Modus Operandi

What is The Campaign & After Plays about? What are you doing?

Let me (Ben E) answer by way of an edited version of how I invited by email the other playwrights to participate.

The Australian Federal election has been called for May 18, the first Australian election since the rise of Trump and Brexit and the fall of Cambridge Analytica. At times, it might feel that all or nothing is at stake.

Which could be a starting point for some of us.

I am lucky enough to be the resident playwright at 16th Street Actors Studio, where Iain Sinclair is head of programs. Part of my brief is to invite and to involve other working Melbourne playwrights in our programs.

I want to use the election campaign as a prompt for some new drama.
Suzan-Lori Parks (Topdog/Underdog) wrote a self-contained play (well, a vignette) every day from the inauguration of President Trump for 100 days, recently published as One Hundred Plays for the First 100 Days. It’s an example of how dramatists can not only respond to the times but be a vital part of the conversation and the imagining of the times’ boundaries, emotional, behavioural and political.

I want Australian playwrights to show we have a role to play, so to speak, over the course of this election campaign, but also in the weeks following the election count. When things are meant to have changed.

So. This is what I’m proposing.

Starting after Easter, a group of us write whatever we can on chosen days of the week, with hopefully enough to cover each day of the week at least once. If you’re in, you’d write at least one a week, and at most two, for e.g. Monday and Thursday. And for that day, you’d ideally take only what has happened on that day in the campaign as your starting point, and with the restriction that you’d set the play on that day, write it and send it to me by midnight.

What I’d be doing then is publishing the script online via a Creative Commons license (type CC BY NC ND which means ‘rights reserved, give credit, no commercial usage and no distribution without consent’), and then promoting it via social media.

We would encourage theatres, professional, independent or amateur, to perform these works, provided the Creative Commons license was observed (i.e. crediting the playwright, not taking money). We’d encourage people to film performances and share the recordings on social media.

And, when the hurlyburly’s over, Iain and I would edit a collection of the campaign and after plays for a 16th Street presentation one night.

What’s the catch? We’d be doing it for free. But we’d keep the rights to anything we wrote, of course.

What’s the benefit then? Putting ourselves into the conversation about what elections mean, about how democracies are supposed to work, and which stories are failing and which stories are gaining strength and what that does to our characters, both national and individual.

Some thoughts for guidelines and writing prompts:

  • Anyone can ‘borrow’ anyone else’s characters but there is no obligation other than never kill another playwright’s character
  • People seem to love ‘behind-the-scenes’ discussions, tending towards the self-satirical
  • The unseen or unpublicised character related to the day’s events or pictures is a vein worth mining
  • Leave audiences with no obvious idea who you might vote for, i.e. drama, not campaigning points
  • Try arguing something through scene’s shape that you are desperate not to believe true
  • Satire and parody have been colonised by politicians themselves, so nobility and sincerity are up for grabs
  • Politicians like to frame their proposals as THIS or THEM but never both, each electoral decision involves a sacrifice of some hope or dream. What are they throwing under the bus without realising it? What are they throwing under the bus for a greater prize?

Responding with a yes, Emilie asked Ben for a bit of clarification…

A few questions …
1. When you say ‘minimum guidelines 6 lines with a change by the end of the scene’ – do you mean you ideally want them to be six lines long? Or that is the minimum but they can be longer and if so do you have a max length?

No max length. I simply have a love for six-line scenes, in a sort of haiku-compression-admiring way. I’m only guessing when I say this: those who come to read the work on the site will probably be either theatre bods or political bods, and my experience of both leads me to guess that shorter scenes, vignettes, will engage/enrage more.  

2. Are you interested in poetic / experimental / monologue etc or prefer more of a ‘dramatic text / play ‘ format? (i.e. characters talking to each other in a relatively realistic situation) or you don’t mind / are up for anything?

Always up for the experimental. Part of what I want to do with this project in a public dramaturgical sense is a) widen the canvas and b) show a greater range of brushstrokes

3. Any caveats on using real people (politician names / other celebs / media figures) – best not to or you don’t mind?

I think it’s best just to go for it, if that’s what you want to do. We’re being clear that the scenes are fictional.

4. Any thoughts on being directive / specific around character details such as race, or leaving it open, or leaving that entirely up to us?

This is a great question, and I think that as the campaign has gone so far, it’s been mostly men in suits and a few anglo women taking up the cameras and soundbites, so anything that puts a broader perspective into our imagining of politics/elections will work like an elixir on me in any case.