Jean M Gordon has a passion for stage plays, although she also dabbles in fiction and songwriting. Currently she is the writer and director of Zoe – appearing at the Sydney Fringe.
The play explores the depths of loss in all its guises after a relationship breakdown so when Emma's husband leaves her, she loses all the potential of her married life, including the daughter she planned to have. Gordon says that the inspiration for this work was her own divorce, and the realisation that her entire future had changed. "This ended up being a very positive experience for me, but it isn’t for everyone. It’s certainly not hard to imagine that for some people, this kind of life change can be very hard to cope with."
Sometimes when relationships fray so do the threads that were such a large part of that particular fabric. Zoe explores the notion of children who are planned but are never given life. "Like Emma, I had an image of the daughter that my (ex) husband and I had planned prior to our split," explains Gordon. "Like Emma, I had to come to terms with the fact that this girl would now never exist. This play is a gift to her, a remembrance. I wrote it with some sadness but also a lot of joy. It seemed a fitting way of closing that chapter of my life."
Gordon has been very prolific as a playwright with 8 available plays to date. She cites family as being the theme that entices her the most with all its complexities and deep emotions." I am always drawn to family," she says. " Family drama is the most compelling to me because I think it speaks to everyone on such a personal level. Even the most functional families have their moments of stress. We can all understand the peculiar dichotomy of loving someone with your whole heart, while at the same time being so disappointed or angry with them that you almost don’t want to see them again. This, to me, resonates strongly enough that I want to keep writing families, in all their forms."
Most writers seem to tackle similar challenges when it comes to bringing a work from mind to paper. Gordon cites the prime example as being the one where it sounded so much better in her head. "Sometimes words seem such a clumsy medium," she says. "If I’m picturing a scene I tend to be feeling the emotions that my characters are feeling and I have to try and translate that into a dialogue that explains what is happening without it sounding awkward or stilted. The other thing that can be difficult is knowing when to step back a little. When to say ‘well yes, having the main character come riding in on the back of a circus pony might LOOK very interesting but it doesn’t really fit with the rest of the story, now does it?’ It’s very easy to go overboard and think that I need to fit every awesome idea ever into what I’m writing at the time, which is a very quick way to lose the underlying story. And hey, circus ponies might fit better in my next play."
Inspiration can also be a fickle mistress but Gordon's outlook is philosophical and really quite simple. "I don’t think there is anything more inspiring than daily life," she states. " Every day there are any number of minor incidents that can become major stories with the judicious application of ‘what if?’ What if the scratch on that car was caused by a jealous ex? What if that woman at the bus-stop looks so tired because she’s secretly a dominatrix by night? What if that dead child on the news was murdered because someone thought they were going to grow up and do bad things? (Watch out for that last one, it may appear on a stage near you…I don’t know that I can work the ponies into it though.)"
Zoe, the namesake of Gordon's play, doesn't exist and will never exist for Emma but the Zoe that Emma coincidentally meets on the beach is very real to her. Sensitive issues and skewed perspectives borne from a traumatic event. As Gordon says, family and relationship themes are universal and immediately accessible. Audiences can relate and this is good for a playwright. Gordon's hope is that audiences will perhaps come away with a new appreciation for their own family, and their place in it. "One thing I hope comes across is the fact that while we are shaped by our family, we are not owned by them, and that goes for the other members as well," she explains. "We are all very quick to insist that we have time to ourselves, but sometimes get quite indignant when family members do the same. The moment when we realise that our parents are people as well, and in fact were people long before we were born, can be a bit of a shock."
Zoe by Jean M Gordon
September 18 – 22