"It can be a lonely business, yes. But that’s why I’m a playwright – because theatre can’t exist until you bring many others into the equation." Chris Summers Playwright – Crossed
At 23, Chris Summers is no longer an emerging playwright but one who has well and truly emerged. He is one of the new young guns of Australian playwrights who had boldly and successfully navigated the creative wilderness at a very young age and hasn’t stopped since. From the 2005 Sydney Theatre Company’s Young Playwright Award to the 2008 St Martin’s National Playwriting Award (also shortlisted in 2010) to the 2009 Script Development Award from Union House Theatre, Summers has found a voice and people are listening. Summers’ latest commissioned play, Crossed, for Platform Youth Theatre, will make its Melbourne debut in June (9 – 19) at Lamama Courthouse. My interview with Summers follows:
In 2005, at 17, you won the Sydney Theatre Company’s Young Playwright Award. What was that experience like for a very young person and would you consider that milestone to be a prime motivator for your continued writing?
It was really exhilarating. It was the first time I got to work with professional actors and a professional dramaturg / director, Chris Mead, who went on to become the Artistic Director of PlayWriting Australia. It was definitely the impetus for me to pursue becoming a playwright – I had the opportunity to really develop, test and bring a script to life and realise theatre wasn’t just about what was on the page. At that point, I was hooked!
When did the passion to write first become part of your life?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember! It used to be short stories (terrible) and poems (even worse), but when I started toying around with scripts in my teens, something clicked.
Who would you consider to be mentors or those that have inspired you?
I’m consistently inspired by the local theatre industry – the passionate individuals who go out there and produce mind-blowing, beautiful work for little recognition and even less financial gain. There are just too many inspirations to name but I really believe Australian theatre – particularly Australian playwrights from the established generation of Patricia Cornelius, Raimondo Cortese and Hilary Bell to the new young guns Tom Holloway, Lally Katz, Angus Cerini, Van Badham, Lachlan Philpott, Declan Greene (I could keep going forever, I swear) – is in such a healthy state. It is a good time to be a writer, or even better, an audience member!
What are the main themes and philosophies that you find are the most influential over your writing?
I’m driven by a desire to in some small way, make people question and interrogate their relationship with the world. I think my plays deal with very human characters and human dilemmas, but always integrate particular political concerns – mainly to do with social inequality and injustice. I like to think I’m working towards staking out territory somewhere between the personal and the political.
Some say writing is a lonely business. Do you find this to be a truism?
It can be a lonely business, yes. But that’s why I’m a playwright – because theatre can’t exist until you bring many others into the equation. Theatre is all about life and liveness so creating it is a highly social, if a little daunting, exercise!
Can you talk a little about the influences that brought Crossed into the world?
Crossed came about in response to two main things: the occurrence of several violent attacks in Melbourne streets over the space of a few months and my fascination with suburban alienation in an increasingly ‘connected’ society. The two things didn’t seem particularly connected themselves until I began experimenting with the form, content and characters and realised, actually, they were.
What are the main themes that are being explored in this work?
I guess the overarching theme of the play is how do we exist as individuals in communities, and how do we reach out and connect with each other? Within that, the play taps into many other themes: identity, race, sexuality, class, violence and love. Not every audience member will necessarily connect with or relate to all of those themes, but I think they will each find things that command their interest.
Are you involved in the rehearsal room and to what degree do you believe a playwright should involve themselves in the rehearsal room?
Theatre is a collaborative process. If a playwright believes that by writing a play they are going to see their imagined ‘vision’ transposed to a stage, they’re being unrealistic. I embrace and enjoy the liberation from the process – I haven’t been particularly involved in ‘Crossed’ because I trust Matt Scholten (the director) and the cast, creatives and crew to bring the script to life in the way they best see fit. I do think it is important for writers to be involved in the rehearsal process if they want to be – particularly if the script is very raw and needs refining or cutting. It’s a great place to learn. But they should go in with an open mind and an excitement, not fear, for what the other collaborators are going to bring to the production.
What is your hope that audiences take away with them after having viewed Crossed?
I hope that audiences engage with the complexity of the characters, their hopes and dreams, and the things they go through during that day of their lives (the play takes place in a single day). Hopefully, it will lead to discussions about continuing injustices in Australian society and encourage people to reach out and connect with each other.
Your writing has been very much sought after with at least three commissions for the 2011 season so what is next for you?
I’ve had a really, really wonderful 2011 so far and I’ve been so fortunate to work on some great shows with some very talented people. My next step is finishing off my studies on exchange at the University of Texas at Austin, which should be eye-opening, and to (try to) not write any theatre while I’m there! After that, I’m not sure yet. I just look forward to working with, and seeing the work of, many other incredible individuals in the Australian theatre industry.
Crossed by Chris Summers in rehearsal can be viewed here: