GETTING TO KNOW: HEIDI SILBERMAN

Heidi Silberman is a Canberra based writer, director, performer and educator. Her short plays have been staged in festivals in Canberra, Sydney and Wagga Wagga. Her work in progress, White Tulips, was selected for the Street Theatre’s script development program, the Hive, in 2015 and First Seen in 2017. She has written for anthologies including The Sound of Silence (awarded the 2012 ACT Writing and Publishing Award for Nonfiction) and In God’s Hands (shortlisted for the Caleb Award for Poetry 2013). Her writing has also appeared online at Web Child, Her Canberra and Parenting Express. Heidi teaches drama and improvisation at the Canberra Academy of Dramatic Art and Impro ACT. Heidi’s alter ego is Dr Peek-a-boo, a Clown Doctor with The Humour Foundation, and she is co-founder of local theatre company Chrysalis Theatre.

headshot Heidi Silberman2.jpg

The Street talked to Heidi before the first showing of White Tulips.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME A PLAYWRIGHT?

I’ve always written in one form or another and I love performing. As a performer I know the potential hidden in the wooden boards of a stage. It’s a place where anything can happen. An audience enters into a relationship with characters and comes away from the performance changed. My background is in improvisation where I am writer, director and actor all at once. I wanted to focus in on the writing to see how I could influence that relationship and have the audience leave the theatre changed.

HOW DO YOU WORK WITH A DIRECTOR, DRAMATURG AND ACTORS IN CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT?

I have a draft (not sure what number I’m up to now) that I’ve only seen on the page, or on the computer screen. During a creative development I’ll see it on the floor for the first time. A play isn’t complete until it is performed and with the assistance of these theatre practitioners I can see what works, what doesn’t, what’s missing, what needs to change. By the end of the week I’ll have arrived at a place I couldn’t get to on my own.

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT?

I’ve been honing in on my characters as individuals lately, getting to know them in intimate detail. Now that I have them so clearly in my head I’m looking to see how they relate to each other and if any of that relating needs to change. There is also an off-stage character who looms larger as the play progresses. I want to try out some different ways of making her more active. I want to play with the humour in the piece. These adult sisters have returned to their childhood home and, as often happens to the best of us, they have reverted to their teenage selves. This leads to many false assumptions and misunderstandings and room for lots of funny moments. I need to see these on the floor to make sure it’s actually funny, not just funny in my head.

WHAT THREE QUESTIONS ARE YOU LOOKING TO ANSWER IN THE WORKSHOP?

How can I show the off-stage character becoming clearer and more dangerous as the play progresses?

How does the structure of the play need to change in order to work best?

How can I take the action out of the one room in which most of the play exists?

TELL US ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE STREET.

I‘ve been performing improvised theatre at The Street for twelve years now. I directed and co-produced The Home Front in 2014 – the only improvised piece to have been part of The Hive program at The Street. It was a fantastic season and we had wonderful support from The Street which led to tour the Adelaide Fringe Festival. I have attended a lot of workshops at The Street and am so appreciative of the effort put into local artists. The Street has contributed in many ways to my growth as an artist. I’m looking forward to directing a show as part of ‘Canberra Unscripted’, a festival of improvised theatre, in August at The Street.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE FIRST SEEN PROGRAM BENEFITS TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF ORIGINAL WORK FOR THE THEATRE.

Having the opportunity to try out a bunch of different ideas in quick succession with experienced actors, a director and a dramaturg cannot be overestimated. It’s one thing to have your writing on the page and read and edit it over and over, but once it is performed in front of you it is crystal clear what is working and what is not. The First Seen program is a fast track to script development and it means new fully formed theatre works by local artists will be on the stage in a much shorter time frame than is otherwise possible.

WHAT ARE YOUR GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR WRITING A NEW WORK FOR THEATRE?

Write. Keep writing. Make the time to write. Be willing to let go of beautiful characters, brilliant ideas and stunning dialogue for the benefit of the whole work. When you get stuck put it in a drawer for a few weeks or months but keep the ideas mellowing in your head. Then pull it out and write some more. Let someone you trust read it. Find a good dramaturg. Listen to them. Answer their questions. Keep writing.

WHAT KIND OF THEATRE DO YOU WANT TO MAKE?

I like to get people thinking and talking about issues we don’t usually discuss. I particularly like to focus on women and women’s stories. Some of the areas I’ve explored in my theatre-making have been grief, women’s history, miscarriage, mental health and suicide. There are conversations that need to be had out in the open every day, not just behind closed doors when terrible things happen. Theatre is a wonderful way to begin these conversations. I also want to see more women on the stage so I write for women.

WHAT IS INSPIRING YOU IN THE PERFORMING ARTS?

At a grassroots level I’m inspired by artists I know who are trying something new, stepping out of their comfort zones into unknown spheres and listening to the feedback they receive there. More widely, there is so much great theatre to see in Canberra. I’m inspired by every show I see. Whether it’s in the acting, the directing, the writing or the various design elements I can always take something away from it – even if it’s “well, I’d never do that!”

WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?

I’m reading Tim Winton’s Island Home Island Home. I love his characters’ relationship to their landscapes (or seascapes) in all his novels and this memoir gives an insight into where that passion comes from. I’ve just finished Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare in preparation for an improvised show I’m directing in August at The Street: ‘Shakespeare with Zombies’. I don’t watch a lot of TV shows, I love movies though. My screen watching time lately has been pure escapism so I have to admit the last DVDs to enter my player were the four Hunger Games movies.

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