Chris Summers is one of MTC’s NEXT STAGE Writers-In-Residence. In the six months he has been connected to the Company, he has completed a play and set to work on at least two others. Summers tells us about the benefit of writing inside the walls of a professional theatre company, and how he is moved by truly great art.
What made you start writing for theatre?
I’d always been an imaginative kid – inventing stories, investing in fantastical worlds. With no musical talent and even less aptitude for drawing or painting, writing became my way of expressing myself. I wrote my first short play when I was 17, which won the Young Playwright’s Award at Sydney Theatre Company, directed by none other than MTC Literary Director Chris Mead. Working with Chris and professional actors to unpick, challenge and reveal the meaning of my words, and then share them with an audience, got me hooked.
What was the last play you wrote about?
My last play, Pedagogy, won the Max Afford Playwrights Award and was presented at Playwriting Australia’s National Play Festival in 2016. It was based on my real-life experience of moving to Western Victoria to teach drama in a small school as part of a not-for-profit organisation. Focused on the relationship between one teacher and one student, it was about the acts of teaching and learning (inside and outside the classroom), idealism and the individual’s capacity to affect change, and the state of education in regional Australia. It was an important step forward in my writing, blending autobiography with comedy and honest social commentary, and it’s a play I’m very proud of.
What does this residency mean to you?
Playwriting is a very strange profession, in that you are writing for an extremely collaborative medium, which requires dozens of people (and often a company) to bring to life, yet you write your drafts in isolation. The NEXT STAGE residency has completely shifted this for me: it has given me support to develop my ideas through both rigorous dramaturgy and casual conversations with artists and the Artistic Team, the structure of deadlines, meetings, presentations and workshops within the Company, and the space to be present in the building alongside some of Australia’s best theatre-makers and producers. This has allowed me to already complete a new play – a romantic comedy about trauma called Being Better – and the confidence to get to work on the next one.
What’s the last piece of art that you loved and why?
I know a work of art is having an impact on me when I completely lose track of time while watching. I couldn’t tell you how long The Favourite [a film directed by Yorgos Lanthimos] was because I was so completely engrossed in the shifting power-plays, blind-sided betrayals and expressions of complicated, selfish, self-interested love between three women. Add to that the innovative cinematography and richly detailed world. The Favourite was something I’d never seen before, and couldn’t wait to watch again.
What do you hope to achieve in the next 18 months of your writing residency at Melbourne Theatre Company?
I’ll be undertaking a workshop of my play Mycoremediation; or A Family Trip – a comedy-drama about the troubled history and potential future of psilocybin (magic mushrooms) use in psychotherapy – later this year. I will continue to attend and learn from all of MTC’s fantastic new shows, and maybe – just maybe! – one of my plays will be presented as part of an MTC season. Fingers crossed!
Published on 12 April 2019