The truth of the stage

Thursday, July 24, 2014
Emma Buckley interviewed by John Back

Emma Buckley is an emerging writer and director for theatre, based in Melbourne. She spoke with Writers Victoria intern John about the need for truth in good writing and the shift between filmed and live performance.

Tell us a little of your story as a theatre maker.

I actually have a background in filmmaking. I spent a few years as a freelance filmmaker and educator, teaching filmmaking to kids in rural and indigenous communities all over Australia. In 2011, I started exploring other storytelling art forms in Melbourne and worked as a puppeteer. I started to love live performance. This led to writing and directing my first play in collaboration with visual artist, Fyodor Krasniy.

The play, Jack and Jill: The Poisoners of London, had a sell-out season at The Butterfly Club at the end of 2013 and I became hooked on creating for theatre. Most recently I have directed playwright Neil Cole’s Where To From Here? and I got the opportunity to write and direct a roving actor’s performance for Pop-Up Event’s Squizzy Taylor’s Ball.

Why is theatre important to you?

Interesting question! I think theatre can have a lot of heart to it and watching and producing theatre just seems to really fill me up and inspire me. The challenge and the creativity – it can be so stimulating and fun in both the writing and directing of live performance. I love the abstract and temporary nature of live performance too. With theatre we are creating a kind of temporary, shared experience with the audience. That aspect is rewarding (and risky, with the removal of the opportunity to film another take or alter the story through the edit) but I love that risk for some reason. I feel it makes theatre performance richer for it.

What’s on your calendar?

The rest of this year is quite exciting. I will be directing two productions for playwright Neil Cole. Who Saved JFK? to be performed at The Butterfly Club in July; Billy Possible slated for September at The Mechanics Institute in Brunswick. I am currently revamping the script for Jack and Jill: The Poisoners of London, to put on again at The Mechanics Institute in November.

Additionally I am working on a sort of sequel to Jack and Jill, currently entitled Dr Clock and Mr Bird, which we hope to put on at end of 2015.

How much of your day is dedicated to directing and writing?

I would love to impart an image of myself working hard at my desk a good several hours a day but I am afraid I am not the most disciplined of writers.

On average, fitting it in around my day job, I probably spend between 2-3 hours a day about 3 times a week working on plays (writing or preparation for directing). However, once deadlines loom and the pressure mounts that can increase up to all of my free time in the months leading up to a production.

Once the script is written, do you think the playwright should get out of the way and let the show free?

I think if a director is on board they are there because of their vision, skill and ability to bring a script to life. That role is worthy of trust and so they should be given the trust to do the written work justice. Depending on the director this may mean they collaborate strongly with the writer or not at all, but that trust is important.

However, being a relatively new writer I haven’t actually had the experience of having anything I’ve written being directed by someone else. I would be interested to have that opportunity, and then maybe from the playwright perspective I might feel different seeing someone direct it with a very different vision. I guess it’s ultimately the role of the playwright to ensure their writing is strong and clear enough to direct the director on the vision and truth of the story.

Put the director’s hat on for a bit. What’s most important to you in a script?

The ‘truth’ of the script and the characters. There is always some core to a good script/story and when you are directing I think it is most important to be loyal and serve the truth of the story and the characters in it. All answers to the directing come from this core and all decisions have to be for the best expression of the ‘truth’ in the written work.

What do you think is most challenging about writing a playscript?

Sitting down at the computer and actually writing it! I’m a sucker for procrastination and can find any excuse to go to the fridge or go bother my flatmate or check Facebook. I’m actually procrastinating from doing some director preparation right now answering these interview questions!

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

I think I’m probably a bit filmic in the way I write stage-plays, as I’m a bit more familiar with writing screenplays. I tend to write a lot of visual detail first, exactly how I envisage it on the stage, and then I have to go back over it and take all the unnecessary detail out. This is where I try to be more economical and smarter with how exposition is imparted and re-work any clunky elements of exposition within the plot development and the dialogue.

Your advice for someone thinking about writing for stage?

Come up with an idea, get a team together and then lock in dates for the production. For example, apply to be a part of Fringe Festival in 2015, or book a show run with any of the great venues that support the works of early theatre practitioners, like The Butterfly Club in Melbourne. Nothing works like a deadline to get you writing efficiently and I’m a big believer in diving in and just going for it. Deadlines are your friend and independent production is a great way to ensure your work gets out there and gets seen.

About Emma Buckley

Emma Buckley is a theatre writer and director based in Melbourne.

About John Back

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