Show artwork for From page to stage
Laurinda workshop (2021) Photo: TJ Garvie
Set The Stage

From page to stage

We talk to MTC Associate Director Petra Kalive and writer and comedian Diana Nguyen about adapting Alice Pung’s award-winning book Laurinda for the stage.

Where did the initial idea to adapt Laurinda come from?

Petra Kalive: A colleague at MTC handed me Laurinda – we had been sharing young adult fiction books, searching for a potential adaptation. I read it and got really excited. Funny, moving, thoughtful, sharp and relatable on so many levels. I just needed the right playwright to help me realise it!

Diana Nguyen: When Petra asked ‘Do you want to write this play?’ I said ‘hell yes’. Theatre is my first love, and the opportunity to bring to life a story of a Vietnamese teenager fitting in at a private school resonated for me. It wasn’t about fitting within a school system, but the bigger picture of the world. There is an urge to fit in, to be seen, to be part of a community, and we witness this journey through the main character Lucy’s eyes.

How has the work developed over the past two years?

DN: We began developing this work as the pandemic first hit. We collaborated by going through the book, and discussing how we could shape it into a play. It was exciting to sit in the development rooms, and hear the play read out, line by line, and hearing where it landed. To have Asian Australian actors sharing their stories, and their connection to the play made this an even more important work to present.

What have been the advantages of developing a new work through the NEXT STAGE Writers’ Program?

PK: The NEXT STAGE Writers’ Program has been invaluable to this play’s development. Getting feedback from MTC’s in-house literary team and then having the opportunity to hear the text in various developments has meant the play is far richer and more realised than Diana and I could have done on our own. It really has been an act of collaboration. We are indebted to the actors that supported us along the way, so we could really make the home and school feel real.

Why is investment in new work important to the arts and to telling Australian stories?

PK: Stories have a cultural ‘ripple-effect’ – they improve connection, empathy and understanding and if we’re lucky, generate conversation about where we are headed as a culture. New work, or the investment in stories that haven’t been told, means that we are continually working to ensure we are in dialogue with the world. We need investment in Australian stories and storytellers so that the cultural identity on our stages is as rich and complex as the Australia we live in.

DN: As an Asian Australian playwright and comedian, my work has always focused on ‘who’ is watching and listening to my work. I have immense pride when diverse Australian crowds witness stories that represent them. That is when theatre is important. It allows for connection, belonging and understanding. To have different perspectives and lenses is critical for a multicultural acceptance of the real Australia. It also allows new emerging playwrights including myself to elevate our writing and it’s been wonderful to collaborate with Petra on Laurinda. I know Laurinda will have a profound impact on audiences from all backgrounds. This is not an Asian Australian story. This is an Australian story. Everyone has contributed to Lucy’s journey.

Laurinda is on stage from 6 August to 10 September at Southbank Theatre.


NEXT STAGE is made possible with the support of the Donors, Foundations and Organisations of MTC’s Playwrights Giving Circle.

Make your donation today to ensure MTC can continue to bring diverse Australian stories to the stage.

Published on 26 April 2022

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