Playwright Robert Reid reveals how On the Production of Monsters came into being.
“On the Production of Monsters”: began about five years ago now, I think around 2007, as a three day reading at La Mama for their Explorations Season. I’d pitched a new work to La Mama about ten months before – from memory, it was about people living in the sewers of Melbourne – but by the time we’d got to actually programming it, I’d gone off the idea. I still had the three days to develop something, and I didn’t want to waste it as time in front of an audience is an increasingly rare commodity, so I took it as an opportunity to write an entirely new piece.
At the time the Bill Henson case was breaking in the news and the reaction of the wider community to the issues involved, and the level of emotive rhetoric rather than informed and calm discourse, struck a deeply disturbing note for me. Particularly as the accusations of depravity that were being leveled at Henson also gave vent to what seemed like a deep suspicion of the arts, all arts, in Australia.
For four Sundays, actors Georgina Capper and Mark Tregonning worked with me on the text, now called The New Black, and we presented a showing of where we’d gotten to with it.
Peter Evans was Artistic Associate at MTC at this point and I found myself meeting with him about the The New Black. I’m not sure how he found out about it, but he had read it and seemed keen, and off the back of it asked me to write a draft of another new play – which eventually became The Joy of Text. While I was working on The Joy of Text, The New Black was shortlisted for the Kit Denton Fellowship at the 2009 AWGIE Awards. It was up against Back to Back’s Ganesh Vs The Third Reich which ultimately received the fellowship. Even being considered alongside that play was an honour.
Peter Evans ended up directing a reading of The New Black at Playwriting Australia National Playwriting Festival in 2010. That reading resulted in The New Black being selected for a two week workshop at Hightide Festival in the UK at the beginning of 2011. At some point another reading of it was staged at MKA Theatre of New Writing, directed by Peita Collard.
Finally, when Aidan Fennessy was programming this year’s Lawler Studio season, he asked if I thought The New Black would work as part of it. Of course, I’ve been wanting to see this play produced for five years now, so I said yes immediately (even though we both knew it needed some redrafting before I was really going to be happy with it. I’m a terrible pain to directors that way I think).
Throughout the process of working on it in the independent theatre community, I’d never really been satisfied with the title. Looking back at the very first draft of this play, the file name says I originally called it Helpful People, which reminds me I was a touch influenced by Patrick White’s A Cheery Soul at the time. Redrafting it for MTC gave me the chance to really make it a polished and complete work. Part of that was also finding a title that properly reflected what the work was actually about. I settled on “On The Production of Monsters”: as a summation of everything the play speaks to – that hysteria and moral panic can only result in the production of more monsters.