State Theatre Company’s 2018 season will be a bumper one, not only because nine productions are coming to the stage, but because four of those are brand new commissions.
Developed especially for the Company, In The Club, Terrestrial, Creditors and The Gods Of Strangers, will have their world premieres here in Adelaide.
This record number is a case of the stars aligning, as artistic director Geordie Brookman says.
“We commission at a fairly regular rate, usually three new plays are out into development each year, but in 2018 we have the happy coincidence that a number of major projects have all reached stage readiness at the same time,” he says.
“One of my long-term aims for the Company has always been for it to be a leading developer and producer of new Australian writing.
“Audiences will get the opportunity to engage with stories formed from their own experiences that speak to the South Australia of the here and now and also the South Australia of times gone by.”
Kicking off the season is In The Club by Patricia Cornelius, one of the country’s most awarded playwrights, yet – as The Guardian reported earlier this year – one of the least performed.
Cornelius believes theatre should be stimulating. Her work can be confronting for audiences, but for the Melbourne Workers’ Theatre founder, it’s all about sitting in the discomfort.
Cornelius, who has written more than 25 plays and won numerous AWGIE awards (including a gold), has fused fiction with verbatim material for In the Club, shining her fluorescent light on women’s accounts of sexual violence within the AFL world.
The piece – supported by the Commissioning Collective – will be performed by the State Theatre Company Ensemble, which has been working closely with Cornelius in the development stage.
Brookman says Cornelius has been “one of the bravest and most exciting writers in the country for two decades now”.
“She writes a kind of rough poetry that isn’t quite naturalistic and yet contains a massive emotional payload,” Brookman says.
“I think she’ll stretch and challenge our Ensemble’s ability in exactly the right way.”
Last year’s Jill Blewett winners, Fleur Kilpatrick and Duncan Graham, will present their respective works, Terrestrial and Creditors.
“Terrestrial is her commission that resulted from her co-winning the Jill Blewett Playwrights Award with Duncan Graham,” Brookman says.
“She’s a writer of great sensitivity, with a particular gift for getting inside the heads of young people.
“Duncan Graham has one of the most unique voices among our South Australian cohort. He’s fiercely intelligent and loves to push stylistic boundaries.
“I’m really excited about the way his sensibility is intersecting with that of August Strindberg on Creditors.”
Next year the Commissioning Collective is also supporting The Gods of Strangers, written by STC resident artist Elena Carapetis.
“I find it amazing that Elena Carapetis is still an ’emerging’ writer,” Brookman says.
“Her voice is so confident and assured and her sense of drama so refined. We’re very lucky to have her at the Company.
“With Gods of Strangers my challenge to her was to aim for the type of family epic that Arthur Miller was so famous for, it promises to be a powerful and compelling story.”
For the production, Carapetis has spent hours interviewing migrants to unearth their arrival stories.
“They’ve all been very generous with their memories and I will do everything I can to honour this in the way I weave the details into the script,” she says.
“I never know what form the information will take, sometimes it will be a character name or a bit of back story or even the way the characters talk.
“A play has a life of its own and sometimes the story in the play benefits if it deviates from the story that occurred in real life.”
Carapetis says new stories from home-grown talents are as worthy as those from international writers, which is why commissioning new work is so vital.
“Commissions give writers the chance to practise their craft, to write stories for this specific Australian audience and to continue to develop our skills as writers,” she says.