Today we chat with TBC ensemble member and playwright, Fleur Murphy, about her upcoming play reading and what it was like to spend time locked in a cell whilst writing her new theatre piece "As We Come To Wake".
Tell us a little of your story as a playwright.
I’m still pretty new to playwriting. My background has predominantly been as an actor, graduating from the University of Ballarat Arts Academy in 2004 with a B.A in Theatre Performance. After completing my studies I moved to Melbourne where I’ve had work professionally as an actor in theatre, film and TV. I’ve been lucky to work with a lot of creative people and companies whose artistic approach is generally quite collaborative, so I think that has fueled the desire to explore creating my own work too.
A few years ago I wanted to learn more about film making so I wrote a short film called ‘Rain For Morgan’. The film went on to win a few international awards, (Winner of “Best Narrative Short” at the Festivus Film Festival Denver, 2011; Winner of “Best International Short Film” at the Ireland International Film Festival 2010; Winner of “Best Sound Achievement in a Short Film” at the Australian Sound Guild Awards 2010) which was really exciting and extremely encouraging.
With the desire to return to my theatre roots, I decided to have a go at writing a play. In 2010 I attended an exhibition in Geelong called ‘Femme Fatale – The Female Criminal’. I was very moved by the hauntingly real and gritty mug shots of Australian female criminals in the 1920s. The women, their faces, their stories and the crime scene photos inspired my first play, ‘Shadows of Angels’. The play premiered at the Adelaide Fringe Festival in 2012 and was also presented at the SheppARTon Festival and The Owl and The Pussycat Theatre in Melbourne in 2013. I’m now working on a new play called ‘As We Come To Wake’…
Why is theatre important to you?
I love the ‘live exchange’ that theatre offers its participants. And its participants are the actors on stage, the audience, the technicians and designers – it’s all a constant, living, breathing beast. It’s something I find very hard to articulate - but I crave feeling alive, challenged and inspired by work. Theatre feeds this craving for me, whether I’m sitting in the audience, or if I’m working on my own piece.
I also love theatre because of the immediacy and ownership of it in a way… If that makes sense? Making a film (even a short one) can take a really long time, and there are technical elements and processes that I would love to be a part of, but because of their specialised nature I can’t always contribute to – or have control over. The journey of filmmaking can feel quite disjointed and sporadic at times. As a theatre maker, I feel like I get some of that control and ownership back – which probably exposes me as a bit of a control freak at times.
There is also a wonderful diversity when it comes to independently produced theatre. At the moment Melbourne is pulsing with amazing work, produced by some really innovative independent theatre companies. It’s an exciting time! There’s a real fearlessness to the work – their voices are bold, unapologetic, relevant and honest. I find that hugely inspiring.
How have you found the experience in the Old Melbourne Gaol cells?
It’s been really great having a space that is solely dedicated to writing. I think (like most writers) I’m a brilliant procrastinator, so being able to get out of the house so that I can focus has been handy.
My work is rather visceral and the language I use can be quite poetic and descriptive at times, so working in such a rich, immersive environment has been wonderful. In the play I’m currently writing there is a section where the characters spend several months in a Dublin Gaol in 1846. Even though the play isn’t set in the Old Melbourne Gaol, working here has helped me absorb the general atmosphere of a gaol from that period in time. I’ve really been able to imagine what my characters experiences and conditions were like. Even the smallest details have inspired me – the muffled sounds of the outside world, the coldness of the stone walls, the dull clunk of the lock on my cell door, the way the sunlight streams through the windows and bounces off the metal staircases in the morning... All of this has fed my work.
Can we get a small teaser of your new play? What is it about?
‘As We Come To Wake’ is loosely based on some rather interesting family history. My great great great great grandfather, Michael Duffy, and his two brothers Bryan and William were wrongfully accused of committing a violent crime against a known vigilante ‘Ribbonman’ in Ireland in 1846. The judge wanted to make an example of them, and in the hope to cleanse Ireland of the 'viscous and immoral', the three brothers were torn from their family and sent to Van Diemen's Land. The play follows the physical and emotional journey these Duffy boys endured, from the initial ‘crime’ and proceeding trial, through to planting their feet on distant, unfamiliar soil.
What do you think is most challenging about writing a playscript?
For me, it’s keeping the momentum going. I often have a very prolonged research and ‘digestion’ period before I start to put words on a page. I can get a bit frustrated with myself if I haven’t written much down, but I’ve got to remind myself that it’s not the way I work and I need to relax and just let it come when it’s ready.
I think another big challenge at the moment is being able to produce solid dialogue that helps define and develop my characters. One of the best ways to test this is to hear my work spoken out loud. I learn a lot when I can get ‘out of my head’ and put the words into the mouths of a few actors.
What’s on your calendar?
I’ll be presenting a staged reading of the first draft of my new play ‘As We Come To Wake’ as part of the Cells for Writers open day on Sunday the 27th of July. Visitors to the gaol will be able to attend the reading, which starts at 3.30pm. Entry to the gaol is $15-$25 and gives you access to the Old Melbourne Gaol, The City Watch House and the play reading. I highly recommend that people make an afternoon of it and spend a few hours exploring the cells and corridors of these historic buildings.
Also, my first play ‘Shadows of Angels’ will be returning to Melbourne for three weeks in October. The show is being produced by TBC Theatre in partnership with The National Trust and will be presented in the City Watch House. The show’s return to Melbourne in such a historically relevant venue offers our company the scope to present the play in a way that has never been realised before. From the moment the audience arrives they’ll be whisked back to the gritty streets of Melbourne in the late 1920s.
Your advice for someone thinking about writing for stage?
Oh, tricky. Ummmm, I guess see as much theatre as you can. See independent theatre, main stage theatre, good theatre and bad theatre. You’ll soon discover what kind of work presses your buttons.
Find ‘your people’. I know for me, having a group of like-minded creatives to work with has been really important when developing a piece. I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who can inspire, critique and challenge my work. I’m very grateful for that.
Also, keep writing – just do it whenever you can. I guess playwriting can feel like a bit of a difficult thing to get right. There’s so much going on in your head while you’re working on a piece; characters, narrative, tone, language, stakes, – the list whirls on and on. Add to this the niggling little voice that asks ‘is this even going to be entertaining?’ This is when I try and remind myself that I come first. It may sound selfish, but it’s how I focus. If I’m writing something that I love, that I’m invested in and care about then ‘the good stuff’ just flows.
At the end of the day, I think everyone’s journey as a playwright is different – as is the reason why people write and tell the stories they’re driven to tell. So… I don’t know?… Write the plays that give you insomnia. Write the plays that sit in your stomach like an ulcer. Write the plays that make you cry, feel angry, laugh! Write the plays that make you fall in love, that consume you. Write the plays you want to see on stage. I guess that all sounds a bit dramatic. But that’s kind of the point? Right?
Thanks so much for chatting with us Fleur!
Here are the details if you'd like to attend the reading:
Location: The Old Melbourne Gaol, 377 Russell St Melbourne.
Date: Sunday the 27th of July.
Time: 3.30pm start.
Price: Entry fees for The Old Melbourne Gaol range from $15 to $25.
To pre-book your Old Melbourne Gaol day pass click here .