Yesterday I was rushing to fill out a major application for Bitten By Productions and I stumbled on a bit of a dilemma. The application required details of every previous show the theatre company applying had done, including reviews. For us, this would range from Reunion, the tiny, unassuming comedy I put on with friends back in 2013, to Moonlite, the play with songs that has sold out almost its whole season and has a cast of trained musical theatre professionals, which opens tomorrow.
Moments like this, moments that literally require you to chart years of creative development, are great for reflection, but the problem here is that said charting came as part of trying to convince a major player in the theatre scene to give us a lot of money for a future production. And frankly, I don’t especially want to hold up some of our earlier works as examples of what we can do now because they’re not.
I was lucky enough in that every play we’ve done has at least one positive review and even the reviews that were more on the fence came from early shows rather than anything we’ve done recently. Showing signs of clear development probably isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it does make me think. After all, we advertised plays like Below Babylon and A Good German with just as much conviction as we did far stronger recent shows like Springsteen or The Commune. To me and anyone who has seen all over even some of our output, the improvement is obvious. How could it not be? Over years of growing and learning if you don’t get better you’re doing something wrong. But the problem here is that, to the average punter who might have seen one of those early plays, there is no reason to believe that Bitten By Productions is now worth taking seriously. Not when you parted with your hard-earned for a show that might not have seemed worth it.
For creatives, this is a dilemma with no clear solution. I strongly believe that the only way to really improve is to put your work out there, gauge the reaction, learn from your mistakes, and continue. Sure, you can study writing for theatre and learn all the practices and conventions and whatever, but that will never teach you as much as sitting in a darkened room, hearing the gasps of audience members around you, or else reading a savage review or seeing friends lie through their teeth to your face about liking a show. It’s these tough experiences that make you learn, that cut your ego down to size and teach you that you have to stop thinking about art as self-expression. Nobody gives a fuck about your self-expression. Nobody should have to pay thirty dollars to see you express yourself. If you’re going to ask that of anyone then you have to offer them something else. What does your play have? Will it make them laugh? Cry? Shuffle to the edge of their seat, wide eyed and enraptured?
The truth of course is that opinions are subjective and not everyone will like your work even if you do everything right, but you will be coming from a much stronger position if you are able to justify to yourself why a total stranger should see this play. This requires interrogating the worth of every aspect of your script so that when faced with criticism you can at least justify why you made the choices you made.
In early plays I didn’t ask for much feedback. My tokenistic substitute for this was giving the scripts to people I privately knew would only say nice things. Essentially I, on some level knowingly, cut myself off to criticism because I believed I could do this and that my work deserved your time and money. In the process I took advantage of the support of friends and family, all of whom helped produce and put on plays that were simply not ready. And when the negative feedback came, I shrugged it off. I felt bad about it, sure, but I rarely engaged in what it was saying.
Engaging, here, doesn’t mean agreeing. It means listening and considering. You can think feedback is wrong. But you have to be able to articulate, at least to yourself, why it’s wrong. That is one of the biggest and most valuable lessons I’ve learned.
But, of course, it doesn’t heal the damage of those early mistakes. It won’t win back directors, producers and established actors who came and saw my plays on the recommendation of friends and probably walked away vowing never to trust that friend again, let alone see anything else written by that Bergmoser kid.
Of course this begs the question of at what point your work becomes consistently ready for consumption, and to that there is no answer. The best I can offer is that I used to look back on plays that were about a year old and cringe, now, when thinking over just about every script I’ve written since 2015, I can find something of value or at least justify why I made the choices I made. Not everything I wrote in that time was good, but the scripts I didn’t feel good about didn’t see the light of day. That might be the biggest difference.
I wish I could tell everyone who came and saw Below Babylon or A Good German and the rest that I’m a better writer now and my new work will be worth their time. But I can’t so I have to take the hit. And furthermore, if I could go back and tell my younger self not to produce work that wasn’t ready, I wouldn’t. The lessons I learned in that time, for me personally, made it all worthwhile.
It’s not a one size fits all thing. I wouldn’t recommend everyone make the choices I made. I’m impulsive and impatient and I’m lucky now to be surrounded by collaborators who temper those traits. If you have a play you want to produce, be honest with yourself, get it into the hands of people who will rip it to shreds and listen to them before you decide how to proceed. Because I can promise you with the weight that comes from experience that you will not get away with just throwing a show on and hoping for the best. But you will certainly learn from it.
For as long as there have been classics, people have been paying tribute or adding to them. Shakespeare has been reimagined so many times and almost all the Greek epic poems or plays soon got sequels from new writers, if they weren’t already an addendum to or reimagining of a previous piece. Basically, there has always been, and will always be a hunger for more of the stories we love. As such, a current media landscape dominated by nostalgia, long running franchises and reboots is hardly a new thing.
The truth here is that film and TV are relatively young mediums, and we’re only just reaching the point in their life cycle where returning to the well is becoming an ubiquitous thing, especially in TV. And unlike reimaginings of Shakespeare plays, in the cases of most television classics they’re recent enough for many of the key creatives to still be alive and active, meaning we’re seeing a glut of stars and creators returning to the characters that made their careers. From The X Files to Fuller House, Will and Grace to Roseanne, many long dormant properties are coming back and this is only the beginning.
It’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, streaming services mean that TV shows cut down in their prime can be revived, sometimes years after the fact (please save Hannibal), but on the other hand shows that had their time, had an impressive run and were considered classics are returning. When a series ended on its own terms after many seasons, do we really need more?
Recently I’ve been re-watching a lot of Arrested Development and Community. The two shows have a lot in common; both were clever cult hits that struggled in the ratings, both were unceremoniously cancelled and both were later revived by streaming services in victory lap runs generally considered to not hit the heights of their respective heydays. Nonetheless, both shows are still technically alive; Arrested Development has a fifth season coming this year and Community remains in active talks for a movie.
The other day I did a bit of an experiment with both shows; after watching a classic episode from an early season, I put on one from the revival. I turned off the first episode of Arrested Development’s fourth season after five minutes and laughed maybe once in the episode I chose from Community’s sixth. The contrast was stark and unflattering; neither show, in the end, was near its creative prime.
And yet, I’m still excited for more.
Part of this comes down to nostalgia; re-watching both shows instantly transports me back to the place I was in my life when I first discovered them, and that’s a potent thing, but unlike a belated sequel to a beloved film, a TV revival offers something a more. An actor friend of mine once said that TV was a preferred medium for him because it gave actors the chance to develop a character over an extended period of time, which, in turn, means that we build a relationship with them. Over several years and sometimes hundreds of episodes, we get to know and love the ensemble of a given favourite show and as such going back always feels like revisiting old friends. There is something inherently comforting in re-watching favourites, a reminder that no matter how far you have come in life, hours of entertainment with the fictional people you love are still there for you to go back to at any time. And if you follow a TV show for years it becomes more than just an instantaneous time portal; sometimes the lives and growth of these characters over an extended period of time can parallel your own, and so the attachments we forge become something more personal than that of recalling a single special moment.
In the case of a beloved film that we watch over and over pleasure comes from the familiar, from knowing every line, shot and beat. In TV it’s different; when there are so many episodes we often forget certain gems and while there are always favourites we go back to, the process of a true re-watch often yields a thrill of rediscovery, or a new appreciation for things we didn’t like the first time. It’s comfort food with the added bonus of a potential for new flavours. Seen through that light, how can we not get excited at the prospect of spending more time with these old friends?
Of course, it comes with an element of risk. In 2013 I was so excited for the final season of Skins, a show that meant a huge amount to me as a teenager. This last run would revisit characters from the early seasons (Skins changed cast every two years), picking up on them in their young adult lives. This, to me, was thrilling; the characters of Skins were so special to people of my generation because they were teenagers at the same time as us, sharing (albeit heightened) similar experiences, heartbreaks and woes to what we were all going through. The prospect of seeing those beloved characters living lives that reflected our own years later? The power of that can’t be understated.
And for the first few minutes it worked; I remember seeing Effie and her friends hanging out and drinking wine on the roof of their shitty apartment between work and uni, seeing my own life reflected back at me in a way I hadn’t since the early years of the show. It really was like seeing an old friend, a friend who I could still relate to because we were in similar places in our respective lives years after we last saw each other. There was a unique and special feeling that while I had been growing and changing, these characters had too.
But then, of course, Skins fell victim to its own worst impulses. It went for unrealistic, sensationalised drama over the power of relatability and as such I stopped watching the final season before the end of its six-episode run. I felt betrayed and angry. I wished Skins had not come back at all.
And yet, if you told me today there would be a new season revisiting those characters, I don’t know that I could promise you that I wouldn’t be watching.
As more and more shows are revived, I find myself speculating on what else could come back and, in the process, start to wonder if I’m going to see more of the TV show that has possibly had the biggest influence on me, that show being Scrubs. Scrubs was the first show I ever fell in love with and it shaped my style and sensibilities like no other; it taught me how to blend pathos, humour and relatability but it also taught me that sometimes it’s better to quit while you’re ahead. The first four seasons of Scrubs are TV classics (three is the best), and after that it descended into cartoony, unfunny tripe. Scrubs did manage to regain some quality in its eighth season, building up to a TV finale that I still think might be the best of all time, one that balanced the melancholy of saying goodbye with an assurance that life, for these characters and for ourselves, will go on. It was perfect but then they had to go and fuck it all up with a ninth season that sold itself as a reboot but did very little to let go of the past.
And yet, now, years later, despite knowing that Scrubs had the perfect ending and ruined it with an unnecessary addendum, I still want more. I want to see my friends again. I want to laugh with JD, Turk, Elliot and Dr Cox. I want to see where they are in life and if the fantasies JD had in the season eight finale did come true or if, true to Scrubs form, something more complex happened. I want this despite knowing that I don’t need it, despite knowing that there is no reason to believe a 2018 Scrubs reboot could recapture any of that early magic if it couldn’t do it in 2010, despite knowing that the season eight ending was so good because, at the time, it was an ending as is still considered the real finale by the vast majority of viewers.
TV characters often feel real because of the sheer amount of time we spend with them, because we see them weekly, because we stick with them through the good and bad, through the classic episodes, the forgettable filler, the jump-the-shark moments and the emotional goodbyes. We forge an attachment to them that can become a yearning to see them again, a yearning that means we ignore the fact that nine times out of ten it’s better to leave the stories we loved behind so as to keep on loving them.
The problem with connections like this is that they create a weight of expectation that belated revivals can scarcely live up to. Harry Potter, Skins, Scrubs and so many more now all have an asterisk hanging over them, that footnote of “yeah they were really good except for the unnecessary follow-up”. Even if we can turn a blind eye to the Cursed Childs and Scrubs season nines of the world it doesn’t mean they’re not there, a constant warning that it’s always better to say goodbye when saying goodbye still hurts, rather than when we don’t care anymore.
If a Scrubs reboot happened I would watch it. I would watch it despite knowing that I shouldn’t, because I’m only human. Likewise I will of course watch Arrested Development and the Community movie and any other reboots of old favourites that come my way. But, if you gave me the choice? I would rather they never happen at all.
It was about a year and a half ago now that Dan Nixon and I first sat down for drinks at the Grace Darling and discussed the prospect of a gay bushranger musical. Dan had invited me to grab a beer with him so he could pitch me a project, and the moment he said the words ‘Captain Moonlite’ I got excited – after all, it had only been a couple of months earlier that I had first learned about his story on an episode of Shut Up A Second and had started thinking of how to get it out there. The idea of a musical theatre show seemed more fitting than most.
After a few beers and a lot of excited ideas being thrown around, Dan said something to the effect of ‘it’s a little odd though, two straight guys writing this play’.
At the time we laughed it off, but the words stuck with me. Back at VCA we had often been asked about our scripts ‘why is this a story that only you can tell?’ Usually the answer was something to do with personal experience, but it becomes a harder thing to justify when you are writing something that is miles divorced from your own life.
This very discussion starts getting into thorny territory, the question of what themes, ideas and situations a writer has the right to explore, whether it is inherently arrogant to delve into experiences that aren’t your own, but personally I think doing so sits at the core of being a storyteller. In his play The Pillowman Martin McDonagh suggests that ‘people only write what they know because they’re too fucking lazy to make something up’, and while I don’t necessarily agree I think there’s something to that. After all, if people only wrote what they knew we never would have gotten Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter. Furthermore we never would have gotten some of the great dramas or crime films written and directed by people who never experienced anything close to those events. In general, the problem with writing ‘personal’ stories is that in most cases the only person who finds your life interesting is you and it’s arrogant to assume that anybody else will.
So if it’s arrogant to write outside of your experience and arrogant to write within it, what are you supposed to do?
My theory has long been that it’s not what you write, it’s how you write it. Whether two straight men writing a musical about a gay bushranger is wrong comes down to how it’s done. Likewise even the most mundane life can take on significance and pathos if it’s presented in a way that is engaging and interesting. I believe that writers of all backgrounds have the right to explore whatever the hell they want, but crucially they have a responsibility to do it well, especially when it’s engaging with a real experience that isn’t their own.
Of course, saying that is a lot easier than doing it.
In 2013 I wrote a play about a Nazi officer in a concentration camp falling in love with a Jewish inmate. It was an idea I had had since high school, one I believed was challenging, compelling, powerful and all those other adjectives you apply to historical dramas exploring sensitive territory. The problem was that none of those adjectives were true; my assumption at the time was that purely by writing about this subject matter I was doing something somehow brave or with inherent artistic value. Consequently, when the play came out a year later, we were rightly eviscerated in our first review. A Good German remains a source of shame and motivation for me, a constant reminder of what not to do.
The mistake I made, one born of pure arrogance, was never really interrogating why I wanted to tell that story. I think the premise is strong and, in the hands of someone more equipped to explore it, could have made for an amazing play. But one of the biggest lessons I learned from A Good German is that just because you have an idea doesn’t mean you’re the right person to realise it.
While A Good German proved that this isn’t always the case, usually an idea that is your own will have more personal meaning than one someone brings you, and so before I could write Moonlite I had to find my angle. Outside of it being a great story, I had to ask myself why I personally wanted to tell it. What could I bring to the table that someone else couldn’t, someone else whose life closer matched that of the subject?
In the end it’s a matter of theme. What is your story about? What are you trying to say? In the case of A Good German the answer to that question was some vague guff about grey areas of morality, and as such I needed something stronger for Moonlite. After all, if this play didn’t have something to say beyond ‘hey check out how zany this story is’ then it would fall flat.
As I researched I kept this question in the back of my head. I looked for the parts of Captain Moonlite’s life I related to, the actions he took that I understood, the moments that moved me, and then I interrogated why that was. Through this process, I found the story I wanted to tell, the angle I would approach from and the theme that would unify the show. My Moonlite is not about his sexuality, although that is a big part of it, but rather about the divide between legend and fact, the question of whether the truth is more important than the story when the story is what people remember. It’s a theme that has always fascinated me, one I have explored in other pieces of writing, and one that, as such, I feel I am qualified to tackle. Furthermore it’s one that suited the story of Captain Moonlite.
It’s for this reason that I have no qualms about my being the right person to tackle this version of the story, partly because I know for a fact that other people will have their own interpretations and they are no less valid than mine. There is no definitive take on a real person’s life.
Every story has, in one way or another, been told. Originality or individuality, to me, comes from the telling of the story rather than the subject. As such the first question any writer should ask of any project they’re working on is whether they are the right person for this story, and if so, why? You might find that it saves you from working on the pieces that don’t mean that much to you and lets you focus only on the ones that do.
All that said, Moonlite is yet to open so for all I know it could be a massive failure that leaves me singularly unqualified to write this blog. Time will tell.
Sometimes I feel like a failure. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to suffocate under the weight of how much I’ve failed, and I have to inject some healthy delusion back into my self-perception just to keep doing what I do. I feel like I have to justify my every decision and action to a world of people who are judging me.
I talk a lot about winning the Ustinov on this blog. This isn’t an attempt at a humble brag, but rather an ongoing process of working out what that award meant to me. Before winning that award I was desperate and despondent; the truth I’d kept at bay, that I had nobody’s word but my own that I was a good writer, was starting to come home and it was terrifying. Because when you devote yourself to one thing and the possibility arrives that maybe you’re not as good as you thought you were at that thing, it’s horrible. The value of winning the Ustinov, then, can’t really be measured in the opportunities it afforded me, but rather in the fact that, when I needed it the most, it gave me proof that I wasn’t barking up the wrong tree.
But if I’m being honest? I wish it had led to more. Sometimes I lie awake at night and wonder if I squandered the heat from the award, if I screwed up how I should have leveraged that validation into more of a career. It’s easy to blame other factors and people for this, but, like anything, it’s complicated and I have to wonder if I am fundamentally to blame for the fact that I haven’t sold a feature or become the showrunner of a TV show yet.
It always surprises me when people tell me how impressed they are with what I’ve done. Please don’t read that as false modesty, I’ve just never really been someone who knows how to process praise and as such I tend to awkwardly shuffle and try to smile without looking smug or constipated. Part of this is due to the fact that being told I’m amazing or whatever is so at odds with how I see myself. But then I remember that old truth; people never pay as much attention to you as you do to yourself. They see what you choose to show, and you’re hardly going to air all of your terrible insecurities to the world (unless you’re writing a blog like this).
Crucially, however, the fact that you don’t feel like the person people see doesn’t mean that they’re wrong. It’s the reason that biographies and autobiographies are both valuable; one is told from the inside, with all the biases that come with that, while the other can be more impartial, albeit without the same access and insight. Nobody will ever know us as well as we know ourselves, but conversely, we don’t always see ourselves that clearly, for better or worse. Self-awareness can only go so far.
On paper, I look like a success. At 26 I have two published novels, one of which was shortlisted for a major award, I have a production company that has been behind a whole bunch of very well received plays, I’ve won a screenwriting award from the International Emmys, and I’m the host of a podcast that has thousands of listeners worldwide. I work now exclusively as a writer and several of my stories have very exciting things going on that I can’t yet talk about.
I’m still broke and in debt. I still struggle to figure out how to make ends meet. I regularly see stories of writers my age or younger who have hit the big time and go on to bigger and better successes. And slowly, that old panic starts to creep back in. What if I’m wrong? What if I’m not good enough? What if the best of my career has already been and gone and I missed the chance to really make a go of it?
There isn’t any easy answer to these doubts, because they could be right. But I’m starting to see it as an ‘innocent until proven guilty’ thing, because I’m still very young. Sure, some writers find major success young, but most don’t achieve anything close to it until their thirties, forties or even later. Some never achieve any at all despite unquestionably deserving it. There’s no perfect or even obvious way to embark on a creative career because there are so many variables and the very question of your ability is subjective. As is the question of your success. Does working exclusively as a writer make you successful? It certainly puts you in the minority. What about having awards to your name? It looks good but it doesn’t mean much when you’re still figuring out how the hell you’re gonna pay rent this month. Being published? You try eating out on two dollars per book. Being on a popular podcast? Might cause more harm than good when you want to get into the industry but literally get paid to claim, without much to your name, that you can write better movies than the people you want to work for.
But in this industry you kind of have to take what you can get, because beggars can’t be choosers and unless you’re either absurdly lucky or absurdly talented, pursuing a creative career means consigning yourself to being a beggar for an indefinite amount of time. It doesn’t matter how much you might think you deserve something; that old problem of perspective will always trip you up. You might think you’re brilliant, but that doesn’t mean for a second that anyone else has to, and that’s a tough lesson to learn. The opposite could be just as true. The question then is how you decide to respond to that discrepancy of perspectives.
I get contacted a lot by young writers who listen to Movie Maintenance, often wanting advice or feedback. While I don’t give feedback on people’s writing (unless I’m getting paid for it, sorry) I’m always happy to give advice and that advice always amounts to the same thing; almost none of us know what we’re doing and success, if it ever comes, is an imperfect cocktail of luck, talent, inhuman persistence and lots of hard work. And as hopeless as it might seem sometimes, remember that you will almost always be your own harshest critic. Because where you see a failure, somebody else might just see an inspiration.
Earlier tonight I watched Twice Upon a Time, the latest Doctor Who Christmas Special and swansong for Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor as well as showrunner Steven Moffat. Just in case those goodbyes didn’t make it enough of an event, it also featured the brilliant David Bradley stepping into the shoes of original Doctor William Hartnell, something I’ve been hoping for as a fan for years now. It was a deep dive into the often tangled mythology of the show and for the most part they pulled it off well. But there was one moment that struck me. During a particularly reflective scene with Bradley’s Doctor the ethereal ‘Gallifrey’ music that always turned up during the especially important parts of David Tennant’s run started to play. It was a way to underline the significance of what was happening; a collision of the different eras of this show on the eve of a whole new beginning.
And I felt nothing.
That little snippet of spookily singing voices used to be an immediate goosebumps-giver in the times when I was intoxicated by Who mythology, the times I wanted to know everything about the history of the Time Lords and got giddily excited any time the show made reference to its past. In the last few years however, moments like this have been so par for the course that they’ve lost any real meaning. Under Steven Moffat Doctor Who has become so in love with itself, so caught up in the epic importance of everything that’s happening (but mainly the epic importance of its central character) that any sense of mystery or power or intrigue has long since been sapped. For my money the show was at its best when it foregrounded the little people, when it was the story of the companions and their slow realisation of their own potential with the epic moments being the little treats rather than the whole meal. Basically, when the show was under the stewardship of Russell T Davies. In the years since his departure I have looked everywhere for that old feeling the show used to give me and never once got it.
But you know what? That’s okay. Because many new fans started the show with Moffat and fell in love with his grandiose, fantasy-flavoured vision, comparatively finding Davies’ more mundane, camp version kind of lame. The last few years I’ve been on a steady learning curve of realising that I can still enjoy Doctor Who even though it’s no longer the show I fell in love with because hey, the series is inherently about change and before long it will be different again. And beyond that, it would be impossible to replicate my version of Doctor Who because my version is so tied to a particular place and time. My Doctor Who comes hand in hand with memories of being in boarding school, of waking up at five in the morning on a weekend I was home with my parents to watch a whole bunch of Who before returning to school because my younger brothers wouldn’t let me take the DVD with me. It’s the summer holidays in which I hired all of Torchwood from the local video store and made my much cooler friends sit through it with me while I insisted with decreasing certainty that this really was good TV. It’s discovering torrenting and watching every new episode in my room at school, falling in love with Donna and having my heart broken at her fate. Ultimately, the way I loved Doctor Who can never truly be replicated because it’s so coloured by being part of a very particular time in my life; even if Russell T Davies and David Tennant returned it wouldn’t really be the same. As such, if I’m ever going to love this show again, I need to be open to whatever comes and willing to accept that just because it’s not for me anymore doesn’t mean it’s not for someone else.
When The Last Jedi came out I was initially apprehensive because I wasn’t really impressed by any of what Disney had done with the franchise thus far. Yes, I wanted my Star Wars back but I found it insulting as an audience member to watch the studio produce content that was designed to pander to my nostalgia, to evoke a past feeling rather than create a new one. Watching The Last Jedi I was struck by the fact that I seldom felt like I was watching Star Wars the way I knew it, but rather like I was watching something new emerge from the foundations.
Do I love The Last Jedi the way I loved the original films? Of course not. How could I? They were a part of my formative years and, like the friends we grew up with, the significance of that will never go away. But crucially The Last Jedi gave me hope that there might yet be something for me to love in Star Wars, something that honours the old but isn’t beholden to it.
Nostalgia, in the end, is as empty as it is powerful. It’s literally the yearning for something we can never have again, and when a film or book or TV show is emotionally tied to an important part of your life, they tend to take on magnified importance in your world. It’s the reason fans get so caught up in whether The Last Jedi was an insult to the franchise or Steven Moffat ruined Doctor Who. In the end a movie is just a movie and a TV show is just a TV show, but what we attach to those properties make them so much more, leaving the current stewards of the stories we love with an impossible task. Is it any wonder Rogue One just threw a thousand Easter eggs at us and hoped for the best? As fans we put so much pressure on the current iterations of our favourite stories to give us what we loved in the first place, but they can never do that. Often the best we get is a pale imitation that isn’t much more than a sugar rush; briefly exhilarating and swiftly forgotten.
The magic of The Last Jedi was that it let me fall in love with Star Wars again by burning down what I thought I knew about Star Wars. Somehow, paradoxically, this meant that when Luke Skywalker faced his destiny at the end, suddenly I felt that old magic come rushing back. Because if we open ourselves up to change rather than furiously clinging to the way we think things should be, maybe our love for those things can grow rather than be frozen in carbonite.
It's a risk that doesn’t always pay off; Doctor Who, for me, being the prime example. But every now and then in Moffat’s run came moments where I could see a version of this show that I might be able to love again. Those moments never crystallised into something lasting, but the fact that they were there gave me hope. And if I never truly love Doctor Who again then, well, I’ll always have those Davies seasons and I’m content enough with everything this series gave me to be able to let go a little and be open to whatever comes next.
It might suck. But then again, it might be brilliant. I’ll take either over stagnation.
I’m the first to admit that Bitten By Productions has a bit of a mixed record. As lovely as it would be to say that every show we’ve ever done was an unmitigated success, some of them were closer to mediocre and others outright sucked. Every year we’ve operated has yielded a variety of relative successes and failures; some sold every seat but weren’t great, others were fantastic shows but couldn’t find an audience, and the occasional lucky one managed both.
This year has not been perfect, but the flaws, for once, were more operational than with the quality of what we put on. At the start of the year I wrote a bit of a retrospective of our output so far, starting with Reunion and ending with The Critic. Rather than wait until we have the same number of shows as were covered in that first retrospective, I thought I’d look back over our 2017, a year that had its ups and downs but came out as by far the best year we’ve yet had as a company.
To be fair, I did touch on Springsteen in the last retrospective, but that was mid run and it was hard to be objective, or at least, as objective as I can be about something I wrote and directed. Which is to say, not very much.
Still, Springsteen was special, not least because it centred on a topic that means a huge amount to me. But it was so much more than that. The themes of the play were as personal as even a show like Regression, which I occasionally agonised over letting people see, and that odd mix of tribute and emotion made it a bit of an outlier in what we’ve done so far. But, in the hands of a pitch perfect cast, it worked. We had crowds of Springsteen fans coming to see it, we sold out multiple shows, some of which we needed to bring in twenty extra seats for and it went on to be adapted into a radio play that hit #3 on the iTunes performing arts charts, which received many reports of tears on Twitter to boot. It was a success on every level; with the critics, the audiences, and the ticket sales. That is a rare outcome.
But beyond that, it was just a wonderful, wonderful experience. Those rehearsals were raw and emotional, built around all of us exposing some pretty rough things in service of bringing these characters to life. I feel that it not only brought us together as artists, but as friends, and it’s hard to ask much more from any project than that. Springsteen was the kind of play that left the team behind it with a special, singular bond, the kind that only comes from having gone through hell to produce something we could all be immensely proud of.
It wasn’t perfect, of course. The venue was about as awful as any we’ve ever used, and the staging/set were pretty uninspired, which might be part of the reason the show translated so seamlessly to a radio play without losing much. Furthermore the use of live music didn’t work as well as the use of Springsteen’s own songs, another area where the radio play improved on its source.
But hey, in the end the show was rewarding and satisfying in a way few theatrical endeavours are. And to boot, I felt like I hadn’t fucked up telling the story of one of my idols, and that’s arguably the most important part.
Dracula: Last Voyage of the Demeter
I mentioned before that you can’t be objective about your own play, but it’s a little more complicated than that. Objectivity isn’t the only way to approach something; often, when we’re able to admit the failings of a personal project, we have a singular insight into why something worked and why it didn’t.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I can’t be as analytical about Dracula as I can the rest, because it wasn’t my play. As the first Bitten By Productions show that wasn’t written by myself, Dracula was a change of pace in a lot of ways, and I’m inclined to think it was a welcome and necessary one. Longer, with a new focus on set, costumes, and special effects, Dracula was our most visually striking show since Below Babylon, and audiences responded. It was also our most financially successful show, due to great reviews and the boost offered by name recognition, and it boasted a brilliant central performance from Greg Caine, who managed to make Dracula sympathetic, terrifying, hilarious and riveting – often all in the same scene.
Do I have reservations about it? Sure. Mainly with a few behind the scenes things that don’t need to be aired in public. But the truth is, as I also acted in this play, it’s pretty tough for me to view it with any kind of impartiality or personal analysis. I was involved enough to be too close, but not enough to really examine where it worked and didn’t. That’s a job for a writer or director, not an actor.
Following on so closely from Springsteen, Dracula completed a one-two punch of big hits, also going on to become a highly successful radio play. At this point it was hard not to feel on top of the world about where our company was. Which of course, is usually the moment a rude awakening comes along.
I hope that somewhat ominous previous sentence doesn’t imply I’m not proud of Heroes, or in any way ambivalent about it. Neither are the case. But Heroes’ success was of a different, more complicated kind to the two previous shows.
The production of Heroes started from a place of hubris, which is never a place to start anything from but then, to be fair, you only tend to recognise hubris in the aftermath. To understand this, you have to remember that The Critic, our last play of 2016, had also been very successful; not on the same level as a Springsteen or Dracula, but it had enjoyed healthy audiences and glowing reviews. This meant that Heroes came in the midst of what seemed like a wave of success, and as such I got cocky.
Reteaming with Dexter Bourke, who previously directed The Last Supper in 2015 was a no
brainer. I gave Dexter full autonomy, letting him handpick the cast he wanted and essentially handing the whole project to him while I focused on Dracula and the impending release of Boone Shepard’s American Adventure. Usually this wouldn’t be a problem, except all of this happened just a month and a half out from opening night.
Heroes isn’t a long or complicated play, but it is a two hander and that means that two actors have to learn a huge amount of dialogue. With only a limited amount of time to learn, explore, and develop their characters and the script, it’s hard to expect the best from anyone and when I came in to watch a rehearsal one week out from opening, what I saw was decidedly not the best. It was, frankly, panic inducing.
This part of the story had a happy ending. The Heroes team, who were a dream to work with, immediately gauged my unease and asked what could be done. Then, to their unending credit, they did it. Heroes opened to well-deserved five-star reviews.
What it did not open to were good audiences. This is another area where hubris got me good. I figured that after Springsteen and Dracula people would flock to see our shows. That turned out to be untrue, especially when the show was a strange little thriller with no name recognition and two actors we had never used before coming only a month after our previous play. Heroes boasted the first time since Reunion that a Bitten By show performed to an audience of one, an embarrassing inevitability of indie theatre that I thought we were long past. And, while there were some decently populated shows in there, generally it was pretty sparsely attended. The audiences who saw it seemed to love it. There just weren’t that many who saw it.
But the overall ending for Heroes was still a happy one. Matt, one of the actors, suggested we take it on the one act play circuit, and it went on to win multiple awards for best actor, script, and production at various festivals. By the end of its run, thanks to the prize money, it had matched Dracula as Bitten By’s most financially successful show.
Mistakes were made and lessons were learned. But ultimately Heroes joined the first two shows of the year as a huge success, one that is a testament to the ability of Dexter, Matt and Blake to surpass the ridiculous schedule I imposed on them to put together something special, something that blew people away in theatres all over the state.
Around the time of Heroes cooler heads had prevailed regarding our schedule of plays. While I always loved the idea of having multiple shows in rehearsal at the same time, that creates an oversaturation that may in part answer for Heroes’ less than stellar theatrical run. At the start of the year The Commune, our first ever co-production (with Angelique Malcolm’s Class Act Theatre) had been scheduled for November and very swiftly all my ideas about having a show between Heroes’ May season and The Commune had been shut down. Instead we had time, time to think, plan and, most crucially, workshop.
For The Commune we did something new; a two day workshop over the course of which we took the script to task, refining, re-writing and tweaking until we had something rock solid, something we all had a little ownership in. With that done, rehearsals started in earnest and I took a step back.
I had fears about The Commune, fears that grew as opening night approached. With a made-up mythology centring around weird names and strange rituals, would it be met with laughter rather than discomfort? But, in the hands of arguably the best cast we’d ever assembled for a show, it was fine. Tension built beautifully from the first moments, and Ashley Tardy’s assured direction imbued the silences with menace, yearning and weighty implication. Reviews were great and several people who have frequented our shows said it was the best yet.
Whether that’s true or not, it’s hard to say. The Commune was possibly the most well executed of our plays, but I don’t think it ever really reached the same depth as something like Springsteen. Nonetheless, it engaged and thrilled audiences, and that’s all we could ever ask for.
But, like with Heroes, The Commune struggled to fill houses. I don’t really know why. Maybe the time of year, maybe the slightly higher ticket prices, maybe the subject matter. I will never be the type of person to guilt trip anybody over not ‘supporting the arts’ or whatever, because my attitude here has always been that we’re not asking for handouts, we’re providing a quality product that is worth your time and money. With The Commune that felt very much the case, it just didn’t seem to help very much. And short of being that annoying guy on Facebook clogging up your newsfeeds with endless plugs, there’s not a heap I can do about it.
But, like every show this year, lessons were learned. Namely that we need way better publicity (or any publicity) and maybe bigger, better venues where we won’t have to contend with the many limitations that faced us this year. What, to me, is indisputable, is that Bitten By Productions is now operating with a professionalism and consistency that we’ve never had before. It’s no longer just my whims steering this ship; with a full committee in place, the plays we choose and decisions we make are measured and well thought out. Now all we need to do is ensure that we are working at this standard across the board, in every aspect of a production.
But, mistakes and whatnot aside, 2017 was our biggest and best year yet, boasting four shows that I am fiercely proud of and the formation of a formidable team. Next year we’ll be working with new writers and new genres (musical), building on the foundation we have established to take this company to soaring new heights.
It’s been an awesome year. I don’t think I’m jinxing it to suspect that 2018 will be even better.
Being a writer is like a perpetual lesson in your own naivety. Every time you think you’ve wrapped your head around the industry, that you understand how it all works and are ready to take it on from your place of newfound wisdom, something comes along and slaps you in the face. When I got into Australia’s top screenwriting course I remember celebrating, thinking this was it, thinking from here on my success was just a technicality. When that course ended with no clear sign of impending fame or fortune or even anything, I started to get sad and despondent. Then I won the Ustinov, and suddenly I was ready to go, ready to take off into the stratosphere.
Well, you can probably sense where this story goes.
Perspective, I think, is important. I make my living entirely in the field of writing, and that makes me unquestionably one of the lucky ones in an industry that is famously brutal and rife with disappointment. But it doesn’t mean for a second that I’m where I want to be. I’ve learned to be optimistic in the face of all the setbacks, but sometimes too many come at once and it’s very, very hard to maintain any sense of positivity after a couple of days in a row made up of a succession of steel capped boots meeting your teeth.
Last week ended on a grim note, for various reasons. Several things I had taken for granted, some professional, some personal, fell apart in close succession, leaving me lying on the couch staring blank faced at the ceiling and wondering what the point was. I felt like Sisyphus at the top of the mountain, panting and out of breath and trying not to cry as he watches that boulder plummet back down. For the first time in a long time panic was setting in, an overriding feeling of ‘what the hell am I supposed to do now?’
In those cases, trying to tackle anything head on, especially if, like me, you’re impatient and impulsive, is a thankless task. Approaching problems from a place of anger or desperation scarcely yields pleasant results. So, against every instinct in my body, I decided not to think about those problems. I got drunk at my girlfriend’s work Christmas party. I went and saw the final performance of The Commune then spent the next day hanging out with the cast, watching the edited two hour version of Breaking Bad and idly talking about all sorts of things. I spent Monday rehearsing Moonlite then had dinner with close friends and by this point everything seemed that much more manageable.
The thing about those times where everything seems to collapse at once is that the individual problems that make up that ‘everything’ are surmountable in isolation. It’s only together that they seem like the end of the world, and readdressing them a couple of days later makes that clear.
Today I got proactive. I made a long overdue dice roll and it wasn’t pleasant, but it was like ripping off a particularly stubborn band aid – once it was done I felt sore but overall better. And once the initial sting abated, I got to work making up for lost ground. I made phone calls, contacted some people, and quickly something came together, a sense of hope and burgeoning opportunity that I haven’t felt since, well, probably since I won the Ustinov.
This isn’t to suggest that I’m looking at a suddenly fertile garden of sure things. It’s just that today I was reminded that I have come a long way and that even when everything seems bleak, I do have options. The hours I’ve spent laying foundations in the last few years have made sure of that, and even if it means nothing in the long run, hope is a very important thing to have.
The day I found out I’d been shortlisted for the Ustinov, I told myself not to get my hopes up. There was no way I’d win. The chances were remote at best and there was no point in letting myself get excited only to be crushed by disappointment at the inevitable ‘thanks but no thanks’ email. But then, about halfway through that pragmatic internal monologue, something occurred to me.
I would only get to feel the hope I felt in that time once. Even if it was ultimately dashed, I would be able to take the hit, get up and try again, like I’ve been doing my whole life. I would, after all, feel the same disappointment even if I told myself daily I wouldn’t win, because of course, despite my best efforts I would still have that hope, I just wouldn’t let myself show it. And why deprive myself of hope when life is so much harder without it?
So I let myself hope that I would win, just like right now I’m letting myself hope that things go well. And maybe that is naive. Maybe this is just another tough lesson I’ll look back on with a wry chuckle. But I’ll take hopeful naivety over the alternative any day.
And aside from anything else, I came home today to a puppy. If that’s not optimism rewarded, then I don’t know what is.
I probably shouldn’t be writing this. I probably should be more professional. But I’m not going to be, so settle in for a big ol’ angry rant.
People who know me know that I used to be a theatre reviewer, a gig I walked away from after the realisation that being a playwright who wants to work with people in the Melbourne theatre scene doesn’t exactly sit well with regularly criticising said people’s output. But having a foot in both camps was a fascinating experience and taught me a huge amount about accepting opinions even when you disagree with them or find them hurtful. It also left me uniquely placed to comment on the practices of critics in this city.
By the way, I am not targeting any specific critic here and I am certainly not targeting anyone for writing a bad review of one of my plays. I strongly believe it is the prerogative of a critic to be honest about their opinion, even if that honesty isn’t what I want to hear. Inviting a critic to see a show is always a gamble, a gamble that should be based on your confidence that you have created a good product worth people’s time and money. But critics don’t have to share that confidence.
No, my issue here is something altogether different and altogether more irritating.
My latest play, The Commune, opened on Wednesday night. It’s been in pre-production for a long time and rehearsing for the last two months. As usual, before that process even started, I sent out the standard round of emails to all the Melbourne theatre blogs and publications, inviting reviewers. And as usual, there was pretty much no response.
I do get this. When I wrote for TheatrePeople and Australian Stage Online we were regularly forwarded any press releases for upcoming plays and the first reviewer to respond got to cover the show. But often I didn’t even read those emails, because hey, we all get busy and not every description that turns up in your inbox grabs your attention. There isn’t much the editors of those sites can do if nobody wants to review the show, so, while this is frustrating, I do get it.
But we persist, sending follow up emails once we have trailers and photos, and usually we manage to secure a few critics. In the case of The Commune we had three in for Wednesday’s preview show. It is now Saturday afternoon, and only one of those reviews has gone online (positive, by the way).
To understand why this is so rage inducing, you need to look at why we take the risk and invite critics to our shows. After all, there is no certainty whatsoever that the write-ups we get will be good. But it’s a risk that we absolutely must take because independent theatre is essentially a non-stop succession of rolling boulders up hills only to see them come back down again. Convincing people to part with their hard-earned to see a play is often a near impossible task, and with a limited budget our advertising campaigns can hardly be aggressive, or even fairly called advertising campaigns. As such, we strongly rely on reviews because a good one might be the difference between the actors getting paid or not.
That’s not to suggest that the masses closely follow theatre blogs (I don’t), but there are those that do and us sharing a review essentially is being able to show the public that it’s not just the biased opinion of the creatives insisting this show is worth their money. A good review has power and we usually see a spike in ticket sales once we can share one.
It’s for this reason that reviewers are offered free tickets, with the understanding that they will write about their experience of the show and, this is important, write it promptly. When I was a reviewer I always endeavoured put my take together the night of the show, whether good or bad. At worst I’d do it the morning after. But I knew, having been on the other side, that no matter what I ended up saying the creatives had not given up a ticket for me so that I could drag my feet and put my review together if and when I could be bothered.
Most reviews aren’t longer than 500 words. That takes, at most, fifteen minutes to put together. And while I appreciate that people are busy and most reviewers aren’t getting paid, how packed can your life be that you can’t take a tiny bit of time out of your day to hold up your end of the bargain? You got to see a show for free, a show that cost money, time and effort to put together. We’re not even asking you to say nice things about it. We’re just asking you to do what you promised to do when you replied to our email and agreed to come along.
This happens every time. I didn’t even bother to check the review sites on Thursday because I knew that nobody would have put anything up then. But when Friday came and went with only one review going up, I started to get angry. Because ticket sales haven’t been great for The Commune and at this stage we’re really holding out for anything that might help.
In the case of Dracula, which had the benefit of name recognition propelling it to a sell-out season, one reviewer didn’t post their write-up until over a week after seeing the show. Others took up to four days. In the case of The Critic and Regression some reviewers didn’t post anything until the season was over – at which time there is literally no point in you having bothered. Frankly it’s rude and it’s insulting. And by the way, in all the above cases the reviews were positive, so it’s not even as though the critic hated the show so much that they couldn’t bring themselves to write it. They were just lazy.
How do you justify that to yourselves? How do you watch the days go past and think ‘yeah, I might get around to writing something tomorrow or maybe the day after’? And while somebody on Twitter made the point that often publications have schedules that dictate when a review can go up, that’s just as shit. Most of these blogs wouldn’t have more than twenty regular readers; how is your feigned professionalism more important than posting a piece that could turn an obscure show into a success?
And lest you think I’m being unfair here, remember that I did this job and I am not holding anybody to a standard that I didn’t hold myself to. Even now when I write my reviews for Den of Geek, reviews of major TV shows where my opinion would make no difference, I get them in the day of watching. Because that’s the responsibility I have and I can’t very well call myself a critic if I don’t clear the time to do what is expected of me.
Back during the run of Dracula I got halfway through writing a similar angry blog post before getting cold feet. I thought it would make me look like a petulant child throwing a tantrum and not the professional I claim to be. But since then two more shows have proved to us that this is not an isolated issue. Being a critic is a rightly respected profession; people rely on you to know whether or not they should give up time and money to see something. It’s up to you to provide an articulate, engaging, well-argued and prompt answer to their question. If you can’t manage that, you’re in the wrong industry.
Basically, be better.
Last year, myself and most of my writing friends decided together to take on National Novel Writing Month. For those unfamiliar, it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like; over the month of November writers everywhere challenge themselves to complete a 50,000 word novel. It’s not really as tough as it sounds; provided you average around 1600 words a day, you’ll hit your target easily.
I took some convincing before deciding to tackle it; to me the very idea of forcing creativity like that was tantamount to sacrilege and completely at odds with how I write, but at the last minute I let go of my pretentions and decided to join in. And I loved it; not only the competitive nature of it, but the fact that making yourself write a certain amount actually tends to foster more creativity and ideas – something I’ve found this year with all the freelance work I’ve been doing.
There was also this wonderful sense of community to it, the fact that we were all in it together, all facing the same struggles, insecurities, pitfalls and elations as we aimed for that impossible seeming target. And the fact that we all hit it in the end was cause for a long night of celebration tempered with immense pride. Some of us had never written novels before; to manage your first in the space of a month is no mean feat.
It was pretty much a given that we would do it again this year; after the success of our collective 2016 attempt, why wouldn’t we? I even had the perfect idea for it; having spent a lot of time over the last few months writing a new and (hopefully) definitive version of Windmills and reworking the sequel I wrote in 2015, my head was squarely in that world and NaNoWriMo felt like the perfect opportunity to write the prequel I’ve had in my head for years. When the day came I made a decent start, and at first things chipped along nicely.
A lot has changed between last year and now. Last year I still had a day job that wasn’t writing related, one that afforded me a lot of time to work on stories while in the office. Last year I wasn’t really a working writer. This year, 10,000 words into my NaNoWriMo story I had to stop to work on a 15,000 word freelance gig I’d been putting off for weeks. Then others came up. Then I found my mind wandering to Sunburnt Country, my novella for the Seasons of Fear anthology that I’ve been itching to write a sequel to. And I really need to be working on Boone Shepard 3. Plus there are a couple of plays I’m keen to work on. This year, I simply haven’t had the luxury of putting everything else aside for a month to rush a novel.
At the beginning of November 2016 we all gathered in my house to make a start on our novels together, fuelled by beer and coffee and snacks. This made it feel like a group effort. But in 2017 I wasn’t the only one who had other commitments, and so we all started separately without really sharing our ideas. And the same enthusiasm wasn’t there. From what I’ve gathered, Carney was thinking about writing a Dracula anthology for it, but hasn’t started. Tom changed his story half way through and, true to form, Damo is the only one who has diligently kept up with his own project.
And there’s been another issue, one that actually makes letting NaNoWriMo lapse feel less like a failure and more like the right choice. Wolves, the novel I’ve been working on, feels really, really special. I can’t remember the last time I felt this invested in the journey of a character, feeling their emotions so keenly as they make the choices that will eventually damn them.
Of course, part of this has to do with the fact that the character in question is Dominic Ford, the crime lord villain from Windmills who I have been fascinated with since 2009, but the fact that this is a story that I’ve wanted to write for almost a decade is part of the reason that I’ve slowly realised NaNoWriMo probably isn’t the right way to tackle it. I want to take my time with Wolves, to feel it through and explore every beat and occurrence fully. Dominic Ford is probably one of my best characters, and as such I’m hardly going to rush his story to hit an arbitrary deadline. And I’m sure as hell not going to force it if other things are vying for my attention. Dominic has waited long enough to deserve my full focus.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Wolves, as the de-facto final part of what has become a loose Windmills trilogy, might well be the best of the three. It’s a Shakespearean saga of the slow moral erosion of a young man who starts off making the wrong choices for the right reasons and slowly turns into someone that even he can’t recognise. Naturally, having only written about 10,000 words, that suspicion may well change and there’s every chance I won’t even finish it. But if even part of me thinks that this could be great then the novel deserves every chance to reach its potential, and I’m not going to waste that potential just so I can gloat about another successful NaNoWriMo.
All that said, I haven’t entirely decided to give up yet. Inspiration may strike this week and I’ll quickly make up for lost time. But by letting myself off the hook now, I let the right ideas come to the forefront and can strike while the iron is hot, ensuring that my efforts are put where they are most useful. And Wolves isn’t going anywhere. It’s waited this long, it can wait a little longer.
Last year I wrote a gushing post about how great NaNoWriMo was, and I still stand by that. But if in 2016 I learned the lesson that sometimes forcing creativity is a good thing, in 2017 I learned that just because a certain approach works for one story doesn’t mean for a second it’ll work for the next.
I feel like the majority of my blog posts this year have opened with some kind of disclaimer about how busy I am, but it’s scarcely felt truer than the last couple of weeks. In trying to catch up with someone recently I checked my schedule for the next few days and it’s packed; so much is going on, which is awesome, but equally tiring.
Movie Maintenance feels like it’s slowly getting back to a point where we’re all happy with it. Last week on Cup Day we recorded five back to back episodes, and while I can only really comment on the ones I was in, it seems like they were all solid. With most of the cast being overseas recently we’ve been flying by the seat of our pants for a while now, only getting episodes ready the week of release, but we’re catching up again and having the luxury of several weeks of episodes in the bag means we have more time to craft stuff that we can be really proud of – the position we were in during the little hot streak we hit last year.
Then there’s Seasons of Fear, the horror anthology written by the cast of the show, which has been printed and will be available to purchase in the next couple of weeks. We got the books a few days ago and aside from them looking very sexy, it’s pretty awesome to hold in your hands something you’ve been thinking about for months on end. The physical release has roughly coincided with the audiobook version of my part, Sunburnt Country, coming out on Movie Maintenance Presents, and I’m already thinking about the future of that story – both a screen version and a sequel. Maggie, the protagonist, turned out to be one of those characters you kind of can’t stop thinking about, and I’m really keen to revisit her in a follow up story. I have this rough idea of her as a kind of Jack Reacher type character, a lone wolf wandering from town to town in her beat up old car with a shotgun and a cricket bat, solving problems and righting wrongs wherever she goes. Like a deadly, present day Mad Max.
I’ve also been trying to do National Novel Writing Month again, but it’s proved difficult time-wise. Friday was spent locked in a boardroom at the ACTF developing a certain television project that I am very, very excited about, and otherwise the time I’m not spending tutoring is spent finishing off various freelance projects that are a massive time sink but at least pay the bills. It’s a shame because I’ve been really excited about this NaNoWriMo project – for those familiar with Windmills, it’s intimately linked to that particular story, kind of a prequel about villainous drug lord Dominic Ford but very much its own novel at the same time. I’ve written about 10.000 words but finding the time to keep that up has been the problem.
Then there’s The Commune, my new play which opens this week. A dark thriller about a man who grew up in a hippy commune and has to return home when his mother dies, it features an amazing cast and the brilliant Ashley Tardy once again on directing duties, but I’ve barely had two seconds to think about it. Still, I suspect it’ll be a great show and can’t wait for the preview tomorrow night. Luckily, having only been involved from the writing standpoint, my involvement was hardly expected to be more than what it has been, which is honestly fortunate.
And then there’s the big one; Moonlite, the musical project I’ve been working on with Dan Nixon for over a year now. It opens January 17 for the Midsumma Festival and rehearsals have started in earnest. So far they’ve been excellent; it’s been really fun to start sculpting this story and with a cast predominantly made up of trained musical theatre professionals I’ve never worked with before it’s a new and very exciting experience. I’m mildly terrified of screwing it all up, but it’s running smoothly and if nothing else the songs sound great so you’ll probably find something to enjoy in there.
There were times, not that long ago, when life seemed to just shuffle along, a constant cycle of work, bills, uni and so on. The projects I had to occupy me were few and far between and rarely anything really good. But for a long time things have been different. If things continue the same way for the next couple of months then this will be officially the first year of my life that I got by completely doing work in my field, without a dreary day job helping to pay the bills, and the fact that it has worked so long is staggering to even think about, especially considering last year living this way seemed like a far off pipe dream at best. But what has made it all better is that 2017 has been characterised by a near constant stream of really exciting projects. I might have been spread thin, but it’s hard to take issue when I can look back at the last few months and, for the first time, feel little more than a strong sense of pride. And that gets one step better when you realise that the stuff that’s still to come looks even more exciting.
Just some thoughts.