Maxine Mellor was Inscription’s Edward Albee Scholar for 2012. Here is a reflection of her time in New York.
I am so grateful to Inscription and its sponsors for the month in New York. The determination it inspired in me to create better, bolder, more far-reaching work will burn fiercely through my lifetime.
Having had no real association with New York before, and arriving unbranded in a place where every person seems to know their own story, this residency was a timely opportunity for me to reflect on my own practice, my achievements, and ambitions, and to figure out what I value in my artistic life.
The residency introduced me to agents and literary managers of theatres across New York where I was able to be an advocate for my own work, find out about theirs, and to form connections that may one day bear fruit. All of the people I met through these arrangements were warm and genuinely interested in my career and how they could assist me. They gave me tickets to company shows, or recommended others – one, from The Public Theater, gave me a personal tour around the newly-renovated building (so new, I was among the first to see!), revealing several unconventional theatre spaces. We even crept past some construction to a platform to look down on rehearsals in progress for one of their latest shows. Such a buzz!
There were informal meetings too, with other artists living and working in New York, who helped to ground the experience, and work to be done developing my new play, The Silver Alps. Mentoring was available from playwrights Will Eno, with whom I’ll remain in contact as the draft unfolds and JT Rogers. We met over coffee and talked about shows to see and shows seen, and I was invited to the New Dramatists for readings of plays by their latest stock of playwrights. That place felt inviting and celebratory – a real safe-house for playwrights, and I am excited to visit t again sometime.
During the residency I made it a point to see as much theatre as possible. Several times a week I would find my way to a new venue to see anything from Broadway shows to those offered Off-Broadway, and even Off-Off Broadway. Highlights included, obviously, the biting 50th anniversary incarnation of Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf; Fuerza Bruta, a contemporary Argentinian dance extravaganza that transforms a hollowed-out bank building into something incredible; The Old Man and the Old Moon, a quirky found-object puppetry show with inventive ensemble storytelling and junkyard charm; and, up-to-the-minute new writing in The Whale, that puts a sweaty, 300lb man living his final days centre stage.
Of course, everything I saw inspired me in one way or another (especially seeing the healthy audience numbers at every show, regardless of time or venue), but it was also so important to be able to establish standards to judge my own work against. I had expected to find, as my harshest critic, that my own writing was not on par with the standard of contemporary work being produced in New York. However, it was heartening to find this wasn’t the case. I felt, instead, surprisingly and thankfully, that with the continued rigour and attention I have applied to my writing thus far, reaching international stages need not feel an impossible feat. This affirmation – that my work could well end up here and that I should shake off this personal cultural cringe – was arguably one of the most valuable things to emerge from this residency.
With this realisation, and exposure to so many different shows and stages, came a creative epiphany: I should think bigger! I was perhaps becoming too safe in my creative choices. I shouldn’t be afraid to write around what I perceive to be limitations in venue, budget, or feasibility; I should create work that will challenge a creative teams’ abilities – work that surprises and excites through the entire process. Of course!
And, so came a very important breakthrough for a major turning-point in the play I was writing, one that opened the play up to become something much more remarkable. New York did this.
I can’t wait to get back there.
To apply for The Edward Albee Playwriting Scholarship (New York) and/or The Enderby Entertainment Screenwriting Scholarship (Hollywood) click here.