Write of Passage - Interview with Van Badham
20 October 2003, Issue 1051
"Being a playwright is kinda like devoting yourself to being broke all the time. It's not a career path you go into if you want to buy things - like food or clothing.
I started writing plays for a youth theatre company when I was 15. There are lots of opportunities for people who wan to start writing for the theatre to get their stuff staged at short play festivals. That's how you start making contacts with actors and directors and meet people who might be interested in working with you. I had an enormous career boost when I won a playwrighting competition. Of course, before I won that, I lost a hell of a lot more, and I've lost a whole pile of competitions since, but there's an enormous in-it-to-win-it mentality required if you're going to pursue playwrighting as a career.
I also studied playwrighting at the University of Wollongong in Australia and drama at the University of Sheffield over here - you can never know too much about your craft.
I'm working 24/7. I'm thinking about new plays and re-writing old plays. I listen to a lot of conversations on buses and amble around cafes and streets to get ideas for plots, stories and characters. I keep everything filed away for when someone approaches me for a production.
My income comes through theatre-in-education pieces, the odd community project, residencies and commissions for projects. Money also comes in through relicensing of my work. At any one time, something I've written might be on in several countries. I'm the first Australian playwright performed in Icelandic!
I'm currently writing a play for the actors in the Nabokov company, which they're taking to the Edinburgh Fringe next year. I'm also working on a last cast commission and writing an historical epic for that. Oh, and I'm writing a screenplay for a film about child murders. And a radio play set in the dark. And a book. I have fairly serious career ambitions. And insomnia.
As for a working day, if I'm not writing, I'm selling - that is, I'm meeting with people to convince them that what I write is the most fantastic thing in the history of live entertainment.
I love the theatre; I love actors; I love watching my characters move around and walk and talk and be real people for a couple of hours a day. I have an ego slightly larger than the land mass of continental Europe, and the 'holy cow I've created a world, my people breathe, ahahahaha!' element of playwrighting satisfies my yearning for power and control. I'm also hooked on interpretation and watching how different actors and directors bring out meaning in scripts that I don't remember putting there. I really enjoy the writing process and absorbing myself in that, and I also love the lifestyle of not having to get up too early and doing business over drinks after a show. Also, being flown to New York to 'talk projects' is pretty fucking cool.
But facing up to criticism all the time is hard, too - everyone's an 'expert' on the theatre. The funniest part is working with actors who suddenly become famous. There you are, minding your own business, when you see the guy who played the fridge in your early play Where Is My Cabbage, Darling? Smiling out at you from FilmDork magazine because he's just made a movie with Russell Crowe. It makes fame seem pretty transparent."