In the lead-up to our Playwriting Festival on Saturday 29 March, we took the opportunity to catch up with Lachlan Philpott, chair of the Australian Writers’ Guild Playwriting Committee, playwright, teacher, mentor and dramaturg. His writing routine sounds particularly good!
What made you start writing for the theatre?
My parents ran a youth theatre company in Sydney for many years so I grew up in and around the theatre with the teenagers that didn’t do so well at sport. I found my tribe in theatre and a place to belong. My parents also took me to see a lot of plays and for a while I wanted to be an actor. And a writer. If he had have existed then, I would have wanted to be Brendan Cowell.
I used to re-write scenes in my head – make them shorter or sillier, that sort of thing. Then I would act them out. I also wrote plays while I was at school too. I would dream of acting them out but I’m glad I didn’t because they were awful.
Times were different then. There were dial phones and 30 cent paddle pops. Nobody was gay and there were no labels like emerging voice or glbtq. There were no mentorships or post grad play writing courses so we all just listened to sting and were so afraid of nuclear war that we did what we were told [mostly]. And because the world was on the brink of apocalypse we trusted that if we all got through intact, we could work hard and that would lead to job somewhere. It did work in the end because I got a job at Pizza Hut.
Do you have a special routine or ritual to help you write?
I turn off the Internet.
I try not to snack on sugary treats that make me go off on time wasting tangents. I also avoid alcohol and recreational drugs.
I do a lot of exercise because it clears my head.
I try to set realistic goals – word counts, time structures etc.
I try to keep regular work hours because while it is a privilege to be a writer and live the life of extreme glamour and endless opening nights it is a job and it is important to remember that. So when I can, my ideal is to write from 8am to 5pm with a swim at lunch. This allows me to do things at night with others and saves me from any self indulgent artist martyrdom. It also reminds me that I run a business and the words are my product.
Which play or playwright do you think has had the most influence on your writing?
Meeting UK playwright Tanika Gupta in 2007 had a massive impact on me. We met in Townsville when we were tutoring for World Interplay and have been very close mates since. Tanika is of Bengali heritage and has carved out a very successful career in the UK despite the fact that she operates in a system still dominated by heterosexual white men. She is an amazing thinker and a writer who took me seriously. She encouraged me to think of myself as a writer. Even though we live on different sides of the world we both crusade against the ugly condescension of colonialist attitudes that still exist both here and there.
The full program for the Playwriting Festival is available here and tickets are on sale now.