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CASP funded project: Central West Short Play Festival

 

This story first appeared in Arts Sunday, March 3, 2013

By Maryanne Jaques, Arts OutWest
An angry cat. A reflective old man. Some nosy house guests. A guy who just wants a date. When you have a stage, some actors and 10 minutes or so to tell a story, anything is possible.

That’s what the Bathurst Theatre Company and Local Stages at BMEC set out to prove eight months ago with the first of a series of Central West Short Play Writing Festival workshops.

More than a dozen local writers from Bathurst, Cowra and Canowindra have since learnt play writing skills from some of the country’s most experienced theatre makers. Now, eight brand new, locally written short plays will be performed this April in Bathurst.

Playwrights Alex Broun (co founder of the Short + Sweet festival), Hilary Bell and Melbourne-based playwright and academic Robert Reid each spent a weekend in the region working intensively with local writers. In between the workshops participants got together to have drafts of their work read aloud by local actors.

“Alex Broun and Hilary Bell were fantastic with getting plays started and assisting with developing initial ideas and shaping them into coherent and interesting scripts. Robert Reid was so quick to get the ideas of the works already developed and how to finesse ideas, dialogue and structure,” project organiser and professional theatre maker Bec Russell said.

The ten selected short plays will be performed over two nights – Friday April 5 and Saturday April 6 – at the intimate Ponton Theatre on the CSU Bathurst campus. The plays range from poignant dramas to sharp comedies, all around 10 minutes in length. A repeat season is planned for Cowra or Canowindra later in the year.

Bec Russell said there is a growing interest locally in playwriting. She chose a short play format because it is achievable and accessible for local writers and fun for audiences.

“A project like this is important to the region. It allows the community to share their stories and culture, build on skills of how to tell their stories theatrically and extend their theatre appreciation. It also connects smaller towns and villages to creative outlets in larger towns, allowing them to share their own story and build stronger relationships with these bodies,” Ms Russell said.

Canowindra based freelance journalist Julia Andrews had a wealth of writing experience under her belt but hadn’t considered writing for the stage until a friend told her about the workshops.

“I had a moment of ‘seize the day’ clarity and signed up. It was a fantastic opportunity,” Ms Andrews said.

“That Hilary Bell was the tutor was definitely an incentive. Hilary has such a gentle, nurturing teaching style and she managed to tease words and stories out that I didn’t know I had in me. The workshop was quite intense. There is nothing like a writing exercise with a time limit to get the blood pumping and the creative juices flowing.”
Julia’s first short play ‘The Picnic Spot’, about an old farmer facing the loss of the farm, has been selected for performance in the festival.

“I’m not sure how I feel about seeing my play performed in April. Certainly excited… and a little nervous. I am very curious to see how the director and actors interpret the story and characters,” she trusts them, though, to bring the characters to life and maintain the story’s integrity.

“It is all a very steep learning curve for me – but I am really enjoying the ride,” Julia said.

Bec Russell knew there was lots of talent in the community but she’s still been surprised by the standard of work produced through the workshops. Whilst the focus has been on short plays, the process has unearthed much more.

“There are so many stories out there being developed. It is very impressive to see the amount of film and longer play scripts that are also being created in the area. A definite highlight is the discovery of a fantastic new work by one of our participants that Rob Reid and the festival will be developing into a full length play, hopefully producing it to be toured to the major cities. It’s very exciting to be taking our work to the city for a change,” Ms Russell said.

“What’s developed is a strong network of local playwrights and theatre makers who will have the skills to develop and produce their own work – making the region a culturally richer and more creative place to live,” Ms Russell said.

The project has been funded by the Country Arts Support Program, Local Stages at Bathurst Memorial Entertainment Centre and Bathurst Theatre Company.

With each play at around 10 minutes these present an opportunity for locals to direct or perform without having to commit to lots of hours of rehearsal. Anyone interested in performing, directing or helping out backstage can contact Bec Russell on centralwestshortplayfest@gmail.com or at BMEC on 6333 6161.

 

Image by Arts OutWest, actor Vince Melton at workshops.