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  • Ned Manning

The power of writing for theatre

Updated: May 26, 2020

Sometimes writing for the theatre is the most rewarding thing you can do. It's a privilege to sit in an audience and share the experience of a creative team and a bunch of actors bringing your words to life. It doesn't matter if it's on the "main stage" or on the back of a truck. It's the same. It's really special and it may be one of the reasons many of us keep on writing for theatre.


Another reason might be that we believe that the theatre is a communal place where we can have our hearts and minds opened to worlds that we never knew existed.


In am interesting, circular way, this is exactly what I have been privileged to experience over the past six months.


I have been engaged in a teaching kids from Bendigo Senior Secondary College playwriting. I've been working with teachers, a literary manager, an arts organisation, a theatre company and a researcher to help bring teenagers words to life. To provide them with the tools to tell their stories on the stage.


Teaching playwrighting is something that I have been doing for as long as I can remember, although not exactly on this scale or with this level of support. I believe that writing for the theatre enables us to speak in our own voices. For teenagers it means that they way they interact has a validity that might not be acknolwedged in other forms of expression.


"Whatevs". "LOL". "WTF". All perfectly legitimate in dialogue.


As are "err...", "dunno" and "aargh".


So we set out to encourage the 50 students we were working with to tell their own stories, in their own way. 


But, like most things to do with kids, this experience has had it's own special narrative.

The kids at Bendigo Senior Secondary College aren't all that different from country kids anywhere in Australia. Some are really into what they are doing, some dream of greener pastures and some are barely there at all. Our collaboration managed to encourage all of these disparate groups to find their own voices and to create, and perform, pieces of theatre crafted from their own imaginings.


As well as these "local" kids a bunch of Karen kids joined in. The Karen people are refugees. A lot of these kids had been born in refugee camps on the Thai/Burmese border. None of them had ever seen a "play" or been into a theatre. They knew about storytelling of course, but not in this form.


The first day they joined the group we had to virtually drag them into the room. A combination of fear, mistrust and shyness had them huddling around the doorway looking like they would rather be anywhere else but in a playwriting workshop.


Gradually we began to win them around. "Playing" does that. "Playing" is what we do in the theatre. Sometimes we like to pretend it has way more gravitas to it than that but when it's all said and done, that's what it is.  


Playing.


And telling stories. Important stories. Stories that can change the way we view the world. Or ourselves. 


The local Bendigo kids told stories that ranged from a teenage nightmare channelling Carrie, The Exorcist andThe Shining to a very clever piece of writing set in a fridge to the kind of teen drama we would expect from...well...teenagers. All very legitimate and very representative of their individual voices.


The Karen kids told two stories. One was a love story about a Prince who wanted to marry a village girl but was forbidden to do so by his father, the King. The other charted the journey of a Karen familey from the village to a refugee camp to Australia.


These disaparate stories were brought to life at the Fire Station in Bendigo and at the Lawler Theatre at the MTC. They were performed by their creators and they brought the house down in both places. 


What made them remarkable was that they were genuine voices speaking a genuine language.


Their own.

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© 2020 by Ned Manning.