Member Spotlight: Shannon Murdoch
by Eliza Wyatt
Shannon Murdoch holds a first class honours degree in Theatre and Creative Writing and was an Australia delegate to the International Youth Playwrights Festival. She has been aware of the magic of theatre since the age of eight but recognizes the special challenges in being a female playwright because 'women tell stories differently'. She has now given up paralegal work and is now able to workas a dramaturg and on her writing. She says she 'fiercely listens' to people who understand what she is trying to say and is a great fan of rewrites and submitting wherever and whenever possible.
Researching theatres in Melbourne, her present location, gives us some idea of what she is up against, a challenge shared by all playwrights in big cities. The number of theatres is impressive, the total population of playgoers on any given night could easily reach ten thousand people. People watching opera, dance, musicals, contemporary art and performance shows and concerts. This kind of global entertainment to be found throughout the world. Shannon is aware that Australian theatre still has to build 'its cannon' and is still finding its voice. In her work she has had access to two different Australian backgrounds, the heat and humidity of Queensland and the often cloudy, grey and windy Melbourne. Atmospheric descriptions which I'm sure will find their way into the cannon of her work.
Shannon is a winner of the U.S. Yale Drama Series Award and has a screenplay, Little Bitch, in development. She has an impressive list of productions in Australia, Canada and the U.S.
the room where she works
Q: Why did you become a playwright?
My mum took me to see CATS! when I was 8 years old. I still remember every moment of that performance and the tingly feeling I had when the lights went down, anticipating that some sort of magic was about to happen. And it did. After that, I became hooked on theatre. Couldn’t get enough of it. I acted as a kid and as a teenager and then went to drama school, where I realised that I could sit down and create that tingly feeling with my own stories. And so, here we are.
Q: Are there any special challenges in being a female playwright?
Well, the statistics speak for themselves. We are half of the population competing for a quarter of the available production slots. But that’s not the real challenge. The real challenge is the fact that women tell stories differently. Not better, and definitely not worse. But different. A different shape, that sometimes does not fit neatly into traditional structures. So, the real challenge is to not only write our stories, but to find or invent the structures that support them in the best way, and make them as valuable and as prized as traditional structures.
Q: What is special about theatre in Australia?
I guess the fact that it is still so new. In the western world, we are a very young country, borne of a history of colonisation by people that stole land and lives from the traditional owners. A shameful past, which sits uneasily in the national consciousness. Added to that, Australian stories and Australian voices have only been heard on Australian stages since the 1950s. Before that, we only had British theatre. So, I think we still are trying to find our voices and still building our canon.
Q: What advice would you give to your fellow (or aspiring) playwrights?
I’m not big on advice, but here’s what I know to be true for my writing:
Ideas and the craft you need to bring those ideas to life rarely come together at the same time. I recently found a way to complete a play that I had the first idea for 9 years ago. It’s a marathon.
Know your good. Take the time to understand what kind of plays you want to write, why you want to write them, and what the best possible version of that is. Don’t stop writing it until you have reached that best possible version.
Fiercely listen to people who understand what you are trying to do. Politely ignore the rest.
Submit. Everywhere. Make it a part of your practice to get your plays in front of every set of eyes possible. You’ll be amazed at what happens next.
Welcome New Members
Carolyn Gage, USA
Carolyn Gage is a lesbian feminist playwright, performer, director, and activist. The author of nine books on lesbian theatre and sixty-five plays, musicals, and one-woman shows, she specializes in non-traditional roles for women, especially those reclaiming famous lesbians whose stories have been distorted or erased from history.
In 2014, she was one of the six featured playwrights at the 53rd Annual World Theatre Day, sponsored by UNESCO, and held in Rome. In 2014 she also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Venus Theatre in Laurel, Maryland. In 2015, the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College acquired her papers.
Charmaine Spencer, USA
As a teacher and professional puppeteer, Charmaine Spencer has written numerous story adaptations for young audiences including two-actor versions of The Time Machine and Treasure Island and an audience participation comedy entitled Higgledy Piggledy Mother Goose. Her play, Fireflies, concerning the young artists of Terezin concentration camp was published by Eldridge Plays. Her one-man musical about the life of Mario Lanza was twice produced at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and she is currently working on book and lyrics for Circus Boys, a musical story of the young Ringling Brothers and Mrs Magi, an urban retelling of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.”
We are excited to announce that the 50/50 Applause Award for Gender Equity in Theatre will launch on June 5th with nominations accepted from June 5 through June 30th. Some minor changes have been made to the criteria. Nomination forms and press releases will be available in English, Spanish, and French. More announcements to come.
The 50/50 Applause Award team.
Now Playing and Coming Soon
If you have a play or a reading between July 1 – July 29, please email Amy (email@example.com) before June 15 and it will be featured in the NOW PLAYING column of the July newsletter. Any play or reading in August will appear in the COMING SOON column.
Liquid Lunch in Hell’s Kitchen, a monologue by Robin Rice will be part of The Strand Project. June 2, 3, 9, 10: Selah Dessert Theater, Struthers, Ohiio, USA
Everyday Edna Mae also by Robin Rice will be presented June 15, 20, 22 at Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, New York City, USA
Tops and Maxine by Lynne S. Brandon have been selected for readings by Athena Theatre Company. They will be read and discussed June 29th and July 27th at the Dramatists Guild Fund, 356 W. 40th Street (at 9th Ave.), as part of Athena Reads monthly play reading series.
Gutless and Grateful by Amy Osestreicher June 30 at 9:30 p.m. at Feinstein’s/54 Below, New York City, USA
In the Restroom at Rosenblooms by Ludmilla Bollow will be presented on Fridays this July at Mosely Arts Center, Lake City Colorado, USA
Listen! The River by Robin Rice will by presented at Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. Articulate Theatre Co. July 6 & 8, New York City, USA
God Bless Phyllis Schlafly, a ten-minute play by Amy Drake examining the women’s movement in America, will be playing July 15 & 16 as part of the MITF Short Play Lab, New York, New York, USA
The Mess, a 10-minute play by Catherine Frid that explores memory and forgetting, and the importance of reaching out across generations, will be playing at the NewMarket National Play Festival on July 22. NewMarket, Ontario, CANADA
Articles of Interest
Women in Theatre and Screen Australia believes in quotas and affirmative action in the pursuit of gender parity and gender diversity.
The Guardian reports ten groundbreaking shows by women on Australian stages in 2016.
Aussie Theater talks with Lisa Campbell about gender disparity in Australian theater.
Yours for innovative, engaging, and equitable theater,