Melbourne based writer Jane e Thompson’s new play, FIERCE is soon to open at Theatreworks. A work staged in the testosterone fuelled playing field of the AFL, it posits the idea of women entering into the hitherto male centric world which is an interesting topic, given the recent introduction of the AFLW. Thompson is a football fan and her desire to write about the game is synonymous with her desire to see a just outcome for all – within, as well as outside of, the sporting arena.
Thompson has been in the industry for 20 years and is a multidisciplinarian. She completed a Master of Writing for Performance at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2016; and was a recipient of the Besen Family Artist Program Writers’ Development Workshop at the Malthouse Theatre with mentors Mark Pritchard and Declan Greene.
Read on as Thompson discusses the road toward Fierce; her inspirations; her passions; her view of the world; her love of football, and all things in-between.
Inspirations for FIERCE:
I’ve loved the game of Aussie Rules for quite a while now and the play’s ideas have been living in my head for years, but probably what triggered it was Brendan Cowell’s The Sublime, commissioned and programmed by the MTC in 2014.
At the time there were a fair amount of critical responses made by (mostly) female critics angered by the depiction of the female character Amber and the way in which the play deals with rape within the macho world of men’s professional football. I was going to add my voice by responding critically, until a director put it into my head that, being a playwright, a creative response may be a better option.
Cowell’s play deals with the divisive issues surrounding sexual assault, female fandom and professional footballers. The argument made in support of the play was that The Sublime reflects how assault allegations against professional footballers have played out in ‘real life.’ My main problem with the work is that the play didn’t delve much beyond the salacious tabloid headlines. The characters and plot were all very familiar. By simply holding up a mirror to ‘real life’ or rather, the pervasive narratives on sexual assault allegations involving professional footballers in the popular media, the play only succeeds in maintaining the status quo. Presenting the awful truth of ourselves doesn’t necessarily lead to social or behavioural change. The more you present something—however problematic—again and again, the more insurmountable it feels: how can we ever hope to change something that’s always been that way, something that feels so innate, because of how often we see it on our screens or stages?
My response was to write something not about football and sexual assault, but by putting a woman in the role of professional footballer. I wrote this play in 2016 before the inaugural AFLW season, but knew it was coming. Therefore I had a number of people ask me why I wasn’t writing about the women’s competition.
I wanted to pit this character against the men, because we are pitted against men. I wanted to forget for a while that in sports where speed, strength, agility and power are predominant, no female has competed regularly against men at the highest level. Because why not? It’s a work of fiction. I can make up what I want. The play asks: what would happen if a woman were good enough to compete against men at the highest level in football? The result is what played out in my brain: how I thought I might respond if I were that player, prior experience of (some) men when it comes to the (gasp! nightmare!) thought that women can be as good as them at sports, and what the culture might do: chaff bags, etc.
AFLW and FIERCE:
I fucking love the AFLW, it’s been a long time coming, and we finally get to see it. Never thought I could cry so much at a game of footy like I did that very first game.
Over the past decade or so, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to unashamedly and emotionally embrace the men’s game. I’ve found it difficult to reconcile my love of the game with being a woman. (I’m also unable to re-watch the 1991 Grand Final which included the racial vilification of Chris Lewis. Something that at the time, this white, 13 year-old Hawthorn supporter was ignorant to.) My joy at a win or an amazing play is usually quite measured, (asides from maybe Cyril’s Norm Smith in 2015) but on the 3 February 2017 I allowed myself to have a big, ugly cry.
To be clear, FIERCE is a work of fiction. I don’t want to conflate it with the AFLW—I was always going to write this play—the introduction of the AFLW was not the impetus. If anything, it’s made the logistics (however fictional) of this play more difficult!
The main significance that FIERCE may have on anyone involved in women’s footy is the want to be taken seriously, to be respected as a professional athlete. So much sport—especially the big, popular games like football and rugby—are geared towards men and what their bodies do well. It’s difficult for women to play these games and get the same level of respect. But I think that’s changing, albeit slowly.
There has been a lot of talk about the women’s game being different to the men’s, and that that’s a good thing—women should not try and emulate the men, but be and play how they play, to which I agree. I don’t think it’s a reason to make drastic changes to the women’s game however. I’m certainly not the first and won’t be the last person to say this: leave their rules alone, let them play the game we all know and love.
On writing : Themes and Reasons:
Firstly, I’m still emerging at 40. So I’m old enough to know that yes, many emerging playwrights are younger than me, but also there are a fair few others who are my age or older who are (still) trying to get their work staged because it’s really bloody difficult.
What I care about is human behaviour under the stress of structurally violent systems that maintain the status quo. Our culture is geared towards inequality, which in turn creates abuses of power, interpersonal violence and fear. Like a lot of artists, my work is how I make sense of our world: how I criticize, respond, and offer other perspectives, other realities.
Like many, I started in theatre as an actor and found a lot of the narratives stifling. Of course there were plays out there that subverted the status quo but I just didn’t know about them. So I started writing my own stuff and by the time I found out there were other interesting plays out there I’d already gotten a taste for it and wanted to keep writing.
Declan Greene and words to inspire:
Declan and I were meeting about another (as yet unfinished) play of mine The Narcissism of Small Differences. He’s excellent—really open and generous, with an amazing understanding of theatre and what plays do. Highly recommend. Five stars. Emerging playwrights should contact him directly. JK. Don’t. He’s really busy.
Asides from the usual, ‘see all the theatre, read all the plays’ I reckon it depends on what sort of playwright you want to be. You could approach it via the institutions like ATYP and Playwriting Australia, but I’ve never worked with them as a playwright so I can’t say if they’re good or not, but heaps of playwrights who are doing better than me have them listed in their bios. Alternatively, you could spend your 20s drinking too much and ‘acting’ in shows directed by a visionary called Lynne Ellis who will teach you everything you know but are too drunk to put into action until you realise well into your 30s that theatre is the thing you really want to do and so you skittle off to the VCA and do the Masters for Writing For Performance taught by Raimondo Cortese. Up until now, that’s worked for me.
FIERCE in the rehearsal room:
I wrote this work at the VCA as a part of my Masters so I’ve already worked a lot with other artists on it. Which is the best bit about theatre.
Alice Darling is incredible with the actors and the text. She has a great trust of her fellow artists: she allows them the space and time to find meaning in the work: like how the text is met by the actors, how they take it in, how they’re affected by it, and the ways they respond. And I just sit there trying to be quiet because I love a chat. I sometimes succeed! As much as I just *love* sitting in my room alone, typing, talking to nobody but myself, being in the room with the other artists is the reason I do it.
Reasons to see FIERCE:
There’s a lot of humour in the play—which I didn’t realise at first, you know, reading it at home to myself out loud… but it’s actually quite funny, which is good because we’re on at the same time as the MICF…
For me it’s important that a play works as live theatre first and foremost. That said—I like my theatre to punch me in the guts. It has to mean something to me. The play’s socio-politics while clearly present, never dominate the work. My concern is how these ideas work as theatre. This is not an op-ed. It’s live performance. It’s not a bunch of talking heads lecturing the converted. It’s drama.
FIERCE will have definite appeal to those interested in footy, but there’s also something in it that speaks to people who aren’t. (I’ve covered all my bases!)
March 28 – April 8