Mostly it feels like you don't know–like you're reaching for something that you can't quite grab. Some writers talk about their fear of the blank page, but the playwright who draws work from life can have the opposite problem. Spoilt for choice. Presented with myriad possibilities and competing ideas of how to condense the source material or arrange it in a theatrically dynamic, original and compelling way. Lost in a sea of options, yet perversely obsessed with the interview not done, the perspective not transcribed, the final piece of the jigsaw forever elusive. And it's not about a lack of confidence, although that can hum away in the background for longer than you might expect. It's about not trying to have clarity. It's about waiting until you do.'
So begins Bowerbird, a journey through the life and plays of Alana Valentine, as well as the creative process behind the plays. One of Australia's most inventive playwrights, Alana shows the power of bringing new audiences into our theatres to share the space with traditional audiences, detailing how to gather and transform lived experience into compelling drama. In Bowerbird she reveals the motor of her artistry by combining stories from her life with observations from her experience.
'Bowerbird is written with all the humanity, wisdom, humour and generosity that we recognise and love in Alana Valentine's work. This is much more than a guide for aspiring writers: this is a book for anyone who loves theatre, its power and its people.' Neil Armfield AO
“Upwards of, and possibly more than 500,000 Australians experienced care in an orphanage, Home or other form of out-of-home care during the last century. As many of these people have had a family it is highly likely that every Australian either was, is related to, works with or knows someone who experienced childhood in an institution or out-of-home care environment.”
Forgotten Australians, Senate Committee Report, August 2004
The inmates of Girls Training School, Parramatta had about as hard an upbringing as you can get in Australia. But theirs is also one of the great untold stories of making good in tough times.
Based on the testimony of dozens of GTS old-girls, this vibrant new play is a joyous and harrowing dramatisation of the experiences of eight inmates and their reunion forty years later. Interspersed with song and storytelling, this is a tribute to mischief and humour in the face of hardship and inequality.
My name's Gayle and I was here in the fifties. They set this place up in 1908 and they didn't close it til 1980. Well, my maths has never been very good but maths or no maths, 200 girls by eighty years is a lot to answer for. We've got somethin’ in common, ladies, and we're gonna share it today.
What do you do when you profoundly disagree with someone you love? Wearing a hijab is a touchstone of religious identity, but it is also imbued with a complex array of historical and contemporary meanings. In Alana Valentine’s new play, the cultural meaning of the hijab has become a wedge between generations.
At the heart of Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah is the relationship between an aunt and her niece. Both devout Muslims, the younger woman wants to put on a headscarf, the older woman tries to dissuade her. For Aunt Sarrinah, the hijab represents a world from which she has escaped; for her niece, Shafana, it is a personal statement of renewed faith.
Alana Valentine has written a startling meditation on the clash between individual freedom and community reaction and, as academic Christina Ho acclaims, ‘ a quietly insightful intervention that portrays what media headlines never can; the multiple meanings of the headscarf for Muslim women’.
To read an extract from Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah, see this PDF.
When the National Rugby League thought they could jettison the Rabbitohs to streamline their competition they were in for a shock. South Sydney, a proud club that had won more premierships than any other, refused to lie down. Valentine’s play is a verbatim piece about the battle to overturn the decision. Based on extensive interviews with both the public faces of the campaign and the grassroots supporters, this is a story of passion and politics that goes beyond football. For when South Sydney came out fighting they proved the importance of community and the power of momentum. Their battle in the courts and streets of Sydney captured the imagination of the wider population as they successfully fought to regain the right to play league football at the top level.
Savage Grace: During his residency at an Australian hospital, Dr Tex Cladakis, an American HIV specialist, meets bioethics professor Robert Bavaro. They clash over ethical issues, but despite or perhaps because of this, a passionate sexual affair develops between them. As Cladakis considers assisting the suicide of one of his terminally ill patients, the moral ground shifts and the stakes escalate, threatening their personal beliefs and the trust and love that is growing between them.
Love Potions: Three couples negotiate their way into intimacy, aided by tea, wine and chocolate. Love Potions has a pre-coital first half and a post-coital second, intercut with some naughty and very sexy verbatim revelations. More than a celebration of the nexus between sex and food, these clever, short plays are tender and passionate glimpses of human nature at its most vulnerable. Why do some people develop a sensuous relationship with their world and others remain indifferent to the subtleties of flavour, texture and taste?
Singing the Lonely Heart: Loosely based on the life of Southern American writer Carson McCullers, this Gothic fantasia reveals writer Alana Valentine's engagement with a compelling magic realist style. Set in Columbus, Georgia, in the late 1920s, the play opens at a travelling freak show, where Carson first becomes aware of her sense of difference. It goes on to depict an unconventional Southern upbringing and its inevitable clash with the narrow-minded attitudes of small town America–particularly its racial and sexual prejudices. Out of this conflict Carson emerges as a character who is at once disarmingly frank and worldly yet strangely innocent and affecting.
'This is less a neat chronology of a famous life, and more a series of illuminations around the edgy sensibility of a writer and outcast' Martin Portus, Sydney Star Observer
Ozone: A man has been stripped of his skin, just as the world is being stripped of its protective membrane of life-saving ozone. But flying back with him on the flight to Australia are four deal-makers who have in their power the ability to reverse both his and the globe's fate. Or do they? A surreal and hilarious comic farce meets a deadly environmental thriller in this compelling drama which fuses the pain of love with the horrors of global warming.
'Underlying this zany comedy is a three layered metaphor about protection–from the ozone layer that protects the planet, the plane that protects the travellers and the human skin that protects the individual.' Alison Cotes, Brisbane Courier Mail