The Most Curious Playwrights
This year, friend of Mona Magazine The Curious Rabbit bookshop, art gallery and performance space allowed women to submit a script to be crowned The Most Curious Playwright! Lauren interviews the fantastically talented Judge's Choice winner, Zoe Hadler, and the intelligent and hilarious People's Choice winner, Allison Fradkin.
Order your copy of Mona Magazine Issue 2 now to read Zoe Hadler's play Connection, and head to The Curious Rabbit's website for more information on upcoming writing, theatre and Queer community events.
Can you tell us the story behind your play, Connection?
Connection was inspired by my experiences as a member of the Queer community, as well as another work I had written titled Messages: An Asexual’s Guide to Love and Group Chats. Both pieces were meant to explore aspects of the Asexual experience and the complicated relationship you can have with your own sense of attraction, but Connection specifically was meant to be about the lingering effects of that.
I also wanted it to be about re-finding young love at a better time; I’m a big believer in the idea that people are meant to find each other, they just don’t always know how or why. I think if Lily and Heather had started dating when Lily first had a crush on Heather it would’ve crashed and burned since they were both finding themselves, especially Lily who was going through a big identity shift. But I also think they were meant to be friends and teachable moments for each other, so that five years down the line they could actually meet each other on the same playing field.
Why did you decide to submit it to the Curious Playwright competition for women?
I actually decided to submit to the Curious Playwright competition on a whim! A few friends of mine were also submitting, and I thought it was such a good concept and an amazing way for female playwrights to get their work seen. I chose Connection since it’s my favourite short play I’ve written, and I feel like it showcases my favourite parts of my writing, like the use of a pseudo-Greek chorus, the fast paced dialogue, and the use of sound and movement over traditional scene setting techniques. I’ve also recently re-located to Melbourne after living in Wagga my entire life, and submitting to Curious Women felt like a nice way to reconnect with the community that shaped me as an artist.
Which theatrical genre do you write in most?
I classify most of my work as comedic dramas. I love to play with serious subject matter in a fun, fast-paced, and slightly unexpected way. With Connection, I knew that the subject matter on the surface – two women who went to university together meeting for coffee – had to have a strong emotional core and there had to be high stakes behind it. I find in theatrical work, regardless of genre, you need to have to have characters and the audience experiencing emotional highs and lows in order to find balance, too much of one or the other and any work can begin to feel ungrounded. Even famous works of tragedy have light moments, which only makes the tragedy more heartbreaking.
Who would be your ideal theatre-goer for Connection?
I originally wrote it with the intention of it being performed as part of Wagga’s 10x10 play festival. I’d worked on a full length play the year prior and I wanted to do a bite sized version of the same themes; so the audience was pretty similar in that I like to write for the Queer people in the community so that they feel less alone, while also writing for people who aren’t members of that community to be better educated on these feelings and issues. In a general sense, I’d describe my audience as young, empathetic, and either members of, or close to, the Queer community.
When did you begin writing scripts? What are some tips for those writers who would like to try their hand at it?
I’d dabbled a bit in playwriting when I was younger, but I didn’t actually begin writing plays properly until I began doing a Masters in Creative Practice where I specialised in writing and performing for theatre. I fell in love with it because, compared to the narrative pieces I was writing, there’s a big sense of potential with scripts. There’s less description of how characters are behaving or what they’re doing because, as much as you imagine how a scene will play out, there’s a thousand other ways it could happen once given to actors and directors. I also really like that plays have a time limit. Whether they’re short plays or not, there’s a certain expectation of time that you have to consider, and it’s a genre of writing that lends itself to killing your darlings pretty extensively.
I have one main tip for anyone wanting to dabble in playwriting, which is one that was given to me many times over my Masters by my two supervisors Dr Robert Lewis and Dr Dominique Sweeney: You don’t have to write what you know if you are writing the truth. Always, ALWAYS find the truth of what you are writing; that’s what will keep an audience engaged and it’s what will make you want to keep working on a project. As a writer, you can get so caught up in the tiny details of what you’re doing, so entrenched in the nitty gritty of writing as a concept, that you lose track of why you began writing in the first place. I had to be told to re-find the truth in my work and then go on a huge re-writing spree several times over my Masters, and honestly I found working on little pieces like Connection helped keep me centred. Honestly, if you’re new to playwriting, short plays may feel like hard mode because they need to pack a lot in to a small timeframe, but I think writing lots of short plays with the expectation that they’ll be bad is one of the most useful things you can do to make playwriting less daunting.
Who are your writing role models and idols?
I have a lot of inspirations from different sources when it comes to writing, and for playwriting I love to draw inspiration from more than just writers, so forgive me if this seems like a grab bag! For writers, I’m very inspired by Donna Abela and Van Badham (two women I’ve been incredibly lucky to get to meet in the past!), Eamon Flack of Belvoir St Theatre, Dave Malloy (Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812) and the works of William Shakespeare and the Greek tragedians. As far as other inspirations, I’m a huge fan of the work of director Stephen Nicolazzo (Little Ones Theatre), author Virginia Woolf, and the performance and training work of John Nobbs and Jaqui Carroll (Originators of the Nobbs Suzuki Praxis, also known as NSP).
What is your proudest writing achievement thus far and why?
Apart from winning this competition of course! I feel like I have two big achievements in my writing career: The first was taking a version of my Thesis play Messages: An Asexual’s Guide to Love and Group Chats to the Festival of Australian Student Theatre (FAST) in Brisbane. It was the first time any of my work had been performed outside of Wagga and the first time people completely divorced from the origin of my narrative had viewed my work. I got to collaborate with so many amazing people over the months leading up to that trip, and over the festival itself I feel like I learned more about myself as a writer and how it feels to be a working creative than I had in a long time.
The second achievement is also related to Messages and is the fact I got to put it on as a full production at the end of my degree. It was my first time working as a producer as well as a performer, and it is maybe the most stressed I’ve ever been in my life. But it was also the most incredibly rewarding experience. Being able to perform my work for a real life paying audience, of people who had both supported me the entire time as well as complete strangers, is the proudest I have ever been of myself and the creatives around me in my life. It was also the last physical show I got to do before the pandemic hit and before I left my home of Wagga to move to Melbourne, so that definitely plays a role in how proud I am of this achievement.
What inspired your play Lesbian Lipstick? Why did you decide to submit it to the Curious Playwright competition for women?
The 1980s is my favourite time period for pop culture and an especially intriguing decade because it was at once progressive and regressive. There was this societal quest to go back to the future, specifically the clean-cut, white-bread conservatism of the nifty fifties, and in this quest we revived the sexism, heterosexism, and consumerism exuberant in that era. Lesbian Lipstick aims to deconstruct these timeless institutions -- and also explore how they still exist/persist today -- with the help of something seemingly superficial but conspicuously compulsory: make-up. The characters inhabit a satirical alternate universe version of the 80s, one in which being queer -- or, more specifically, gay and lesbian -- is acceptable. But anything that deviates from that inflexible either/or binary, in this case bisexuality, is cause for suspicion and censure. Fortunately, thanks to Very Gay Cosmetics, the gals are able to lay the foundation for a revolution in which women of all sexual orientations can beautify (and beaut-defy) societal roles and expectations. I submitted the script to the Curious competition because they were looking for plays that were both delightful and insightful, not to mention unquestionably unconventional. Would you classify Lesbian Lipstick as a comedy? Yes! I would say my writing style is satirically scintillating, as comedy in general and satire in particular can be really effective when exploring and exposing sensitive subjects. Plus, I love the challenge of writing comedy -- it's risky, because what might be funny on the page (to the playwright, anyway) may not always translate seamlessly to the stage.
Did you write Lesbian Lipstick with an audience in mind?
Curious people, of course! People who are passionate about their favourite things but who also like to think critically about them. For example, the play encourages audiences to ponder the question: When it comes to visibility and validation, particularly beyond binaries, do we really have more inclusivity than you can shake a lipstick at, or are there aspects of progress that are still problematic?
You're quite an accomplished and experienced writer, when did you begin writing for live theatre and what do you enjoy about this form in particular?
I've been writing plays for about twenty years. I love writing for the theatre because there's limitless potential for variation in the interpretation and presentation of the material. So many people
can inhabit the same role, and it's neat to think that everyone's portrayal will be different, yet still accurate and authentic. I also appreciate the bond that develops between characters and audience members, as well as the urgency and in-the-moment-ness of it -- you can't pause live theatre or do a re-take. Both actors and audience members experience the play in real time, together, ensuring that everyone present (physically and emotionally) is essential to the production. What are some tips for those writers who would like to try their hand at this form of writing? For writers who want to try their hand at playwriting, think about what you've seen (or haven't) seen onstage and consider what you'd do differently. Even if it's a subject or story that's been told before, put your own special spin on it and tell it in a way that's fresh and nuanced. I'm a very character-oriented writer, whereas some people may be plot-driven, but there's no right way to write a play. No matter what your voice or style is, your writing won't appeal to everyone. Nor should it! YOU have to like what you've written and be your biggest supporter. That's what'll keep you going. I'd also stay start small -- with a monologue or a 10-minute play, as it's far less intimidating than writing a full-length for the first time. Who are the influences on your writing?
I adore character studies with luxurious language and a vintage vibe. Plays like 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche, Steel Magnolias, and The Women feature writing that's witty and gritty, brainy and zany, and super fun for the actors and director to take on. I also admire the writers of classic screwball comedy films and old-time radio shows, because the laugh lines garnered genuine laughs, and the dialogue required audiences to be attentive and astute.
Can you tell us about your writing achievements thus far?
Completing my full-length lesbian-feminist musical tribute to The Golden Girls, which recently had its world premiere in the U.S. has been my proudest achievement. I wrote the musical not just because I am a gargantuan fan of The Golden Girls, but because I wanted to write the kind of tribute that the Girls deserve, one in which everyone's favourite sorority of seniority would be portrayed not by cisgender men but by female-identifying (and age-appropriate) actors.