When tackling a new work, especially one as exciting and challenging as Anna Barnes’ MinusOneSister, you want to make sure that you can give it the greatest amount of support and development possible.
Stories Like These is a company that celebrates new Australian writing, so when we were invited back to Griffin to present the premiere of MinusOneSister, we wanted to create an opportunity where playwright, director, cast and the entire design team could come together in a collaborative workshop environment to explore the text, experiment with different techniques and ideas, and start to discover some of the infinite possibilities this play has to offer before moving into production.
The cast up on the floor
Anna’s play had already undergone some significant script development, and went on to win the Patrick White Playwrights’ Award in 2013, so it came to us pretty much ready to go. But we wanted to make sure we had the opportunity to delve deeper into the world of the play and test some of the ideas we had bubbling away well before starting rehearsals.
We were thrilled to be supported by Playwriting Australia’s State Exchange program, an initiative that provides vital support to artists collaborating interstate on the creation of new Australian works.
In May, I travelled down to Melbourne to meet with Anna. Over a couple of days bunkered down in the foyer of my hotel and across her dining table, we spent hours discussing the type of theatre we are both interested in making, what inspires and challenges us creatively, our politics and passions, the origins of her play, our own responses to the text, its powerful themes, the questions it evokes, and the theatrical possibilities of where we thought we could take it next.
The creative team at our development workshop
Upon returning to Sydney, I started auditions and cast the play. A few weeks later Anna flew up to join the actors and creative team for an intensive three-day creative development workshop.
On day one, there were improvisations built around creating the relationship dynamics between these four sibling characters. We read the text as a company for the first time, and began to dissect what we thought were the most pressing issues the work was investigating, the moments that resonated with us the most, and the questions that arose which required further exploration.
Day two started with sharing of research material (everything from teenage girl culture, family violence, gender politics, true crime stories and ancient Greek drama), and then got the actors up on their feet as they free-formed their way through the play’s 28 scenes. We never returned to a table read, instead actively worked the play on the floor. Our sound designer, Nate Edmondson, lead the cast in a vocal composition workshop and explored with them different uses of sound technology that may be useful in production. We dipped into some of the ancient Greek texts the play is inspired from and looked at moments in Anna’s play that we wanted to excavate even further.
Overnight, Anna wrote a couple of new scenes for us to experiment with, based on the discoveries the actors made on the floor, and on day three we delved back into it all one last time. In the afternoon, our design team and stage manager debriefed with Anna and I on the findings of the development, and we began to plan for how we are going to bring our upcoming production to life.
On her return to Melbourne after the development, Anna sent us a new revised rehearsal draft of the play. Exciting!
It was such a joy to be able to rigorously explore a play with the playwright, actors and whole creative team well before rehearsals begin, and one of the most creatively fulfilling experiences I’ve had to date. We start rehearsals in a couple of weeks and I can’t wait to get back in the room with this play and these fantastic artists.
Here’s a few images from that creative development process. We look forward to sharing this work with you when we hit the Stables stage in September.