely.

However, the last couple of years have been very busy.

To take you all the way back to 2016:

My “new” one-acter, eBay Doomsday, was picked up by Pop Culture Theatre (PCT) and did the rounds of the Victorian One-Act Play festivals, winning awards and nominations here and there. My thanks to director Michelle Swann and her actors Scobie Parker, Liam Gillespie, Kate Karandais and Steve Saul, who all did an amazing job. You can check it out here.

Also in 2016:

PCT picked up my “old” one-acter, The Glenfiddich Solution. This time Bruce Hardie and Kate Deavin were onstage, and they were directed by Imogen Martin. It, too, did good business on the circuit, picking up a few awards and nominations along the way. Again, great to see one’s work up on stage being done really well. Thanks guys. You can check it out here.

This year, another “old” one-act play of mine called Skin was a finalist in the 2017 National Playwright Competition, run by the Playhouse Players here in Melbourne. I decided to direct the piece myself to guarantee a certain level of quality, and cast two excellent actors in Trevor Paparella (thanks for stepping outside your comfort zone, Trevor!) and Christina MacLachlan (who won the Audience Choice award for Best Female Actor–a lovely vindication of the work she’d put into creating her character).

The updated version of Skin is available here.

It was great to get back into the director’s chair. It makes you look at your work in a totally different way.

This year, too, I have a play that’s been shortlisted in Ark Theatre’s 2018 ARKFest, a festival of 10-minute plays, so if any company’s out there pick it up and run with it — if only I could tell you what it’s called! Entries must remain anonymous, so I really can’t give anything away. Will have to wait and see what happens with this one.

In a side note: I thought I would comment on the #MeToo campaign. I am sympathetic to all the silence breakers who have come forward to share their stories of abuse. It is never OK for those in positions of authority to abuse their power. However, I wonder if there should be a special hashtag for men who have specifically been abused by women? Perhaps something like #MenToo? Or one simply called #menwhomarrypsychobitches? There are plenty of us out there, and we have been silent, too, because the court system as it is allows affidavits to be lodged without any supporting evidence, for accusations to be made in all manner of court proceedings which are slanderous and libellous, and without recourse to being challenged. Where does this kind of abuse stop? Sometimes the very institutions established to dispense justice fail to protect those who are innocent. One day, perhaps, the silence breakers on the cover of a Time magazine will be a group of men who have had enough of having their names dragged through the mud. One day, perhaps, there will be a play there, too.

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My Blog

Hiding behind your Muse

The 2015 One-Act Play season here in Victoria is now over and I think I’m supposed to be angry. Angry that another writer has written, produced and starred in a one-act play that very closely resembles Two Women & A Chair.

This “new” play has the same premise: two initially antagonistic female actors show up at an audition (with one chair as the set) and essentially fight each other for the role. They bitch, they play act, they argue over the nature of acting itself. It all turns out to be a Machiavellian head trip by the director, and both works share a number of uncannily similar features: a lesbian undertone; one character pretends to have a necklace; by the end both characters have wound up pals defying their fate.

As I said, I’m supposed to be angry. Others certainly are, and have told me so.

I got in touch with the writer and they assured me it was all just coincidence. They said they’d never read Two Women & A Chair, had heard of it but never seen it. In a blog they admitted their story was not “completely original” and that they would have to “come to terms with that.”

The idea of originality is a complicated one, but the bottom line is you take what is known and do your own spin on it. In Star Wars we can see all the elements from a thousand other stories: the beneficent old knight (Obi-Wan Kenobi), the farm boy hero (Luke Skywalker), the dark father (Darth Vader), the princess (Leia) held in the high castle (the Death Star), but they’re all mixed up and re-imagined in Lucas’ story. We’ve been tranported from “Once upon a time…” to “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” Something new has come out of something fundamentally old and “familiar.”

What has saddened me about the whole experience is that this writer hasn’t done anything “original” with the material – and they’ve taken longer than Two Women & A Chair to do it. Nothing new has been brought to the table. No great twist, no new revelation, nothing new has been shown that has not been done before. Worse than cheating themselves, I think this writer has cheated the audience.

They’ve blamed their Muse for this lack of “originality,” for “forgetting” that these characters had been put before me “not so long ago.” The only thing I can think to say is, maybe it’s time to get a new Muse.

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A Message To My New Dramaturgical Mentee

As part of a local theatre company’s recent fund-raising trivia night I offered as a prize my dramaturgical services for 6 months. This is what I wrote to the winner:

Congratulations!  I am yours for at least 6 months!

The bottom line is I am here for you.  A sounding board, a resource – that ideal audience member who is seeing the play in their mind’s eye and responding to it.  I’ll also be someone to bounce ideas off no matter how crazy or out there they might be.  (I will probably also bounce some ideas back – to challenge you, provoke you, make you dig deeper into what you’ve written.)

I’m looking forward to reading what you have and getting into providing whatever help/assistance/advise/criticism/support I can.  Please remember that as much as I might have ideas about what I think you might need, I’m sure you have ideas, too, so please don’t be backward in coming forward and identifying exactly what you might want from me e.g. “Can you read this and tell me if you think I should keep the fifth spear carrier from the left.”

The other thing to remember – which I think is very important – is that I won’t be doing any of the actual writing myself.  That’s your job.  The learning comes from the doing, and no matter what I say you’ll still be the one at the coal face, with keyboard and screen punching out the words.  I can point you down a path, but you will be the one to decide if you walk it.

The key to dramaturgy is twofold, I think: the development of scripts, and by extension the development of the playwright.  The two go hand-in-hand.  I can’t wait to see where we wind up in 6 months’ time!

Let the adventure begin!

I haven’t received any scripts as yet, but I’m sure they’ll come!

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My Blog

What To Do When Accidents Happen In The Theatre

I now know what that word “dumbfounded” feels like. Just the other week I was told a one-act play of mine was about to go on in a one-act play show minus its last four pages. The play, Dreams of Justine, had been acquired by the director who assumed that the perusal version was the final version of the play – and that’s the version he’d been rehearsing with his actors.*

With little time to waste I decided to distill those last four pages of script down to half a dozen lines and a few actions so as to better tie off what I thought was a comedy, because as we all know, comedies end with the guy and the girl together at the end after a lot of tooing and froing, ups and downs and roundabouts. (Or so the traditional form tells us.)

Luckily, the director and the cast were able to rehearse my concluding snippet during the first half of the program and put on my version for the audience. When I saw how things had turned out, it seemed as if the play was meant to finish where and when it did, and the audience, I think, was satisfied. (Thanks to all concerned for their efforts.)

So what have I learned?

1. Theatre is always about risk – or should be (otherwise, why do it, right?) – but please remember, your script will usually conclude with the words Fadeout or Snapoff;

2. While the response of some was that it wasn’t my problem, being in any group – theatre or otherwise – is always about finding solutions and working together;

3. I have a new idea for a one-act play about a writer who learns that their one-act play is about to go on minus the last four pages…

You can get your hands on the perusal copy of Dreams of Justine here – and if you’d like to get your hands on the shortened version I’ve just written let me know!

* (If nothing else, a great pat on the back to my writing: even truncated, my script still made sense to the director and the actors!)

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The Latest on The Little Play That Could

The Romsey Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society (RAODS) in the UK produced my play Two Women & A Chair just last week. They used two casts, who rehearsed separately and didn’t know who the others were until the first night they performed with them, so the performance was literally two strangers walking into a room together. This takes the idea of Method Acting to new levels!

Theatre is always about about taking a risk, so I’m delighted to hear that their risk paid off. Artistic Director of RAODS, Clare Groome, has let me know they’ve had a fascinating week performing the play, and that it’s left both audiences and performers alike with plenty of questions, the main one being (because the play ends on a great cliffhanger): What Happens Next?

Maybe I could write a sequel to Two Women & A Chair, but if that happens, I’ll wind up losing some of the mystery.  The point of theatre is not necessarily to present the answers, but prompt the questions in the first place.

And besides, if you get into sequels and prequels (like George Lucas did with his Star Wars saga) you might eventually wind up writing a character like Jar Jar Binks and no-one wants that.

Another theatre group have sounded me out about reversing the ages of the characters in Two Women & A Chair, so the novice (Jessie) is played by an older actor, while the experienced one (Martine) is played by a younger actor. I look forward to hearing how that comes off.

If nothing else, this little blog is simply a call-out to say how gratified I am that my work is still being performed, still being tinkered with, still able to stand up and be reworked and moulded into new and exciting shapes for new audiences.

Two Women & A Chair is about two female actors caught up in an audition for a mysterious play called Le Jeu, only there’s no director present, and they find themselves locked in the audition room. It’s been performed all over Australia, at the Edinburgh and Prague Fringe Festivals, the UK, New Zealand, and the US. To check out what the fuss is all about, click here.

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My Blog

The Highest Form of Flattery

Just when you thought there were only so many ideas in the world, you turn around and see a film like Birdman (2014) and discover that it’s true. I suppose one shouldn’t be surprised: Hollywood is a great cauldron of ideas and they get recycled regularly, but sometimes the connection is uncanny.

You know the story: in Birdman Riggan Thomson (played by Michael Keaton), a washed-up Hollywood actor, seeks a kind of redemption performing in a play he’s written and directed himself.  My one-act play called Dig (written in 2006) is about an older actor called Douglas King who is about to make his swansong performance as King Lear. Both men are haunted by their alter egos (Birdman and Dig, respectively) and both pieces have similarities that startled me:

there’s the estranged daughter;

the flowers crowding the dressing room;

the string of broken relationships as long as your arm;

both are theatre actors (or aspire to be);

both characters hang onto an early review that inspired them to pursue acting;

both are tormented by their alter ego taunting, cajoling, reminding them of their past glories, their shortcomings and regrets;

there’s the elemental nature of acting in the theatre, the stripping away of pretence and artifice to reveal a final performance where truth is finally uncovered and lauded;

both end with the supposed “offstage” death of the main character – or does it?

The whole experience has taught me you simply have to keep writing your version of the idea, your take on it, and who knows? Maybe one day Hollywood will take up your script.

If you want to check out Dig, click here.

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The Top Five Things You Need to Set Up Your Own Theatre Company

You might wonder why I’m writing this. Why should I care about how to set up a theatre company? The thing is, without theatre companies around the world no-one will put your work on.  (Remember, even Shakespeare had his own company!)  So here goes:

The audience
This is the very first thing any company should consider.  Who’s your audience?  How old are they?  What are their lives like?  Why should they come and see a show of yours?  Any group that ignores or disparages the audience does so at their peril.  If you put on great shows and no-one comes it’s a waste of time and you make no money.  If you put on rubbish and crowds come you are very lucky but in the long run, no-one will come and you make no money.

Excellence
Excellence (or the striving for excellence) should be what the company is about.  If you don’t want to do or be your best, why do it?  This goes for everything down the line: writing, directing, performing, lighting, designing, and front-of-house.  Excellence is the only currency any company has to offer.  If we’re not striving for excellence, why should the audience come?  They’ll go and see the company that does give a damn.

Work first, fun later
The fun is only fun because you’ve earned it, because you know by the end of the season you gave it everything you had and there is nothing left in you to give, nothing left to do except get smashed and have a great time.  As Aldous Huxley said : “Happiness is like coke [not the drink!]: it’s the by-product of another process.”

A venue
We’ve seen the church sell off old halls and assembly areas and companies have been kicked out and gone to the wall because they had nowhere to put on their shows.  Perhaps your company is a post-modern company, and can perform anytime, anywhere, on even a handkerchief thrown on the footpath, but I think part of the identity of a company is linked to the space it uses.  Using a space over time you get to know what works, what doesn’t work, and how to make things work.  It becomes the bedrock that supports innovation, experimentation, and other exciting things to happen.

Mission Statement
Every group needs one.  Something everyone agrees on, something which defines the company, something that “sells” the company to itself, to potential members, the media, other companies, and most importantly, to the audience.  Without being clear about what you want to create and where you’re going, you can’t then figure out how you’re going to get there.

The central challenge for any company is to create something that endures over time, an entity that doesn’t simply put on one show, or a one-act play, or go to festivals, but keeps doing it, time and time again. It’s this cumulative effort that will lead to the creation of more and more exciting theatre. Good luck!

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Mother’s Day Dramaturgy 11/05/14

Well, the Playwriting Class didn’t go ahead due to a severe lack of numbers. There was only one person in attendance: me! Strangely this hasn’t bothered me. I might still approach the Council of Adult Educataion and see if theyr’e interested, but we will see. There is a novel to finish (again, as they say in the classics, great novels aren’t written, they’re rewritten!) so that’s my focus right now.

At the same time as all this was happening, a fellow from a local theatre company sent me some of his writing to assess and I informed him of a rate that I had arrived at which I think is extremely generous. For $100.00 I agreed to read his first draft, assess his second draft, and help him get the piece up to performance level.

When I spoke to him on the phone I also encouraged/cajoled/persuaded/supported him to push himself in his writing and not to rest on his laurels. I think this helped. Goodness knows, when you write you need all the support you can get to see things through to the end, and know that you’re on the right track, which this fellow was.

So, that’s where things stand at the moment. I’m putting the word out there: if you want an experienced theatre writer (that’s me!) to conduct an ongoing assessment of your work, get in touch with me via email – michaelolsen888@gmail.com – or phone – 0418173029 – and for just $100.00** I’ll help you as much as I can to get your work up to performance level.

**(This opening offer is only good for the next 6 months.  After that, I’ll have to check on the state of the economy – both domestic and national – and see if I’m selling myself short!)

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An Introduction to Playwriting – 1/3/2014

This year marks the start of a new phase for me in my writing. For the first time I hope to be mounting a playwriting class that takes participants through the playwriting process from beginning to end – all in 6 weeks!

It sounds a tall order, I know, but I think it’s eminently do-able. Such things as plot, character, dialogue, all can be examined in the class room and exercises can be carried out to help people understand the playwriting process.

And it is a process. It’s just like building a house – and don’t let anyone tell you it’s different! Just as you lay down one brick after another, and pretty soon, you have a house, so too with the course: each week you learn something new, you apply it, and eventually, a play emerges on the page that others can then pick up, read, rehearse, and perform.

The course is called Introduction to Playwriting and it’s being run at the Diamond Valley Learning Centre (DVLC) in Greensborough.

Starts May 2, running through until June 6

Cost: Full: $92.00, Concession: $66.00

For further details or to enrol phone DVLC on (03) 9435 9060, or check out their website here

If you’ve ever considered writing for the stage, this is the place to start!

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1M, 1F 30 Minutes Drama One Act The Plays

The Glenfiddich Solution

Just when you thought you could go to your Gold Coast apartment and kill yourself with a crate of Glenfiddich, the cleaning lady shows up!  Dr Carl Evans, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, faces the challenge of killing himself with Glenda the cleaning lady in attendance.  Only, it’s never that simple!

The Glenfiddich Solution – Perusal Copy

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1M, 1F 30 Minutes Drama One Act The Plays

Skin

On the eve of the Falklands War, Charles Beach, widower, meets District Nurse, Margery Fellowes, who’s come to tend him for the first time.  Charles thinks he has a captive audience for his tales of life in World War Two, but as we all know, the first casualty of war is the truth…

Skin – Perusal Copy

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2F 30 Minutes Drama One Act The Plays

The Butterflies Are Sleeping

Sisters Celia and Liberty Gault live in the Flint Hills of Kansas—alone. Liberty, the younger, has gotten involved with Chester Spertzberg, the boy who delivers their mail, but Celia has other ideas…

The Butterflies Are Sleeping – Perusal Copy

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10 minute Comedy One Act The Plays

Love Lust & Sodomy in the Garden of Earthly Delights

Just when you thought it was safe to go to the theatre, here’s an audience ripe to be shocked!

Love Lust & Sodomy in the Garden of Earthly Delights – Perusal Copy

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30 Minutes Comedy One Act The Plays

Persistent Offenders

How is theatre created? Sit back and let us show you how the magic happens!

Persistent Offenders – Perusal Copy

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10 minute 2M+ Black Comedy Short The Plays

The Magenta Revenge

Just when Gary thought he was over Natalie, he discovers Natalie is not over him – in the worst possible way.

The Magenta Revenge – Perusal Copy

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10 minute 2F 2M+ Comedy Short The Plays

The Little Black Book

Be sure you never lose your little black book!

The Little Black Book – Perusal Copy

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10 minute 1M, 2F Comedy Short The Plays

The Bed Method

Audrey thought sleeping with her cast would “unblock” them, but nothing can save this cast – nothing.

The Bed Method – Perusal Copy

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10 minute 1F, 2M Black Comedy Short The Plays

Purge

Dennis offers a unique service: for a fee, he can verbally abuse you in a way you could never have imagined.  But could he abuse someone so badly they’d take their own life?

Purge – Perusal Copy