Michele Lee’s eagerly anticipated new work, Single Ladies, is about to premiere at Red Stitch Theatre later this month. A familiar local story and familiar local settings serve to highlight change and shifting sentiments for both Lee and the communities the work explores.
“The work started with me thinking about place, specifically about Collingwood and Fitzroy,” explains Lee. “My relationship with those neighbourhoods has changed over time. I used to work there, visit friends there, socialise and shop there. That was some time ago. So just like the people who used to comment wistfully to me that these suburbs have changed so much, now nearly twenty years after having had my first experience of these places, I feel that too. To add to this, as I get older, and as a happy city rat who likes the urban environment, I’m curious about what the city means for older women. So SINGLE LADIES is one way I have responded to my changing interests and to my changing relationship with some iconic suburbs.”
Lee explains that the title is a deliberately irreverent gesture to the Beyonce song which celebrates, on some levels, being a woman, being on your own, being too good for a man but then also all being tied back to matrimony and being worth something to someone else. “So the play looks at types of women who are romantically single and more broadly the idea of being alone, and being alone together,” she says.
Lee is thrilled that Single Ladies marks her Red Stitch debut. Applying with scraps of SINGLE LADIES writing to the Red Stitch Theatre’s development program (INK) was enough for her to be considered a worthy candidate and the rest, as they say, is history. Mentored by two ensemble members, as well as the support of AD Ella Caldwell, Lee has been encouraged to create the best work that she can. “I’ve felt very included in the company and have loved having such seasoned actors with great dramaturgical muscles to work with throughout the development,” she says.
The timeframe from initial concept to final play has been lengthy. “I had a baby during this and now he’s nearly three! So it must have been around 3-4 years from inception,” says Lee, who is eager to do a shout-out to the City of Yarra, who gave her three years’ of development support, as well as Red Stitch’s development program INK for their support.
Award winning, Lee, writes primarily for theatre, with many of her plays programmed by Malthouse Theatre, SCT, Griffin Theatre and Queensland Theatre to name a few. Lee says she always thinks the next play will be easier than the last because supposedly she is a ‘better’ writer with each piece. A\She acknowledges that Single Ladies had its challenges. There were no characters at the start, just Lee chatting to older women in Yarra (council area that Collingwood is in) and Lee hanging out in Yarra. “So it was challenging trying to nail down actual characters to bring to life some of the ideas I was interested in, and having to let go of the intellectualising,” she says. Another challenge was around the plot. “The sequence of events has largely stayed the same but for a long time it was really hard to decide on the nuances of this, and to always keep in mind how the plot was most interestingly affecting the three characters in the play,” Lee explains.
But Lee acknowledges the tremendous developmental support she received, as well as being able to do a lot of mini workshops every few months or so, which really assisted in evolving the play. “And really, when you get smart and thoughtful people into the room diligently but respectfully taking apart your work, then you have the pleasure of going back to your desk and trying to re-assemble things with all that intelligent input,” she says.
Single Ladies is, perhaps, at its heart, a buddy story between 3 very different women. Lee’s interest, as a playwright, is to write stories about women, seeking out stories of types of women that might be more unusual or at the margins. The reason for this, she says, is largely because they’re the stories she likes to see/read.
Lee’s answer to why she writes is, perhaps, not quite as straightforward as some.
” Ok so on the one hand, the proper answer to this is that I was writing student theatre and then about ten years ago I started getting grants/professional opportunities, so I guess at this point I felt as though writing was something that I wanted to explore,” she says. “But the other answer is that I often think about not writing at all because being a writer in the world as it is means constantly filling up your reserves of resilience and doing your head in by being your own best advocate and worst critic, and that can be exhausting. I am very inspired by other Australian playwrights and great TV screenwriters/showrunners. I just read a play by Merlynn Tong and loved it, and can’t wait to see more of her work. I’ve read some of Kate Mulvaney’s work recently too and was blown away.”
Single Ladies runs at Red Stitch from March 19 – April 12 as part of the 2020 MICF .
Says Lee, “The creative team pulling this together are awesome, and they’re going to put on a ripper show.” What more can we ask for!