My favourite programs on US TV are the advertisements for prescription drugs. During the first half of the ad, a previously sad woman tells you how you how much a particular brand of antidepressants has transformed her life. A lonely man explains how a little blue pill has helped him make a triumphant return to dating. It seems like whatever your problem, America has an easy cure. But in the second half, a voice over slowly and carefully works through a list of thirty or forty grotesque possible side effects, ranging from convulsions and spastic colon to stroke and bleeding ulcers. It certainly does take the edge off that initial, upbeat promise.
Travelling is about noticing differences, and New York is different. There’s a niche for everything. A massive theatre going audience. Very little in the way of subsidies. And literary managers are far more willing to meet you at short notice than they are in Australia. This appetite for new work may be partly cultural, but it also stems from a very real commercial imperative. Theatres in New York need new work to survive, so literary managers read your work. Important people in the theatre go to the readings of nobody writers.
It’s a terrific privilege to be able to spend this month here in New York experiencing this. I’ve already met some very generous, open and helpful literary managers and there’s more to come. I’ve seen a diverse selection of theatre, been to a very polished reading of a new musical, met with actors, agents and producers. It helps enormously to be able to say you were the recipient of a scholarship bearing Edward Albee’s name. And strangely, being here for a limited time can really help to get you a meeting.
I guess all writers are looking for an easy cure. For most, that’s an easy pathway to a production, or the ongoing, supportive engagement of a theatre company. And like the ads for drugs, that cure feels within easier reach here. But of course there’s also a long list of side effects. More competition. Being an outsider. A willingness to meet that can easily be mistaken for a promise to produce. And in the end, writing in a Manhattan studio apartment is no easier than one in Darlinghurst.
After a period you settle into the reality that it’s not one or the other – Australia or New York. There is no easy cure. But this scholarship is a very important opportunity to extend my network in the way that only face to face engagement can do. People here certainly take note that you have bothered to come to their city to pursue them. Chances of productions and supportive collaborations increase. And after seeing a lot of theatre, you also gain a much healthier perspective on your own work and that of the Australian theatre in general.
It’s also been very affirming pitching my new play Blackhawk to various people, and I’m looking forward to delivering a first draft when I return to Sydney. And who knows, maybe even get a few people along to the reading, too.
To apply for the Edward Albee Playwriting Scholarship (New York) and/or the Enderby Entertainment Screenwriting Scholarship (Hollywood) click here.