Sunday, March 23, 2008

Metonymic matching

It's Easter weekend here and I've used it for some much needed catchup with (a.) some of my long neglected friends and (b.) my even more neglected sleep.

It really feels like I've been running since I came back to Auckland from Palmerston North... I have definitely not been living the languid life of an artist (most of my friends don't think I'm capable of living the languid life of anything). University, various gigs that I was and still am organising and the panicked writing of Lantern have seen to that.

Anyway, one of the leisurely pleasures I had this weekend was making a new friend, Cat. Cat is my creative partner on Metonymy, one of my projects that grew out of the "what-if" and "why-not?" conversations that I'm always having with people. The idea behind this one was that artists and poets are natural creative partners, but the two worlds often don't touch enough for people to properly collaborate. So me and some other poet/artist friends created what is essentially a blind dating service - artists and poets send in details and a sample of work, we match people (including ourselves, of course, or it wouldn't be any fun), sit back and wait for the creative explosion. (we've also set up an exhibition, wider networking/sale opportunities and performance gigs).

Cat is one of those awesome artistic types who doesn't know how cool she is. She lives with her equally artistic partner in her studio, a two-storeyed space next to an art gallery - how cool is that! And she has the requisite cat who thinks she's human.

More importantly, she and I can riff for hours (as we found out) on our favourite co-obsessions: the artist as object, body morphology, the twisting of truth and appearance and the hollowness of those who think they know what they're talking about. It was great, easy, deep conversation of the sort I always crave, all washed down with tea, girl guide biscuits and some damn good icecream. And we're meeting up again next week to do some more riffing - and hopefully to start work on our joint project. Yippee!! Have bought a new black notebook in readiness and already started scrawling in my old one.... strange diagrams of bits of anatomy mostly.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Raw Read Raw

Had the reading of my first long play, "Lantern", last night. I think it's safe to say it was a success - 75 people showed up (catching The Edge staff by surprise - they had to get extra chairs), and the majority stayed for the whole 1 1/2hour reading and then for a further half hour of audience feedback.

One of the things I wasn't prepared for was the huge attack of nerves I had as I neared the Aotea Centre where the reading was to be held. (It helped a little that Andy and Li-Ming, my two wonderful actors, were also feeling slightly sick). I consider myself relatively unflappable when it comes to potential public humiliation. I get a little nervous beforehand, but once I'm up there on the stage I tend to enjoy it. I'm one of the lucky ones I guess.

This time it wasn't me up there on display, but my writing, which somehow seemed even more personal and terrifying. Lantern is not autobiographical, as anyone who has heard the play can attest, but like any writer I inserted a bit of myself into every character and liberally mined the experiences of my friends(some of whom were sitting in the audience!)for a lot of the rest.

So there I was, hiding in the audience as Tony the director, Andy and Li-Ming did an excellent job of the script (it definitely didn't sound like it was only their second full read through, which it was!). I was feeling really wound up, trying to note where the audience responded, where they laughed, where they seemed disinterested, where they held their breaths. I was still tense at interval between the first and second acts even though I was pretty sure the second act, as well as being far shorter, would draw people in if they weren't already.

The feedback session was both uplifting and terrifying. Although I was surprised at some of the audience response (in particular, no one seemed to 'get' initially that the play was actually a universal one about love, overdressed as it was in its cultural cloak), it was really affirming for me as a writer how quickly people attached to the characters and how they started jumping to the defense of their favourite character.

In retrospect, I'm starting to understand how writing theatre is very different to writing, say, a novel. For a start, you're not alone when you create a character: the actor is your helper, they "complete the gesture", as Tony Forster our director told us. (He was quoting someone famous). So instead of long dark nights wrestling with the inner demons of character and how to portray them in a fresh way on the page, you "live" the character, annotate it in some way in your text/stage directions and then work out the rest in collaboration with your actor and director. This is not to say that you don't think deeply about character/motivations/backstory as you would with any narrative; it's just that there's more than one person working on it, so it's a different process.

I think this play is also unusual in that it's so freshly formed that all of it is still up for negotiation. (we were still hacking away at it over our pre-show pies, minutes before the performance!). I don't have an overwhelming attachment to any part or character, which makes it easier to do the pruning and shaping which I'm up to now. I was also lucky to have three very supportive co-collaborators all of whom are artists in their own right: Tony Forster, Li-Ming Hu and Andy Wong. They were conscientious in saying what they liked and didn't like through the workshop process, which helped alleviate my feeling of swimming in the dark a little bit.

Where to next? The response has encouraged me to keep going with "Lantern". I'll be having another development workshop later in the year, and then looking at a small but full production, if all goes well. Yay!!

Thanks to Al Kwun, The Edge publicist extraordinaire, for the photos :)

Hone Reading.. recording's up!!

Here's the recording of the reading at Palmy North Library last month for your listening pleasure. Thanks again to Genny and Philippa, librarians extraordinaire!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Getting there.. slowly

Been chipping away at this (I tell myself) I'm within a few scenes of finishing. If only I could stop myself from going back to the start and reediting, damn, it's becoming a compulsion.

In between I'm looking up papers and making notes for an essay on Global Public Health... such is my schizophrenic life. Don't think any of the material will cross over, but you never know. Usually while I'm looking industrious in lectures I am, in fact, making cryptic notes in the margins of my handouts:
"Ken = angry at Rose?" or with an arrow pointing randomly somewhere : "use in short story???"

The workshop on a Sat was a buzz...and not just because I was drinking coffee from the Starks coffee cart. Lynda Chanwai Earle recently warned me that if I started writing plays the theatre would draw me in and I would get distracted from other forms -you were right, Lynda! The development process is rapid (well it is if you have poor time management skills like me!), and there's fast feedback if you're lucky enough to have a development reading.

And it's an amazing, if slightly vertiginous, feeling to watch three people who have never read the script before, engage with characters and story to the point where they're fighting to defend their own views of them. Magical. Truly.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

What I'm currently panicking about

Nope, the play's not finished yet. Not even close (hysterical laughter).

Workshop (closed to the public) this Saturday - should be good, if I'm not comatose by then.
Public reading the Monday week. Please come, if you happen to be in Auckland!! And feel free to bring tomatoes if you think they'll be needed. So long as you buy me a hot chocolate afterwards......

Lantern – a first play by Renee Liang
Read Raw - Workshop reading of work in progess
Directed by Tony Forster, with Li-Ming Hu and Andy Wong
Herald Theatre foyer, THE EDGE, Monady 17th March

Reading will commence at 7.15pm, comments from audience invited after. This is a first reading of a new work which is still in the process of being written.
Constructive feedback is most welcome, in fact necessary, to inform the playwright for the next stage of writing.

Summer, 2008. As the rest of Auckland is getting down to long days by the beach, the Chen family get ready for Chinese New Year's Eve – a time by which all debts must be settled, the house swept clean of issues, and families reconciled. Jen is 25 going on 40, caught between worrying about her depressed father and wondering if she's ever going to find the right man. Her younger brother Ken is a loose cannon, unsure of his direction in life. Their father Henry is a broken man. And then his wife Rose, who walked out of their lives a year ago, waltzes back in….

A play about finding out who you really are. And who you really love.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Back to Uni

It's been a great summer, with me gadding about the country, working, talking a lot and getting in a surprising amount of poetry. But I'm now back at uni, taking mainly Drama papers (in writing, mostly) and one in Population Health, which despite its small point loading (30) has a LOT of reading. Yesterday (Monday) was my first day back, and it was an odd feeling, drifting like a small dark cloud through these clouds of brightly-dressed first years, who are young enough to be my patients, and very very very excited to be at uni for the first time. Everything is so new to them.

It's been a relief to hang up my doctor hat for a while and just get back to the practice of reading, dreaming and writing. I was really looking forward to it, those last few weeks of work in Palmerston North. At the same time, every now and then I hear this voice saying to me "What are you doing? You're not moving on with your life!" It's the old conflicts and self doubt, back again. I'm not happy to be fully in either world, I'm not happy to be away from either of them. But I am, as my friend put it, "following my bliss." Who knows where it will lead and whether in following the fairy I'll trip and land on my face. But I won't know until I've tried it.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Beyond the Blue

I'm only having partial success in hiding myself away to finish this play, my first "long" play, which is supposedly being workshopped in 6 days. (Har. Har.) Of course all the distractions are quite pleasurable and hard to turn down. One of them was a theatre show I attended last night, and reviewed for Lumiere, which was quite magical if notably oestrogen-rich (but there's nothing wrong with that!).

Right. Websurfing over for the next hour, nose back to the grindstone.