A Playwright's Pondering
This week, new Mona member Leonie Napier, shares with us her journey as the writer and producer (and actor in!) of her play Bloodshed at the Banquet, performed this year as part of the Art Deco festival.
My mind is an overactive concoction of imaginings and possibility that I relish dreaming on and talking about. But, in a brief moment a seed, a thought, an idea that I so fervently spoke about was seized into reality! A snippet of history was revealed to me that the great Queen of Murder Mystery, Agatha Christie, stayed for a brief moment at the Historic Hydro Hotel in Leeton as a delegate of the British Empire Tour one hundred years ago. Of course, I was duty bound to investigate the truth and was delighted to verify this morsel of musing that inspired a notion. Boldly I announced that a play could be written and performed in a Theatre Party event for the Australian Art Deco Festival (AADF) held in Leeton each July. A murder mystery paying homage to this incredible author. The idea was received with great enthusiasm by the festival and events manager. Suddenly, it was registered as a major ticketing event for the AADF!
Then it began. The imposter syndrome, with its jury of accusers fuelling fears and doubts.
Fiery darts of reality reminded me that I had never, ever written a play before. I had no formal qualifications, no publications, absolutely no credibility at all. Talk about consequences. I had run my mouth into overdrive. The treacherous time was ticking with only eleven months to go.
Procrastination arrived in the guise of perfectionism that, quite deftly, wound the springs of anxiety with a foreshadowing doom of public humiliation. The jury of accusers with their smug look glared down at me ruthlessly. Recognising these regular cohorts, I paused to reflect. The manager of this festival had freely given her confidence in me. She believed in me so why didn’t I believe in myself? Infused with courage from this revelation, I placed the accusers on a shelf and fixed my focus firmly forward.
To the Grindstone
My fascination with human behaviour, experiences, stories and history that have forged the world we live in bubbled about with ideas and vision. Creative arts are indeed a platform that can magnify a voice to provoke a thought and activate a passion with an aim to create a positive change. With that resolution I placed value on my voice. My research for a human-interest piece for the amazing Mona Magazine became a formulating seed to a story. The heinous and booming criminal activity of human slavery is rarely discussed or even considered as a reality, yet it is a world-wide criminal activity. There it was an opportunity to bring a voice to the suffering and to provoke the passions of people and raise awareness of the existence of human slavery.
I felt confident that the play was conceived and beginning to develop. Using creative licence, I brought Agatha Christie’s journey as a delegate for the British Empire Tour into an adventurous murder mystery that she would eventually use for her new novel of course! To add life to a story I found research was a key. I studied stories about Agatha Christie and her relationship with her first husband Archie. I included other members on the tour and sought to understand them, their role and how they would fit into the story. I discovered interesting events on the original tour that occurred and wove them into the tale. I submerged myself in the times and most importantly activated a sharp sense of curiosity. To have an audience to find themselves drawn into a story, it is important to feed them with a need to know more. It is vital in developing a story to apply that simple technique of questioning. Who, what, when, where, how and why are little threads of gold that sow pieces of word fabric together oxygenated with the breath of life.
As a reader of Agatha Christie novels, I enjoyed integrating names of her novels within the script such as The Cat Among the Pigeons and The Secret Adversary. Oh, this was pretty cool, I was beginning to have fun. I gave myself permission to be outrageous and bring in a range of other characters. It was particularly amusing to create names such as Bertie Button and then create his history, his motivations and his attitudes that would reflect his experiences. Bertie was given secrets, unknown relationships and character traits. Oh, he was beginning to grow, to have influence, to become alive. Of course, all stories require conflict, a protagonist and an antagonist. But I asked myself, why have one of each. Certainly, I can have more.
I felt risky and excited about creating new characters that evolved into new beings, new personalities and motives. The romantic hero, the lost orphan child, to strong modern women and the would-be war hero. Each life form was christened with a name, a history and a connection. Delving deep into the psyche of the scarred, hungry, lost and oppressed my characters displayed multi-faceted layers of life. Transporting myself into war times I sought to understand the drive of the justice fighters along with the corruption of humanity as power, greed and desperation took hold. As human beings we are affected deeply by emotions and sensory sensations and therefore it is essential to humanise each character and create connection. This allows the emergence of characters that are just words on paper into the vibrancy of life.
I fell deeply in love with all the characters whether they were loveable or ghastly. I spent time with them and empathised with each one on their journey of discovery. Suddenly, like a hot knife through butter, it came. That critic from the sisterhood who harshly and publicly declared my writing to need considerable work and that my character was far from honourable. Thud!! Of course, I fell immediately into self-flagellation and despair and stagnated as a frozen moment of time. There was silence for a time, and I felt lost and isolated, but the voices of encouragement rose in support. Thank you, team Mona, and others who knew me at a deeper level. With the nurturing voices of support, my nourished soul rose to daring to hold pen to paper and begin once more.
The Stage is Set
Ta, da!! Finally, Bloodshed at the Banquet was complete. With a sigh of relief, I announced this major feat. The response was somewhat unexpected. It led me to take a deep breath as a new adventure took shape as a newly appointed talent scout. My eyes sharply scrutinised a bevy of local people who would nurture these characters and give flight to their personality but, with a melodramatic flair. Time was of the essence and soon a multi-generational selection of cast and crew filled the void. We began with a read through of the script which had this collective look to me to direct and guide them.
My goodness, this was becoming bigger than Ben Hur. I quickly learnt a new glossary of terms for theatre. Blocking, stage right, stage left, stage management and props. Our little team of budding thespians studied hard to put themselves aside and step into another time. Excitement peaked with merely a week to go and this play would become a reality. Then, like a curtain call lined with lead COVID-19 dashed the production with a single blow. Cancelled!
We all felt like we had played an epic game of Dodgeball but had been struck, flatted and breathless by this Health Order Medicine Ball.
It did not end there; the show did go on twelve months later and was received very well indeed. The first twelve months I see as a proving ground that developed insight and understanding. It was apparent after such a long break I had to recast many new thespians into the Bloodshed at the Banquet family, but it was a new life force of new skills and passion that would knit together so many different people into lifelong friends.
Recanting this adventure creates in me a swell of joy even amid the times of the shadows. My mission in sharing this journey of structuring a story is one that I hope will give you understanding of your strength and resolve.
Writing is an incredible gift and from the words you share you enable yourself to expose the authentic you.
I encourage you to take a break from the cycle of self-defeat and call out fear, comparison, perfectionism and procrastination for what they really are. Shackles and chains that bind your voice. Honour yourself and allow yourself to write, to dream and to give value to the creative you.
Leonie Napier is community minded with a focus on developing relationships that encourage empathy and understanding. It is her hope that women build one another up to be confident in who they are, to understand their value and apply their courage within that gives rise to a voice that nurtures each of us to thrive. She is a writer of fiction and theatre having just written and starred in her first production Bloodshed at the Banquet at the Leeton Art Dec Festival to raving reviews.