THE SECOND ACT is a blog about a year in the life of two playwrights – Jess Bellamy and Chris Summers – who are an exciting point in their emerging careers. Having met through the Fresh Ink program in 2009, they’ve since become friends, colleagues and professional confidantes.
Jess and Chris will be blogging throughout the year, separately and together, giving an inside look into the world of the young playwright.
Sydney. Summer. Pitt St mall, food court.
Bamboo pan-Asian flute music playing.
JESS and CHRIS sit, surrounded by hungry workers and the bright neon lights of Sumo Salad, Nandos, and HOKKA HOKKA NOODLE BAR.
Obama’s inauguration plays on a plasma somewhere affixed to the ceiling.
CHRIS sips thirstily from a bottle of juice.
CHRIS: So what have you been doing lately? What’s a typical day in your life as a playwright, Jess?
JESS: Well, Chris. It’s been a busy couple of weeks. I’ve been in and out of atyp holiday workshops to observe how 10-13 year olds behave in groups. This is great research for my play, Compass. I’m also in the drafting stage of a commission for Canberra Youth Theatre – finalising some character work and writing the first draft. What are you up to?
CHRIS: Aside from drinking a ginger and carrot juice and bitching about housemate dramas with you – as I would any other day – I’ve been trying to redraft my new play, Sandstone, which was developed at STC last year through my JUMP Mentorship and have started work on my residency with Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre in Melbourne. I guess these are some of the projects that we’ll be talking about this year on The Second Act. What do you think of that title, by the way?
JESS: I think that’s an amazing title, for the following reasons:
1) It’s very theatrical.
2) It brings up the fact that while we are still young writers, we’ve had a couple of years away from the Fresh Ink program and are entering a new, slightly different phase of our careers.
The second act for me suggests –
JESS hesitates, tries to think of something to add.
JESS: Do – you want to take over?
CHRIS: I was thinking pretty much along the lines of what you said. But also, I kept thinking about plays I love where the second act is so different and surprising from the first – pretty much anything by Caryl Churchill. I think the period of our careers that we’re entering now is challenging in unexpected ways, and really, quite unpredictable. Even though we’ve both got things lined up for this next year, and we’ll be blogging about them, we also don’t know exactly where we’ll be at the end of it.
JESS: You know what it makes me think of? Secondary school. You’re not a kid any more, and there’s consequences, like doing the HSC. You’re no longer flighty, cute, and immune to criticism. You’re starting to be seen as a real, full-grown playwright, which is extremely exciting but also quite terrifying.
CHRIS: Can’t fully-grown playwrights be cute?
JESS: Ask Lachlan Philpott.
CHRIS: He is like some kind of large, beautiful koala covered in tatts. But fully-grown playwrights aside, what are you most scared about this year?
JESS: I think, in the last few years, I’ve been fortunate to have great responses to my early work. But it feels a bit like second book syndrome. I really want my new work to get responses like the first ones did. But first of all, I have to write the new plays I’ve been commissioned for, and writing plays is hard work, it’s really… oh wow… look at those shorts, oh God, look at those shorts…
JESS points at girl’s hideous shorts as she orders a SUMO SALAD. CHRIS and JESS nod in agreement at shorts, repulsed .
Girl remains oblivious.
JESS: What about you?
CHRIS: I think I’m nervous about not having the safety of an institution for the first time in seven years of consecutive University study. I’m also a little apprehensive about heading overseas and going to the UK for three months – or more – where I’m planning on studying at the Royal Court Theatre, mainly because the UK theatre world is huge and so different to working as a young playwright in Australia.
JESS: It will be amazing, Chris.
CHRIS: Have you tried British coffee?
JESS: No, but I would like to add something to what I was saying – we feel we have so much we want to say and share with the world, but we have this fear that we will be unable to say it the way we want to, or that people won’t want to listen, or that a theatre won’t put it on.
CHRIS: I think there’s two really interesting things in that, that we’ll be talking a lot about this year – firstly, the challenges that face ourselves as writers and our processes, the way in which we actually go about the day-to-day of writing. And then secondly, how we interact with companies and see our work developed, performed, criticised by many different people, who may or may not have a stake in our future as playwrights.
JESS: The double-edged sword of theatre is the fact that it is such a collaborative form. Within that, you have to maintain your individuality.
CHRIS: Stay true to yoself, gurl.
JESS: Exactly, Taylor Swift. The big struggle is working out: what is different about you, and what makes you special in the ecology of theatre? I think that’s something we’ll be considering a lot this year.
CHRIS: I think so too. And I’m excited, genuinely, about getting to chance to blog about this, and also reflect on it with you. We’ve really been doing this in our spare time anyway.
JESS: Because we do fun things together! Like that time we rolled down the hill at 3am on the Bundanon Fresh Ink camp into a warren of wombats.CHRIS: Oh, that wasn’t me. I had already passed out, remember?
JESS: I do remember now.
CHRIS: I think at about 2am I had an unhealthy obsession with your hair, though. I kept patting it –
JESS: Yes. You kept touching my head. I hated it.
CHRIS: Well we are going to be thrown into close proximity again very soon, as we head off to the National Play Festival in Perth, next month.
JESS: That will be a lot of fun – seeing play readings, hanging out with other artists, having some quality one on one time in our Swedish Hotel. That sounds like we’re going to have sex. That’s not what I meant.
CHRIS: …but with full buffet breakfast included!
JESS: We wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ll also be blogging from the script development of Compass, and we’ll both blog from the You Are Here (Centenary of Canberra) Festival in March, which we’re both performing at.
CHRIS: I’ll also be taking the blogging global as I travel through the UK, and hopefully to theatre in Europe as well, in the second half of the year.
JESS: Wow. So, we’ve both got big, exciting plans for 2013, but what do you find most exciting about this stage of your career?
CHRIS: Hmm. I’m excited about the way I feel my writing has developed and the professionals I’m getting the opportunity to work with. I’m really looking forward to the mentorship and experience of others and their associated companies. What about you?
JESS: What I love about this stage of our careers is being able to walk into a foyer knowing that I have a lot of genuine social and artistic connections – these people are my colleagues, and I’m part of a community.
CHRIS: I remember not that long ago neither of us really felt like that, but now I think we both do.
JESS: I also like the sense of relief of knowing that I’m going to be in the industry for a long time. I don’t feel rushed into achieving things at a particular rate – I’ve got the rest of my life to do that now.
CHRIS: Zen. Loves it. So what else do you think The Second Act should be about? What kinds of things are you planning on blogging?
JESS: Lifestyle and Inner Health Tips for Emerging Playwrights.
CHRIS: That sounds terrible.
JESS: By Inner Health, I mean psychological and physical wellbeing.
CHRIS: I guess that’s… erm… useful…
CHRIS takes a large bite out of a slice of cheese pizza.
JESS: What else?
CHRIS: I think interviews, little snippets of thoughts or ideas that we are obsessing about, reflections on developments and rehearsal room processes, and maybe even stuff about how we’re building for 2014 and beyond
JESS: By the end of the year, those of you who follow The Second Act will know us so well, it’ll be like – we’re – long – married – spouses – of yours.
CHRIS: In some kind of polyamorous relationship.
JESS: So, see you next time, vast disembodied ocean of e-spouses!
CHRIS: Next, we’ll be checking in from the other side of the Nullabor – the great Western city of Perth. And if you’ve got any questions or ideas, feel free to comment us on the blog or send us an email.
CHRIS: And we’re out!
Neon lights strobe.
Bamboo pan-flutes morph into hardcore dubstep.
JESS and CHRIS lip sync to Taylor Swift’s ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’, then dance, poorly, up the escalator, into the natural light.