February in Focus: Playwriting
I’m heading to Melbourne next Wednesday to continue my work on Playwriting Australia’s National Play Festival 2012 at the Malthouse! Today I’ll be in the PWA office at Carriageworks working on the marketing campaign and posting up some interviews I conducted with the directors and dramaturgs attached to this year’s festival.
In saying this, I have decided to dedicate this week to the five showcased playwrights at this year’s NPF! First up, allow me to introduce Victoria Haralabidou, whose first play One Scientific Mystery, or, Why did the aborigines eat Captain Cook? will be playing at this year’s festival. This is an interview I conducted with her which was first published on the National Play Festival Blog.
This week we chat with Victoria Haralabidou, playwright of One Scientific Mystery, or, Why did the aborigines eat Captain Cook? developed through Playwriting Australia’s Salon Program and her search for someone to fall in love with her!
Passenger: Victoria Haralabidou
Victoria, you were born in Russia and then moved to Greece when you were a teenager. Tell us a bit about growing up in these exciting places.
November in Leningrad. Wet and cold. Or maybe sunny and brisk. Dad is buying me a pin. He pins it on my coat. We are at some sort of fence. There is a building. Top window. I see my Mum. She is showing us something wrapped up in a green blanket. It’s my brother. I’m four. First day at school. Raining. The older kids give us cookies. 11 kopecks a milkshake. 20 kopecks an ice cream. Waiting in line for butter. And a type of cheese. Cheese. One cheese block, about 300g per person. Winter. Afternoon. I am walking alone to my ice-skating practice. It’s getting dark. I’m about six. I am talking to myself. I’m telling myself a story. I have no idea that I am doing it until I see my friend’s face. Looking at me. That’s not normal. I’m not normal. Ice-skating practice. People are watching. An old man gives me a mandarin. I’m good! Dad gives me a chewing gum. One. On Saturdays. Skating practice. I give my chewing gum to Serioja. I think he loves me. He’s only there for the chewing gum. I wish someone could love me without the chewing gum. Summer. Dzhambul. Kazachstan. I am writing poetry. Love poetry. And songs. Sun throughout the vine leafs. The birds are singing. The smell of parsley, chicken crap and fresh garlic. My grandmother in a scarf. We are in a church. Only old ladies and children. I’m lying on the floor looking at the faces of the saints on the walls. Me and my grandmother. Public baths – ‘Banya’. Saturday. ‘Don’t look at the naked ladies!’ But… But… they are everywhere! Blah Blah Blah – More memories. Snow – rain – sun. Train to Odessa. Boat to Piraeus. Late 80′s. Athens. Greece. All young people look like hippies and anarchists. Daydreaming, imagining what my life is going to be. West Side Story mixed with passages from Hamlet but with a happy ending. My dad is driving me to Greek lessons. Far. It’s an eternal summer in Greece. Salty chips and 7Up – my dream dinner. Can someone please fall in love with me already!!
This play was written in your third language, English, did you experience any challenges writing in a language other than your native tongue and how did you overcome them?
I love putting my thoughts down on paper. There are too many to keep inside. And ‘Siri’ has failed me relentlessly. I love all sorts of stationery: notebooks, diaries, party invitations, postcards, A4, A5 etc. I don’t even know what my native tongue is anymore, so I put the words down as they come and then translate if needed or make up new ones. I don’t like grammar. Grammar is not my forte… Especially ‘the’ and ‘a’. But also ‘at’ ‘on’ ‘in’ etc.
Your play is set in St. Petersburg, Russia, can you tell us a little bit about this city in the winter?
Cold wind blowing on the bridge. My lenses crystallising in my eyes. I’m blinking like a Colibri bird in the Amazon. Ah, the Amazon… It’s 40 degrees below zero and what I believe is 100% humidity. Bookstore. Warm tea with lemon. 24-hour bookstores (only in Russia) and Charlie Chaplin’s movies projected on the wall. Reading In Cold Blood. It’s 1 am. Snowing. Smiling like a happy kangaroo.
This is your first play, which was developed as part of Playwriting Australia’s Salon Program, how did you find the creative development process and what did you think of the whole experience?
Being taken seriously and getting a lot of support. Meeting and interacting with fellow writers and mentors. Chris Mead giving me dramaturgical and more general advice. Lally Katz talking about her non-caffeine policy, reading her plays to her parents, peppermint tea and writing about what you know. Lachlan Philpott about our responsibilities as writers and the importance of being bold and earnest. Jane Bodie about writing a silent scene: woman in a waiting room before an abortion and writing what you believe in. Tommy Murphy about the re-writing, drafting process. Steve Rogers helping me with my structure, beats, characters, central idea and my son’s diarrhoea. I never thought something could be so much fun. I do still feel very much a part of Playwriting Australia.
And while we have you, what is your dream destination for inspiration?
I can write anywhere. Anywhere in Australia – even if I haven’t been there yet. I can be inspired anywhere – anywhere where no one is screaming ‘Mamiiiiii’ every five seconds at the top of his lungs!