In Conversation: Katy Warner


Introduce us to YOU. What’s your creative background? What brought you to playwriting?

I had always wanted to be an actor and was pretty serious about that for a big part of my life. But writing had always been there, too. Since I was a kid really. I wrote terrible plays for my siblings to perform in and was always writing short stories or bad poems and that kind of thing. I was lucky to grow up in a house where reading and writing where actively encouraged. I was a pretty shy kid but Mum got us involved in community theatre and it changed my life. I did lot of plays and musicals and was that theatre kid. I became a Drama teacher and taught in high schools, as being a teaching artist for organisations and companies like Barking Gecko. While teaching I would write plays and monologues for the kids, I even had a playwriting mentorship with Barking Gecko, but never really took it seriously. Not until I moved to Melbourne. I’d made the move to study acting at VCA but sadly had to pull out of the degree in my second year due to financial and personal reasons. Some of those reasons and much of that sadness was channelled into my first real play, These are the isolate, which was performed at the Melbourne Fringe Festival where it won the fringe award for Best New Writing. Part of the award was a course with Writers Victoria where I did workshops with Raimondo Cortese who became my mentor and teacher. It was because of Raimondo and Richard Murphet that I enrolled  in the inaugural year of the Master of Writing for Performance degree at VCA. Doing that degree changed everything. It gave me the confidence to really start taking writing, particularly playwriting, seriously. I finally got to graduate from that wonderful school in 2012 … just a couple of years later than I was originally meant to and with a completely different degree. And I’ve been writing at least one a play a year ever since. I have also kept writing short stories which led to my first book, ‘Everywhere Everything Everyone’, being published by Hardie Grant in 2019. My second book, ‘Triple Threat’ (which, surprise surprise, is about a musical theatre kid) is out this September.

What is your play about?

‘Appropriate’ is about how certain men are protected by the structures they have created and sometimes by the very people who they are harming. It’s about a young woman who makes a complaint about her charismatic, charming male boss to the HR department and the lengths they will go to to protect him.

It’s about injustice and bureaucracy and misogyny. It’s about class and hierarchy and privilege. And it’s about that anger that fizzes inside you when you’re told not to make a scene or that you’re over sensitive or you’re crazy or you’re a lying bitch and what happens if maybe, possibly, one day you let that anger out.

Why do you want to tell this story on a stage today?

Unfortunately, this isn’t a new story or an unfamiliar story but I hope I might be doing something a little unexpected with it for audiences. I want to tell this story because it’s a story that still needs to be told. I like the idea of coming to the theatre to reckon with big ideas or issues, and I wanted to write something that doesn’t shy away from that. I started writing this when I felt alone and angry by events in former workplace and I know that so many others have also felt that way and so I wanted to tell the story now, put it on stage today, so I could feel a little less alone and hope others would too.

What was the process like writing this play?

This play started as a scene, between three women in a conference room. Originally I kept it to just these three voices but it wasn’t moving, it wasn’t going anywhere. But I loved that scene and didn’t want to let go of it. There came a point in the process where I just thought, to hell with it, let’s see where this could go if I were to imagine it being performed on the main stage. If I could just do whatever I wanted with it. No limits on space or money or whatever. And so I sort of took away any of the constraints I often keep in mind when writing plays – like keeping the cast small or the set achievable for a small budget or touring possibilities and things like that. I mean, I say constraints like a negative but I actually I find those things are really helpful to keep in mind when writing a play. But this time around I just let it all go. My approach to writing ‘Appropriate’ was a bit of an experiment really. Just seeing what I could do, where I could take it, if I didn’t have any constraints.

I used a lot of visual images in the process of writing. Images that sparked my imagination but also helped me build the world of the play. I knew I wanted to create a sense of reality fraying, of the edges of this carefully constructed world being dismantled and torn down – that imagery helped me shape and structure the piece.

What has been inspiring you lately? Give us a life recommendation, ANY recommendation.

I just renewed my subscriptions to Overland and Meanjin magazines. The quality of the writing in these magazines, the thought provoking and insightful articles and essays, stunning short stories and poetry … just so damn good. I always find something in those pages to inspire me. Can recommend getting a subscription if you can. Plus you’re supporting Australian writers, so win win.

I’ve been reading a lot of poetry lately – it’s always been something I’ve gone to when writing plays or prose. And two collections I can’t get rave enough about are Emilie Collyer’s Do you have anything less domestic and Evelyn Araluen’s Drop Bear.

Also, for cold winter nights, Abbott Elementary and Heartstopper are two of the most beautiful, heartwarming TV series streaming right now which are just so freaking good for the soul.