Write-ups of the SUDS Writers’ Festival

Koko Kong and Jayce Carrano wrote reviews of this good thing.

Photo by Ang Collins

Jayce Carrano: The SUDS Writers’ Festival is a hodgepodge of events stretched across the last two weeks of semester. This year’s dozen panels, workshops and readings are a first for the society, and brought many inspiring guest speakers to the University of Sydney campus.

Victoria Zerbst: I’m editing this piece right now and I feel it’s in the spirit of the SUDS Writers’ Festival to let you into my process and tell you how this review came about. We commissioned two Honi reporters to attend as much of the festival as they could and write 300 words each. They came back with two very different word documents and I couldn’t bring myself to homogenise them into one ‘review’.

Koko Kong: It was out of the sheer guilt I had from Honi –I haven’t contributed much as a reporter this semester – as well as affection for the Cellar Theatre that I decided to take up the responsibility of reviewing the SUDS Writers’ Festival, at the urgent time when the clouds of final exams were gathering.

Victoria Zerbst: The festival was a platform for different perspectives, voices and opinions in the arts. These panels and workshops gives so much to different people so I hope you don’t mind alternating between some different takes. I even snuck a few first draft bullet points in here as well so you can look at the exposed bones of a review.

Koko Kong: After a brief interview with Ang Collins before the festival kicked off, I realized this could be SUDS slot to which I become most emotionally attached.

Ang Collins: I pitched the Writers’ Festival for Slot 6 because I wanted to put the attention on the writers, dramaturgs and voices of SUDS that don’t often get the chance to be a part of other slots for whatever reason. I had seen things like the Sydney Writers’ Fest and the National Play Festival down in Melbourne that looked really cool and offered a chance to talk about and reflect on the theatre making process, and I thought that could work really well within the SUDS framework.

Jayce Carrano: The “Writing in Sydney” panel, moderated by Julia Clark, boasted highly acclaimed playwrights Hilary Bell, Charles O’Grady, Lewis Treston and Alana Valentine. Each panellist had entered playwriting from different backgrounds including acting, poetry, advertising and design. Together they discussed the value of drama qualifications like those offered by NIDA (the National Institute of Dramatic Art). Charles suggested there was an industry expectation for those credentials while Hilary said that their cost and exclusivity meant that most theatres accept NIDA isn’t the only available path.

Koko Kong: SUDS is famous for its ‘whiteness’, but the diversity of the activities involved in the festival embraces inclusiveness in SUDS. The organizing and funding process of the festival deviates not far from other SUDS slots, but it indeed initiated communication between SUDS and its normally don’t-show-up guests.

Ang Collins: I had a huge response from power ladies wanting to be a part of the team, so every week we would have meetings about what events would make up the program, who would do what role, how to go about professional outreach etc.

Jayce Carrano: (On the Writer’s Panel) Lewis Treston was quick to praise the open-mindedness of a younger generation who do not bat an eyelid at queer characters. Alana praised the proliferation of theatre discussing queer issues but lamented that foreign plays are often shown in Sydney instead of local productions.

Koko Kong: The session that impressed me most was the panel called ‘Race and Representation in Australian Theatre’, which was organized in partnership with ACAR (Autonomous Collective Against Racism).

Ang Collins: We started a dialogue between ACAR after the ~infamous~ fuck up on one of our event pages, and the lovely Una Madura Verde came on board. Diversity and representation of ethnicity, gender and sexuality in the creative realm very much became a running theme of the festival, which was something I found particularly rewarding – it was a treat to work with Una and ACAR.

Jayce Carrano: (On the Writer’s Panel) Each panellist was worried by last month’s cuts to the Australia Council for the Arts that will see more than sixty theatre companies lose funding. Nonetheless, Hilary derided the narrative that there is hostility towards the arts in Australia, saying that Australians have a healthy love for theatre and the industry just needs convey that love to the government.

Koko Kong: (On Race and Representation in Australian Theatre) Quite a few panellists mentioned feeling guilty about working in the arts when their parents struggled to get them a better education overseas. They felt expected to study law or commerce and get a job in commercial law firms or investment banks instead of becoming actors or actresses, indulging themselves in the dreamy world. They implied that their special identity and the tension it brought to their family created unexpected creativity. It’s through the enduring process of unpacking the mysterious immigration prejudices that artists make sense in the world.

Jayce Carrano: Tips from the Writer’s panel:

  • A huge part of our character comes through the way we speak
  • The idea behind the play can’t be easy to solve. In fact, unsolvable problems like “tradition vs change”
  • “Writing for radio is the best practice you can get as a playwright because all you have is words”
  • Anger is not very helpful in solving the issues the art industry is suffering
  • Have to change the narrative – the story that there’s hostility against arts isn’t true, so many people appreciate and have such a love for theatre, music, arts, books, have to communicate that to the powers that be.
  • Galvanising across the arts
  • Dipping into rivers of experience
  • Hold on to an idea tightly, let go lightly
  • Schools: don’t assume NIDA is the path because it’s so expensive and exclusive

Koko Kong: Amal Awad, the author of Courting Samira, mentioned the social capital needed to carve into a specific art industry that is often exclusive (which strangely reminded me of SUDS itself) and not necessarily kind to minority groups. While we all understand clearly that being marginalized by the mainstream generates heaps of difficulties in artistic pursuit, a coin always has two sides. The unique identity can render a profound understanding of life, of value, and of art itself that mainstream people can never replicate.

Jayce Carrano: The comedy workshop, run by Jenna Owen from comedy troupe ‘Freudian Nip’, provided a solid introduction to sketch writing. Jenna warned against mindlessly conforming to “comedy rules” like the Rule of Threes (that a joke should be made three times before a sketch ends) and political sketches that age terribly.

Victoria Zerbst: Jenna Owen is one of my best friends and I just wanted to chime in here and say she is VERY GOOD.

Jayce Carrano: The workshop also involved some quick and dirty sketch writing exercises such as choosing a common trope (like police psychics, nagging mums, crazy psychiatrics and knights with named swords) and finding a funny way to subvert audience expectations.

Ang Collins: The whole festival was very much a collaborative process of which my role was only a small part and it was as rewarding and as engaging for me as much as it (hopefully!) was for the audiences that attended different events across the festival period.

Victoria Zerbst: I am sending this to fellow cultural editor, Naaman Zhou, now for a subedit. He hates learning and also all friendship but hopefully he likes this because it’s metatextual and he is pompous.