Playwright interviews gay community in Northern Territory for new play 'Ladies Day'
Respected verbatim playwright Alana Valentine spent months interviewing the gay community of the Northern Territory to create a play that asks questions about tolerance, isolation, truth, and the right to have your story told. She spoke to Garrett Bithell about Ladies Day.
It’s Ladies Day at the Broome races and the divinely beautiful Mike is the toast of the track. But amongst the froth and festivity, a brutal act of violence reminds us that life is not just all swishy hemlines, debonair gents and fascinators galore.
Herein lies the premise of Ladies Day by revered Australian playwright Alana Valentine. Known for her incisive verbatim works, she takes her interviews and research with individuals and communities, and mixes them with a vigorous dose of drama. The result is often powerful, thought-provoking theatre in which the voices of her protagonists ring absolutely true.
For Ladies Day, which is set to premiere at Griffin Theatre in conjunction with the 2016 Mardi Gras Festival, Valentine spent months interviewing the gay community of Broome to create a play that asks questions about tolerance, isolation, love, hope, and the right to have your story told.
Above: Wade Briggs, Elan Zavelsky and Matthew Backer in rehearsals for Ladies Day
“I am always interested in hearing from people whose lives I think I know about but who are, in fact, living in ways that are dynamic, changing and often courageously different from my assumptions,” Valentine tells SX. “I am inspired by the difference between how we imagine places and people to be and how they actually are. The shock of the real deal, as it were.
Although the play is set in Broome, the play’s reach is far wider, Valentine asserts. “Yes, I spent time in Broome and the community members there were warm and honest and candid with me. But I’ve also spent time in recent years in Port Hedland and Darwin and Katherine – that whole top part of North Western Australia – so the play is informed by a broader perspective than just Broome. Broome is both a place and a metaphor in the play for an isolated, regional Australian city.”
Above: Matthew Backer and Wade Briggs in rehearsals for Ladies Day.
Valentine was particularly intrigued by “the tension between the community members who arrive in that place from ‘down South’ and want to be out and loud and proud, and their relationship to the GLBTI people who have grown up in that place and are still locals”.
“There can be a difference of opinion between these ‘sides’ of the community about how to approach community acceptance and engagement, and also how to talk to someone like me (an outsider) about the more difficult or dark aspects of both the GLBTI community and the general community,” Valentine says. “Some people want to be more provocative and critical than others, shall we say.”
Once Valentine completed her vast interview process, she set about transforming the material into a piece of theatre.
Above: Elan Zavelsky, Matthew Backer, Wade Briggs and Lucia Mastrantone in rehearsals for Ladies Day
“I chose all the bits that were the funniest and most confronting and most repulsive and most difficult to accept because that’s what a dramatist should be courageous enough to put on stage,” she tells. “Ladies Day is not a documentary, so I folded all the interviews and impressions I had into four characters who are more extreme and dramatic and invented and confused and fraught than the men I met but who retain the authenticity and candour of my original interview subjects. No play is about the subject or the setting – a play is about human beings and the unpredictable, complex and paradoxical ways they behave so I had to transform the research into something much more focused.”
Directed by Darren Yap, Ladies Day features a stellar cast comprising Matthew Backer, Wade Briggs, Elan Zavelsky and Lucia Mastrantone.
“Ladies Day is my way of valorizing an aspect of the GLBTI communities of the world that I want to celebrate – that we offer our wider communities a role model about the importance of truth, even when it is painful to confront and the cost in telling it is high. GLBTI people are like all human beings in the way we deny and suppress and try to wriggle out of uncomfortable truths about ourselves and then painfully, sometimes perversely, find a way to confront them. Ladies Day is ultimately about the cost of truth, the price of truth, and the complexity of that journey to acceptance of it.”
February 5 – March 26, Stables Theatre, Nimrod Street, Kings Cross. Bookings at www.griffintheatre.com.au