From June 1-23, The Women’s Project Theatre in New York City will be presenting “We Play For The Gods,” a play about four women who go to work on a seemingly ordinary day only to find that they’re being messed with someone a little more powerful. Part of the team of writers taking part in the project is Alexandra Collier, an Australian playwright living in New York. Also on the team working with the Women’s Project Theatre is fellow Aussie Deane Brosnan, Director of Marketing for the Women’s Project Theatre.
With such a strong Aussie female influence on this New York-based production, we couldn’t miss this opportunity to ask both individuals a few questions about the play and how they came to be involved in it.
Alexandra Collier, Playwright
Q: Tell us a little more about “We Play For the Gods”
A: It’s a collaborative project that was commissioned by the Women’s Project involving their lab members. The writers, directors and producers of their two year lab were charged with creating a play for their main-stage season. So seven writers, three producers and four directors have created the project over a year. The play is about four women going to work on an ordinary day and being interrupted by a trickster God who throws their lives off kilter.
Q: You’ve written a number of full-length plays and some shorts. What made you want to collaborate with so many others on a project of this nature?
A: I was lucky enough to be commissioned to create this project with an amazing group of artists. The opportunity came from being a member of the Women’s Project writer, director and producer lab, which has been an incredible opportunity for my artistic career in New York.
Q: Do you think that your cultural differences added or subtracted from your experience? Did you find yourself writing differently as part of the collaborative effort with other Americans?
A: I find that I am always writing and thinking differently to Americans. I have become better at “speaking the language” as I’ve now been here for six years. But I think my difference is part of what makes my voice and my writing unique. There were some funny moments in the process where an American in the room would point at the script and say, “did you write that?” because it had some kind of subtle Australian-ism that no one would use here. Like the word lift, instead of elevator or some such. Of course, I always denied it was me. But they knew.
Q: You just wrote a play whilst in the USA called Underland. It’s set in the Outback with a Japanese businessman as a main character. Tell us more about that.
A: I wrote it while I was on a silent retreat in upstate New York, with this amazing guru of a playwright, Erik Ehn. I’d been trying to write American characters and American plays and Erik is a writer who allows you to let go of judgement so I was able to shut off my producer brain and write a play set in the dead red centre of Australia, even though I live in New York. It was a very liberating process. The play is set around a school in a drought-ridden central Australian town and two schoolgirls are trying to escape their mundane lives by digging a tunnel to China. Of course, the tunnel accidentally ends up going to Japan and Japanese businessman start crawling out of the earth from Tokyo. And then they these businessmen get murdered by a killer half crocodile/half man. I was resisting pandering to Aussie stereotypes, as Americans usually think we’re all just like Crocodile Dundee and Steve Irwin. But I couldn’t help it, a crocodile ended up in the play – but it’s a very strange and weird and funny play that I hope resists stereotypes.
Q: What inspires you about Australia? Conversely, what inspires you about New York?
A: How many hours do you have? Australia, in some ways, has become a mythical sun-drenched place in my memory as I only go back in the summer. I think everything from your past filters into your writing so it’s always in there and being Australian is so much part of who I am. But I think what I’m inspired by is living out of place – being out of place. The weird disjunction and discomfort of being an outsider is what inspires my writing, which is so much about travel and dislocation. New York is part of that everyday.
Q: You started off as an actor. How do you think that prepared you for a career as a playwright?
A: Most people who work in the theatre were actors at some time or other. It’s crucial I think to have inhabited the dark space at the back of the theatre and felt what it’s like to be up there, to make a play, to inhale the dust and to stand under the lights. It equips you for creating theatrical work as you know what’s possible and what’s terrifying and what’s exciting about that magical darkness.
Q: Do you have any advice for young Aussie playwrights trying to make it in the USA?
A: Finding a community of people to work with is crucial. You can flail around in New York trying to make it and feel totally lost without other people to work with. Studying can really help with that, as can getting involved with some kind of theatre company. Oh, and writing a lot is important.
Deane Brosnan, Director of Marketing, Women’s Project Theatre
Q: How did you get involved with the Women’s Project Theatre?
A: I arrived in New York in the summer of 2007 without a job, friends or a place to live. It was one of those rare fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experiences where anything can and often does happen. Looking back, it was exhilarating, exhausting, exciting and utterly terrifying. All that good stuff.
I met Penny Mapp, who was the North American Director for Advance (the Australian non-profit) at a party, and volunteered to project manage Advance’s Roving Eye Art Exhibition in New York and London. Penny walked her dogs with the Grants Manager at WP which is how I heard about the Director of Marketing role. I had worked mostly in media in Australia but spent much of my childhood in youth theatre so it was a homeward journey, of sorts. It is such a joyful and satisfying experience working with theater artists and seeing their work brought to life on the stage. I remember standing outside the theatre with playwright Liz Duffy Adams, when we produced her play Or, and looking up at the rave New York Times review, in lights. A very sweet moment, indeed.
It was also through Penny Mapp that I became involved with Variety, the Children’s Charity. With the Executive Director, we established Young Variety, the Young Professionals Board in NYC, and I ended up chairing the board for the next two years. Really, my whole New York career has been in the non-profit world and I feel most fortunate to be involved with three organizations with such heart for their mission.
Q: What do you like about the Theater scene in New York?
Quite simply, NYC offers a plethora of theatrical options unlike any other city in the world. The theatre scene is incredibly diverse and inventive, catering to every possible palette. On any given night, you can see the best of Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway. From musicals and star vehicles through to dynamic plays and fringe shows. It’s all here.
Q: How about back home? Is there anything you’ve learned here that you’d like to send back to your counterparts in Australia?
Gosh, let’s see. Well, if you are considering trying your luck in NYC, I would suggest arriving without an expectation or preconceived idea as to how your New York life will unfold. It’s been my NY experience that opportunity and possibility presents itself to those who are completely open to both. The city will open in its own unique and extraordinary way.
Oh, and have fun with it all. I’ve noticed New Yorkers can often get distracted by the never-ending whirl and swirl of the city and forget to enjoy the moments.
As a special offer for Ustralian readers, tickets for this play are available at over 50% off with special code WPGODS25 until June 13, and WPGODS30 from June 14-23. More info and how to buy tickets can be found here. To find out more about the play, the team behind it and its cast, go to www. weplayforthegods.com