Great works of art often have the humblest beginnings and today Melbourne playwright, E.D. Downs, lets us in on his writing secrets. His new play Sarah, The Schoolfriend, And The Five-Minute Man was conceived after a chance encounter at a Melbourne cafe and will soon be featured in Melbourne’s Short + Sweet Festival at Chapel Off Chapel…
Great works of art often have the humblest beginnings and today Melbourne playwright, E.D. Downs, lets us in on his writing secrets. His new play was conceived after a chance encounter at a Melbourne cafe and will soon be featured in Melbourne’s Short + Sweet Festival at Chapel Off Chapel… AT: What was the initial inspiration behind Sarah, The Schoolfriend, And The Five-Minute Man? I was sitting down at La Via on Glenferrie Road in Malvern enjoying some lunch and reading over some notes I had made on Rilke’s Sonnets To Orpheus, when I noticed the lady at the table next to me behaving rather awkwardly. Registering my gaze, the lady looked up and our eyes met. I gave her a courteous smile and the lady blushed a little. ‘You’ll have to excuse me, I’m a little bit nervous, I’m on an Internet date’. We both looked at the table and then at the vacant chair opposite her. ‘Is he late?’ I asked. ‘No, I’m just a little early’. ‘Oh, well, all the best’ I said retreating to my pizza. ‘Thanks’. AT: Did you see the ‘date’ arrive?
Yes! A little while later the gentlemen arrived (a tall, broad shouldered man, with fair skin and blue eyes). I finished my pizza and made to leave, walked over paid for the meal, and as I walked out I looked over to the lady who was all smiles. AT: Did you scribble down the text of your play right there and then?
No, I caught the tram into South Yarra, where I made my way to Red Bennies where I performed as part of Not Quite Cabaret’s Six Pack Of Plays.
Whilst backstage my mind started to bubble over about ways to turn the ‘La Via Internet Date’ experience into a short play.
Wanting to develop some larger-than-life characters I drew on stock characters of Commedia dell’Arte for the piece. AT: Commedia dell’Arte definitely has some larger-than-life characters. What elements did you draw on from the Commedia genre?
I drew mainly on specific character elements from the Commedia genre: the ‘innamorati’ (the lovers), ‘arlecchino’ (a servant with a trickster streak), and ‘il capitano’ (a coward who pretends he’s brave).
I then paired these characters with people in real life and built the characters from there.
AT: It sounds like an interesting concept. Have you done this before in your writing?
No, this is the first time I have used such a process. However there are so many references to Commedia dell’Arte within pop culture, the most famous being of course The Simpsons.
AT: How do the writer of The Simpsons use Commedia dell’Arte?
Well a lot of the characters in The Simpsons directly link with characters from Commedia dell’Arte.
· Mr. Burns is the modern equivalent of Pantelone (a money hungry tyrant in a position of authority).
· Bart Simpson is the trickster Arlecchino, who appears to always getting himself into trouble.
· Lisa Simpson is the clever Columbina, who, like Arlecchino, can also get up to mischief.
· Chief Wiggam is the coward il Capitano.
AT: Once you had these characters did you simply insert them into the ‘Internet Date’ scenario?
Pretty much. I wrote down the basic structure of Sarah, The Schoolfriend, And The Five-Minute Man on the tram ride home from Red Bennies, and wrote out the first draft of the play the next night on the train ride home from work at MacKillop Family Services.
From there I got into contact with Cold Reading Series – Melbourne and had the play read out at one of their monthly instalments. After the reading I began the process of redrafting the script to a point that I was happy with.
AT: Where will we be seeing your play?
Sarah, The Schoolfriend, And The Five-Minute Man is now going to be featured as a ‘Wild Card’ within Melbourne’s Short + Sweet Festival at Chapel Off Chapel, where I will be able to have my work seen and assessed by a crowd of theatre-goers.
Have you enjoyed the ride so far? (pardoning the obvious tram-ride pun) It’s been a wonderful process and I look forward to gathering people’s reception of the work.