Aidan Fennessy discusses the real-life inspiration behind his central character Helen.
When did you start working on your new play The Architect and where did your initial inspiration for this script come from?
Probably about a year ago. I had the privilege of meeting and working for a remarkable older woman who was in something of a predicament. We talked. We got along. And after a while I told her I was going to write a play about her and this predicament. She was chuffed. Sometimes you meet people who are exceptional. In this case, her defining feature would have to be ‘grace under fire’. A very classy woman.
Why did you want to write this particular story?
If you get down to it, it’s a play about living in extremis. It’s about being prepared to both live or die at a moments notice. Both options present substantial problems. What’s ‘normal’ goes out the window and people’s behaviour and choices often do too. However, I saw this as a chance to write about an aspect of great human, spiritual, and psychological strength.
When you write do you try and get inside the minds of each character? Can you describe this process for us?
Yes you do. It’s a slightly schizophrenic process. You feel the pain of everyone. There’s no other way around it. You try to provide a road map that can be read by the audience, the ‘character’ and ultimately by the actor playing the part. However, once you’re on the road then the ‘character’ takes over the wheel and hopefully surprises you with where they go. The idea that a writer has total control is an illusion I think. Once the characters arrive there’s only so much a writer can do. They’ll want to have a say in the order of events. There’s a great relief in this too.
Do you have any writing habits or rituals you could share with us?
Yes. I procrastinate. I will clean the entire house before sitting down to write a single line. I used to berate myself for that. Now I just tell myself I’m not ready yet and that things are still cogitating. This means that when I do sit down to write I write fast, often getting out a first draft in a week. This means I’m totally immersed and not hopping in and out of the ‘world’. I also try not to revise during this stage. I rarely cut. I never cut and paste. I just want to get the thing down organically and then see what I’ve got. There’s a great joy to be had doing it this way. Analysis can come later.
What do you love about writing for the stage?
Good question. I’m not entirely sure of the answer though. Is it the process or the result? I have to say that watching the audience watch your work is a rare treat and quite surreal. Normally at that point I feel no ownership over what’s on stage. I can’t remember what possessed me to write it in the first place. If it works it’s a little like magic. But you’re not sure who the magician is. It’s strange.
Do you have any long-term playwriting goals you could share with us?
Playwrights rarely dare to have long-term goals. You’re only as good as your last play. I’m interested in how ‘dangerous’ theatre can be. I’d like to be banned at some point or at least up on obscenity charges. I’m open to ideas.
What is your favourite part of the theatre-making process?
The creative part of it, which is ‘writing’. The rest of the process is entirely reactive to the ‘writing’. That process, casting, designing, rehearsing is about ‘play’. It’s interpretive problem solving. Writing is about establishing the ‘rules of the game’. That’s what I like.
What do you find most challenging about completing a new work?
Not knowing if it will ever see the light of day. A play isn’t very much of a thing without a production and an audience. It’s a set of instructions, like a manual for a car. But what’s a car unless it’s driven? And then what use is the manual?
Is there anything you’d like to add about your play The Architect?
It’s set in Melbourne, now. Housed behind an anonymous looking front door in a generic looking suburban street. Our most sacred moments happen almost entirely behind such doors. It’s behind these doors that we build our lives. It’s also where we destroy them. It’s where we are both most trapped and most liberated. Almost everything extraordinary happens behind these ordinary facades.