Chris Summers is the award-winning playwright of No Place Like and Crossed. He has won the Sydney Theatre Company’s Young Playwright Award. He talks to Georgia Behrens.
At the festival you’re going to be a part of a panel discussing the processes a writer has to go through once they’ve been accepted for publication. As a playwright, it has to be a very different process from that of a novelist or short-story writer. How involved have you been in the production of your plays?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have the full spectrum of experiences. The three full-length works I’ve had produced, I’ve either been directly involved from the first workshops all the way through to production (No Place Like, Union House Theatre, 2011), been involved in some rehearsals and re-writing but let the director and creative team mostly do their own thing (Crossed, La Mama, 2011), or had absolutely no involvement in the production at all (Rat, La Mama, 2012). They’ve all been wildly different experiences, and beneficial in different ways, but I think I prefer the first two a little more.
Do you ever wish you had a bit more control over what the final product looked like?
Yes and no. I’m not a director, so I love seeing what directors bring to my work, in collaboration with designers, actors and so forth. It’s really thrilling. At the same time, it can be difficult when decisions are made that you don’t quite agree with, or see eye to eye on. I think, ultimately, you have to trust who you work with, and if it doesn’t end up how you want it, you either a) endeavour to write more clearly, b) choose your creatives differently or c) direct it yourself.
What’s it like to see a play of yours staged for the first time?
Absolutely stomach-churning. Depending on the level of involvement in production, it’s even more terrifying. With Rat, for example, I didn’t get to see it until a few shows before it closed. I’d already – probably stupidly – read reviews, and heard from people who’d seen it. It made the anticipation quite uncomfortable, I have to say!
Your work so far has been quite political in nature. Do you think art has an obligation to engage with political and social issues?
I do, but I don’t think it always needs to be overt. The best works of literature and theatre, in my mind, are ones which engage political and social issues in a way that is anchored in humanity. Art isn’t interesting, or moving, when it is simplistic or didactic about its politics – it has to tell us something we don’t already know, and not just tell us, but make us feel it. That’s the challenge to all artists, I think – one that’s easier said than done!
Do you follow the age-old axiom and write what you know?
If the root of writing is humanity, I think you always have to have a personal seed of experience, or empathy, that attaches you to a subject. That’s different to writing what you know, though. The attachment to what you’re writing has to be authentic, well-researched, and developed. I think you can write about anything, so long as you’re genuine, upfront and understand your motivations.
Chris Summers will be presenting the panel, Pre-Publications Matters, with Alice Grundy and Allison Tait at the Emerging Writers’ Festival. You can buy tickets to the festival by visiting our Products page, or by calling the NSW Writers’ Centre on (02) 9555 9757.