Plays and dropping tea towels

Friday, June 20, 2014
By: 
Katy Warner interviewed by John Back

headshot of Katy Warner
Katy Warner

Katy Warner is an emerging playwright and theatremaker based in Melbourne. She spoke with Writers Victoria intern John about the power of the stage and drawing on her everyday life to find inspiration.

What kind of journey led you to writing Dropped? Tell us a little about the play.

'Dropped' started when I dropped a tea-towel as I washing up. I was feeling pretty uninspired and just started writing dialogue between two people about that: dropping a tea towel. That tiny moment planted the seed for the rest of the play – I wanted to know who these people were, where they were and why on earth they were talking about dropping a tea towel.

It grew from there.

I started writing 'Dropped' some time in 2011. It has been quite a journey. A lot happened in that year which really influenced the development of the play – I spent a lot of time on WikiLeaks; then Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, announced women would be allowed to serve in frontline combat roles; I turned 31 and was an aunt to two, nearly three, gorgeous girls; I watched Gone with the Wind, again. At the centre of it was my goal to write a play that put two women front and centre but not as rivals for a man’s attention, not as mother and daughter, not as “Thelma and Louise” …

Dropped was first run in Melbourne Fringe Festival last year. What was it like developing the play through a theatre company after this?

This is the second of two plays I have developed through the incredible support of Melbourne Fringe Festival. I cannot speak highly enough of the Fringe experience. Writing plays is more than just “writing plays” – you actually need to get that play in front of an audience. Fringe not only provides the chance to get your work seen but an opportunity to meet other artists, network (I hate that word) and be inspired by a diverse range of work happening all around you.

What is the average day like for an emerging playwright?

Get up early and run or write – or both if I have time. I always walk to work and try to keep my ears open and my eyes peeled for anything that I could steal for a play. I’m often running late because I get distracted and have to get a quick photo of something that could be useful for something, someday … I suppose I am always looking for ideas. I work during the week so I write in my lunch-break and most evenings. Actually, now that I think of it, any spare minute is spent writing.

Why is theatre important to you?

Because it isn’t a passive experience like watching TV or seeing a film – we are all active participants in theatre. I love the immediacy of theatre. And I love the way stories can be interpreted and reinterpreted in performance. I love that we can all see the same show but not all see the “same” show (if that makes sense). I think the debates and discussions good theatre creates are very important.

Where do your ideas come from/What is your writing process like?

I wish I knew where ideas came from! I just try to be open to everything and allow anything to inspire me (like dropping a tea-towel, I suppose). I carry a notebook everywhere and copy down interesting bits of conversations overheard in cafes, or just make a list of “stuff I saw today”.

The writing process itself changes with every play. Sometimes the work will lend itself to having a very clear structure and logical sequence of events. However, there is a piece I am working on at the moment which is a series of short scenes. Once I have enough scenes I will then develop the structure and add / remove as necessary. What is important though, in that process, is to hear the work out loud. I often get friends to read the work during the process – it helps to hear where the writing gets “clunky” or just doesn’t sound right from that particular character etc. Part of the writing process has to include getting the work out of your own head and hearing it in someone else’s voice.

What is the experience like as a writer when your words are being spoken by someone else?

I wrote and performed in These are the isolate and found that speaking my own words was the most difficult thing I’d ever done! I think, as a writer, you are always seeing ways a work could be improved; the work is never actually finished. So I kept on judging what I had written rather than letting go of the writing and embracing it as an actor. I know many other playwrights who act in their own work and will need to try again one day, I think. However, there is something different about seeing / hearing the words spoken by someone else. I have been very fortunate to have some outstanding actors speaking the words I’ve written and wonderful directors direct them, incredible designers design them … It is, truly, a collaborative experience. In that sense there is definitely a bit of thrill sitting in the audience and hearing those words you wrote come to life.

What do you think is the hardest part of writing a playscript?

I think, once you’re on a roll, the writing itself is not hard but all that stuff that happens once the play is ready can be difficult; getting that team together who want to get this play on as much as you do. And then, of course, making it happen – finding rehearsal venues, an affordable performance space, marketing, publicity …

How do you approach writing setting and exposition for the stage?

I keep setting very simple. I don’t want to dictate to the designers exactly how the set should look – that’s the designer’s job. I usually just write a couple of words to give some context of where the play is set. In Dropped it was “Somewhere else. Some time in the future.” I hope to write plays that provoke and challenge directors, designers and actors just as much as the audience members. Exposition can be a tricky thing. As a writer I am always thinking about what the characters already know and what can be left unsaid. I think it is often the unsaid, the silences, the unfinished sentences that tell an audience more than long-winded passages of exposition. Theatre is action.

Your advice for someone thinking about writing for stage?

Do it! Write some dialogue and get a group of friends around to read it out loud. Then, when you are ready, put it on – it is important for the work to actually be seen!

About Katy Warmer

Katy is a Melbourne-based emerging playwright. Her play Dropped was recently performed with La Mama Theatre. She also wrote and performed in These are the isolate in 2010. Katy is planning a trip to the UK in the near future. She blogs at http://katywarner.com/.

About John Back

John Back is a Program Intern (Theatre) at Writers Victoria. He is on Facebook and tweets at @mrjohnaback.