12. 08. 2020
Connecting to Place
Written by Alex Travers
Edited by Libby Parker
I couldn’t wait to be an adult. I really wasn’t fussed with all that ‘being a teenager’ business. I had a constant preoccupation with growing up, getting out and knowing more.
And so it was somewhat ironic that when I attended Writing Place I was less than two weeks away from the biggest ‘getting out’ adventure of my life to date. I’d spent many a day job focussed on moving overseas to train at L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris. But mere days before I was scheduled to fly out on a one way ticket, I trekked out to the middle of the South Australian outback and wrote a monologue with a bunch of other regional artists, inspired by the very thing I had been so eager to leave behind – life as a young person growing up outside of an urban centre.
There we were, planted in the middle of Pichi Richi Park in the Flinders Ranges. Picture fourteen emerging writers from across nearly every state and territory in Australia armed with writing devices, self-care tools and an assortment of dietary requirements. Insert three majestic mentors, Alysha Herrmann (job title unnecessary, her name is enough to provoke a resounding sigh of gratitude[i]), two doting caretakers (did someone say hand delivered biscuits?) and a landscape that makes your jaw drop (but keep it shut in case of those darn mosquitos) and you’re pretty much there.
So we began. Cautious introductions, messy whiteboard brainstorms, writing masterclasses, deep breathing, fireside dinners, deadlines, hours of pending words, flashes of inspiration, more deep breathing. We were divided up into smaller groups and paired with mentors; I with Caleb Lewis – renowned Australian playwright and all-round lovely chap. My tendency in these situations is to exhibit my go-to for all-round imposter syndrome. I lovingly call it the clamshell. And so roughly three days into saying half of not much and listening with great joy to the stories being shared around me, I read out a very rough first draft. And it wasn’t totally horrible. People even laughed a little. In fact I was feeling the warm fuzzies just by getting it out of my system. Add to that the moment Caleb told me I was a “dark witch who had something to say”, and I was totally sold on this writing business. Best compliment ever.
Over the remaining days, we revised our work and listened as our monologues developed. This is a key point: listening. What resulted from Writing Place and the anthology, This Was Urgent Yesterday, was always destined to be a reflection on our connection to place. The writing we developed ultimately considers where we come from, how we react, respond, respect and take care of an Earth that we’re so acutely aware of, thanks to our home address. To delve into these messy and multifaceted conundrums, we had to listen – listen to each other and listen to the land on which we have the good fortune to rest, yet own nothing. You might be mistaken for thinking I’m pounding you over the head with new-age Zen, but what I’m actually saying is: our writing comes from that soft, gooey place right in the centre of everything. Like vessels storing memory cargo, it emerged out of the chaotic fog of adulthood with the invaluable guidance of Caleb Lewis, Mary Anne Butler and Emily Steel, and made its way out into the world ready to be rehomed in the minds, mouths and bodies of young people built just like us. When our works were performed in Whyalla at the end of the week by local school students and to an audience of industry guests, what really struck a chord was the depth of lived experience that informed the writing. These monologues come from that salt of the earth place where the accents are broader and the land is sparser. The writing ebbs and flows just like the place on which it was written.
And while Paris is a blast and it’s taught me a whole heap of creative skills, improved my (woeful) French and unexpectedly taught me how to survive a global pandemic in a tiny apartment in complete isolation for three months, it’s also reminded me of the type of artist I was before I came here. The type of artist that is proud to be based in a regional area. The type of artist who is introverted but finally manages to spit out exactly what she wants to say through her teenage voice (that same one she was so eager to get away from). The type of artist who sits on red rocks, is a nerdy dag with a bunch of glorious new friends, is endlessly curious and finds sheer joy in playful storytelling. The type of artist who no matter where in the world she goes will always know her place as the one she left behind – the one with that weird Australian twang and where it’s proper hot.
The type of artist I was at Writing Place.
And so I can’t help thinking that I was just meant to go to Writing Place. Not merely as a matter of skill, but because it was destined to remind me of something that shouldn’t lie forgotten in all the kerfuffle of moving halfway around the world, and the constant state of urgency we can find ourselves in as we seek out where we’re going, what’s next and how we’re going to get there. As it turns out, no matter how hard it is, no matter how many times you shout excuses from the rooftops about why you can’t or what you don’t have, or you throw thumping dance parties for your fear and anxiety, truth be told; you actually already have everything you need. You don’t need to wait until you’re more experienced, more profound, saved more money or been, done or seen more. As long as your feet are planted in soil somewhere, they’ll plant seeds.
When one talks about the development gained as part of a creative residency, it can often be the expectation that you’ll talk about what you learnt and what you gained from the experience. But for me, the lasting impacts of Writing Place resound in what I remembered and what I rediscovered. In fact, rather than a fixation on moving forward, Writing Place provided an opportunity to go back. Back to teenage experiences, back to learning things for the first time, back to daydreaming, back to waking up like you used to on school holidays and not knowing what day it is. Back to that one place you didn’t need to go in search of.
And as for all that ‘being an adult’ business? It’s overrated. Turns out teenage Alex might have known more than she thought she did.
[i] But for those curiously minded, Alysha Herrmann is the current Creative Producer Regional Youth at Carclew and Country Arts SA.
This blog is one in a series of reflections from participants of 2019 project Writing Place.
Writing Place was a nine-day residency held in the Flinders Ranges and Eyre Peninsula of South Australia in September 2019. Fourteen participating writers spent the residency with mentors Emily Steel, Caleb Lewis and Mary Anne Butler undertaking master classes, small group tutorials, one-on-one sessions and dedicated writing time in a formative creative experience. The scripts created were shared in a reading for invited guests on the second to last night of the residency and subsequently published in a collection by Currency Press called This Was Urgent Yesterday in April 2020.