Q&A / Writing

The Process of Playwriting with Greg Gould

Greg Gould is a writer of plays, short films, short stories and poetry, and the co-founder and editor of Canberra-based publisher Blemish Books. His latest adventure is The Inheritance, a play produced by Budding Theatre to be presented at Belconnen Community Theatre on 16-19 August. We caught up with Greg to talk about the writing process, and how it was brought to the stage.

What was the inspiration behind The Inheritance, and how did you go about writing it?

I wrote the first draft of The Inheritance as part of the Hive program at The Street Theatre back in 2013. From there it was a stop-start affair. Like a pair of old socks, the manuscript got caught in a cycle of being left in the bottom drawer and being rediscovered and dragged out to see if it still had some life. Overall it took about three years to get the play stage-ready.

There was no single inspiration for the play, but there are plenty of influences. I cheekily refer to it as my “King Lear play starring Kerry Packer and the Kardashians!”

Really, the play is about family and how we all struggle to navigate the rocky road between showing respect for what we have been given, while still feeling free to forge a life of our own. I see an inheritance not in terms of what your parents leave you when they die, but what they give you throughout your whole life. In this sense, everyone spends their inheritance every day, through every decision they make.

Once The Inheritance was written, what was the process of getting it from page to on stage?

Honestly, I had no idea what to do with The Inheritance once it was finished. That’s because: one, I never know when any of my plays are “finished”. And two, the theatre scene can feel intimidatingly impenetrable when you start looking for places to send a new play.

Luckily for me and The Inheritance, I happened to be friends with Kirsty Budding of Budding Theatre. Budding Theatre is a local independent theatre company. They stage youth theatre, short play showcases, and full length works in Canberra. They have a real focus on mentoring and developing young and new writers, actors, and crew.

After having a few short plays in Budding Theatre showcases, I finally got up the courage to ask if Kirsty would be interested in producing my full-length play. To my delight, she said yes. The real icing on the cake was when local theatre legend Cate Clelland agreed to direct! Suddenly we were off and running.

You write plays, short films, short stories and poetry. How does your approach to each form differ, and is there one you connect with most?

My approach to different forms doesn’t change much. It’s about finding the core of each story and figuring out which form will best interrogate it.

For a long time, I’d go through phases. Sometimes I’d focus on poetry, then I’d switch to short stories, then long stories. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was searching for my creative zone—that place that feels snug and easy and free. I had lots of stories to tell, but didn’t really know how to tell them. Everything was trial and error.

It wasn’t until I had a crack at writing theatre that I found a medium that clicked. This was quite a surprise to me. Although I studied creative writing, writing for performance wasn’t something I ever focused on. Embarrassingly, I don’t think I saw a “proper” play until I was about 27 years old (in my defence I did grow up in an isolated mining town). But once I wrote my first few ten-minute plays, I was hooked. Watching words come to life on stage is a surreal and wonderful experience. The feedback from the audience is immediate and raw. People can’t filter how they react to live art. There’s a magic to it, and I can’t help but try and capture it over and over again.

What do you think makes a great play?

When I write plays, I ask myself three questions: Will an audience enjoy watching this? Will actors enjoy playing this? Will a director enjoy directing this? If the answer is yes for all three, then it’s probably a great play.

Admittedly, this is a slightly simplistic approach. But, for me, having fun is the primary goal. Plays can be deep and moving and challenging and insightful, but if they’re not fun, then perhaps we’ve lost sight of why audience members, actors, writers and directors take part in the first place.

Do you have any advice for aspiring playwrights?

Playwriting is an independent act; theatre making is collaborative. Embrace collaboration. Seek out theatre makers—writers, directors, actors, groups, organisations. Support them. Forge partnerships. Get involved in productions. Volunteer. Build sets. Sell tickets. Whatever. Just embrace the creative spirit theatre has to offers. It is rich and engaging, and it will make you a better writer.

More importantly, contributing to the theatre community will help you when you’re trying to get things produced. You’re going to need support, so build the network early. As a bonus, you’ll probably have fun too!

On the flipside, learn to deal with rejection in a positive way. Rejection will happen. A lot. It can be hard. It feels bad. It can feel personal. But usually it’s not. It’s simply part of the process. At the same time always remember, just because someone says no, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It just means you can’t do it with them. So, go find someone who will say yes. It only takes one supporter to get things rolling.

And if all else fails, just aim to do what Steve Martin says: be undeniably good.

***

Local independent theatre producer Budding Theatre is proud to present The Inheritance by Greg Gould at the Belconnen Community Theatre on 16–19 August. When Australia’s richest real estate tycoon dies, his estranged daughter puts her medical career on hold to come home for the will reading. It should be an in-and-out affair, but this eccentric family proves there’s nothing simple about inheriting an embarrassment of riches.

One thought on “The Process of Playwriting with Greg Gould

  1. I encouraged some of my friends to join me as part of the audience yesterday to experience ‘The Inheritance’. We were thrilled by it. It is a witty yet realistic reflection on aspects of life with a laugh every three lines and lots to reflect upon such as how one lives on a daily basis and the good old philosophical question of ‘What is the good life?’ Congratulations to Greg for writing it, Cate for producing it and the actors (so aptly chosen) for applying all their skill and enjoying performing it so much. It ranks highly in my estimation and deserves to be ‘out there’.

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