In Australia, plays can take years to make it to the stage. Lonely Company is presenting a bold reinvention of play reading festivals, with Beta Fest: Theatre in Various States of Undress, which invites audiences to celebrate the creative process of new Australian theatre.

Theatre People spoke to Bridget Mackey of Lonely Company about the festival and how it came about.

“We’ve put together a festival that showcases the best of Melbourne’s new playwriting. We present writing in a context that celebrates not just the work itself, but the writers’ creative process, and we’ve asked playwrights to be really brave and to ‘Beta-Test’ new work in front of an audience”, she said.

“Lonely Company are dedicated to supporting new writing and, in the year that we have been a company, we’ve thought up some ways to connect new writing to the theatre industry and audiences”.

Lonely Company is an initiative by playwrights and dramaturges Fleur Kilpatrick, Bridget Mackey and Morgan Rose that helps playwrights develop the beginning of an idea into a full script. They aim to create a space where writers feel supported in their work in what can sometimes be an alienating industry.

Their two core beliefs are that playwriting is lonelier than a collaborative art form should be, and that they trust playwrights to know what creative process works for them.

“We initially approached a handful of inspiring playwrights and asked them to submit work to us, as well as also putting an open call out to the Melbourne playwriting community. We received over 40 submissions and selected the work from there. It’s really impressive that there are so many playwrights in Melbourne who are willing to share their raw writing and future vision of their work with us and the public”, said Mackey.

Scenes, excerpts and early drafts by some of Melbourne’s most daring writers will be presented in two streams – directed by Marcel Dorney and Beng Oh. Playwrights will have a platform to test ideas at any stage of development, with the festival aiming to exposes the often-isolated journey of new writing, presenting glimpses of raw ideas before they are smoothed out over years of development and dramaturgy.

“The audience at Beta Fest will watch scenes of varying lengths, from plays in different stages of development. We’re taking over the wonderful Siteworks in Brunswick: It’s a unique space and will give the audience a slightly different experience to if they were watching the reading in a theatre” she said.

“Beta Fest invites audiences to witness the evolution of new works and invest in the future of exciting ideas within the process of their realization”.

The plan is for the festival to be an annual event. Lonely Company hold regular events aimed at connecting playwrights to the theatre industry and audience.

“The festival will showcase the work of a range of playwrights, from exciting emerging playwrights like Yuki Iwama and Allee Richards; to independent theatre powerhouses Rachel Perks and Mark Wilson; to very established writers, including Tom Holloway”, she said.

“We won’t be engaging in any formal discussion but after the readings on both nights we are holding a party in the courtyard. This will be an opportunity for informal conversations about the work, and a chance for audience and artists to meet” said Mackey.

“As many of the plays we are presenting at the Festival are unfinished, the first step for most of the writers will be to finish their play (perhaps with some new insights gained from their readings)”.

“Other featured playwrights have seasons planned for their works. In both cases we hope that the Beta Fest audience follows the development of the plays and playwrights that they have been introduced to during the festival (and given the exciting work that we’ve selected, I’m sure they’ll want to)” said Mackey.

Check the festival out this weekend, 18 and 19 February at Siteworks in Brunswick. Tickets from: https://www.trybooking.com/book/event?eid=253531&embed

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