Playwright Emily Sheehan tells us how her play, Monument, started in the form of a vivid image she couldn't get out of her head.
What made you start writing for the stage?
I started in theatre as an actor and studied acting in my undergrad. In 2013 I participated in Australian Theatre for Young People’s National Studio program, where I got to spend a week away at Bundanon Trust with a group of emerging writers. It was my first time learning to write for the theatre and was I surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Before this I had never considered writing for the stage, but I loved that it made me think about theatre in a new way.
When did your relationship with MTC begin?
I interned at MTC on Cybec Electric while I was studying my masters in playwriting at VCA in 2015. Then last year I was fortunate to be part of MTC’s Women in Theatre program, where I spent the year with an incredible group of theatre makers across all disciplines learning more about MTC, as well as developing my playwriting craft with my Women in Theatre mentor, Joanna Murray-Smith.
Can you tell us more about your Cybec Electric play?
Monument is about a young world leader on the morning of her inauguration. I wanted to write a play about a person on the precipice of really significant power. It’s set in a hotel suite, moments before she is to take the world stage for the first time, and she’s grappling with questions around her legacy as the daughter of the previous leader. The momentum of the work hinges on the desires and dynamics between the play’s three central characters, our leader, her Chief of Staff and her makeup artist.
‘Community is essential. Playwriting is oddly isolating for an art form that is ultimately so collaborative. I think that’s why workshops and readings can be so valuable.’
My ideas usually begin as an image, and for this play I had a very clear image of a significantly powerful person having to sit still while their makeup is being done. And the quiet, seemingly domestic conversations that would unfold between this person and her makeup artist. Writing this play articulates a feeling that if different sorts of people are going to occupy positions of power, then we’re going to have to be okay with what sorts of baggage and desires and dreams and skeletons they’re going to be bringing with them. And that a diversity of lived experience and perspective means we’re going to need to be open to a diversity of flaws.
Where do you write and why?
I have a cosy writing space set up at home, so I always write at my desk on my laptop. I’m easily distracted, so I'm not someone who can romantically write in a cafe while people-watching. I definitely wish I was one of those people, but for me it’s much more of a sit down in the same space and try to concentrate.
How important is your writing community?
Community is essential. Playwriting is oddly isolating for an art form that is ultimately so collaborative. I think that’s why workshops and readings can be so valuable. It’s also just a really joyful experience to see theatre together, to discuss ideas, to have people to read your work, and to see the work of your peers go from initial idea through to production. I feel so energised by seeing new writing, because I know how much work it takes. Bringing a new piece of writing into existence is really hard work mentally and artistically, but it’s incredibly rewarding. I feel really privileged to be surrounded by people who are constantly at different stages of a creative process.
Cybec Electric play readings run from 27 to 29 February 2020 at Southbank Theatre, The Lawler.
Cybec Electric forms part of MTC’s ongoing commitment to the development of new Australian writing, and is only possible due to the support of the late Dr Roger Riordan AM and The Cybec Foundation.
Published on 24 February 2020