Writers On Writing / The modern playwrights who inspire Hilary Bell


We interviewed renowned Sydney playwright, author and teacher Hilary Bell ahead of her upcoming course, A Play in Two Days.


You’ve studied at NIDA, AFTRS and the Juilliard Playwrights’ Studio. How has this formal education benefitted you?

My fellow students were a vital component: I learnt as much from them as from my excellent teachers, which included Marsha Norman and Christopher Durang at Juilliard, Paul Thompson at AFTRS, and Ken Healy and Terence Clarke at NIDA. Having deadlines and a regular opportunity to present work in class, then a forum in which to hear it read or see it performed, was invaluable. And in the case of Juilliard, we saw theatre all the time: the best kind of education.

Are there any standout playwrights that inspired you as an up-and-coming writer? Which playwrights inspire you today?

As a child I had pretty camp tastes: Noel Coward, Gilbert & Sullivan, Golden Age musicals, all the ‘Carry On’ movies. I still love these, but have since expanded to embrace such writers as Nick Enright, Melissa Reeves, Caryl Churchill, Goldoni, Chekhov, Pinter, Brecht, Centlivre and Stephen Sondheim. Yes, eclectic.

What are you currently working on?

I have several shows opening over the next few months, and I’ll continue working on both the new plays and the revivals. In July The Red Tree, a musical I wrote with composer Greta Gertler Gold, based on Shaun Tan’s book, returns for a season at the Sydney Opera House and the Arts Centre Melbourne. In September, Splinter opens at Griffin, its second production since the Sydney Theatre Company’s. Also in September, Ha Ha Woops – A Comedy of Errors (a version of Shakespeare’s play for children) opens at the National Theatre of Parramatta. I’m co-writing the script of the musical Starstruck for NIDA, playing in November. With playwrights’ company 7-ON I’m collaborating on a project about the ‘seven social sins’. And Summer Time, my book with illustrator Antonia Pesenti, comes out in time for… summer!

Hilary Bell’s plays have been produced nationally and internationally. They include The SplinterWolf Lullaby, and adaptations of the book The Red Tree and the film The Red Balloon. Hilary was the Tennessee Williams Fellow at the University of the South, and the Patrick White Fellow at the STC. She has written three children’s books, and has taught playwriting for many years.

A Play in Two Days will take place on 15 June & Sunday 16 June, 10am-4pm at Writing NSW. Book your spot here >

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