GETTING TO KNOW: DYLAN VAN DEN BERG

Dylan is an actor and writer based in Sydney and Canberra. He graduated from ANU with a Bachelor of Arts (Drama) and trained in acting at the State University of New York, the Upright Citizens Brigade improvisation troupe (NYC) and the Canberra Youth Theatre senior ensemble. His theatre credits at The Street include In Loco Parentis by Helen Machalias (2013), Where I End and You Begin by Cathy Petocz (2014) and the rehearsed reading of David Atfield’s Exclusion (2017). He toured the ACT and surrounds with Jigsaw Theatre Company’s Stop Means Go (2012) and appeared in The Magic Storycoat as part of the Wagga-Wagga Civic Theatre’s 50th anniversary celebrations (2013). His performances in the National University Theatre Society productions of The Female of the Species (2013), How I Learned to Drive (2014) and In the Next Room (2014) earned him nominations at the CAT Awards. His television work includes the pilot episode of Space (Southern Cross-Ten, 2012) and hosting the live coverage of the New Caledonia Poker Open in the South Pacific (2017). He works with the Starlight Children’s Foundation. Blue – a misery play is his first full-length play.

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WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME A PLAYWRIGHT?

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to write a play, but I do recall the moment my views on playwriting began to evolve. My mum took me along to see Joanna Murray-Smith’s Bombshells, which introduced me to the idea that plays don’t require a drawing room or a bearded man or a terribly complicated plot: they can be electrifying and joyful and affecting. Up until then I’d only been exposed to the dusty plays of the Dead White Men, so I thought Bombshells was an absolute riot. Even though It’s taken me a while to get here via acting, directing and pretending to rig lights, I’m thrilled (and terrified!) to be working on my first play.

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

Creative development is about discovery. With the time I have with the actors and creative team, I’ll be able to experience an interpretation of the play outside of my own head and begin to identify areas that need refining. Having a director involved in the process is especially crucial as they lead much of the development so that writers can observe and scribble furiously when wonderful things are uncovered in the room. I also think this process is about recognising the strengths (because sometimes we can’t see them) of a new work.

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT?

I’m looking to be challenged. As an emerging playwright, I see this not only as an opportunity to refine my play, but a chance to develop my own unique voice as a writer. I’m hoping to flesh out the characters a little more and develop distinct ‘voices’ for each, as well as straighten out a few pesky plot inconsistencies. By the end of the development, I hope to come out with a piece I’m proud of, with all of my questions (well, most of them!) answered.

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

Who is Gaggle, and what will she do? What is the world of the play – where are we exactly? And how does it all end? (I think I snuck an extra question in there… but don’t tell anyone.)

 TELL US ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE STREET.

My relationship with The Street has always revolved around new Australian work. I was cast in Helen Machalias’ In Loco Parentis directed by Andrew Holmes in 2012. This was my first experience working on a new script and it was so exciting to be a part of a premiere production. I returned to The Street in 2014 to play Timothy in Cathy Petocz’s Where I End and You Begin directed by Caroline Stacy, which was such a challenging and rewarding piece to be involved with. And earlier this year I was back again for the staged reading of David Atfield’s Exclusion. I’ve been so lucky to be a part of the journey of these works.

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

Given that Australia tends to have a problem with under-percolation of new work (due to inexcusable funding constraints), First Seen is an incredible opportunity for playwrights. Being afforded the creative space for experimentation and discussion is any writer’s dream. To hear your work aloud for the very first time is such an instructive experience and actors add layers of their own to the work. Theatre is a collaborative art form – even for writers. There’s only so long you can sit up in your garret thrashing it out – eventually you need to bring it into the room and test it’s strengths and weaknesses. Writers rely on the generosity and intelligence of actors and directors and dramaturgs to give plays the best chance of moving forward.  First Seen provides the scaffolding for new Australian work to come into its own.

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

Be courageous and uncompromising. Do the right amount of listening and the right amount of ignoring. Sarah Ruhl says that sometimes the most unnecessary thing in your script is the most necessary. I think we leave clues in our own work without even realising it. Keep writing and reading and refining and know that even though things might not work perfectly at the start, the soul of your work is lurking just behind the words.

WHAT KIND OF THEATRE DO YOU WANT TO MAKE?

I want to make theatre that resonates within an Australian context.  The voices on stage should represent the diversity of our audiences. Patricia Cornelius recently said, “I never want to see a middle-class dinner party on stage again,” which has really stuck with me. I love satirising the middle-class constructs we see so often in Australian work. We don’t confront our audiences enough here – particularly at our major theatre companies.  It’s up to the likes of The Street, Griffin and La Mama and so on to provide an alternate perspective on the Australian experience. I want to say that I’d like to challenge audiences, but that feels too cliché. I guess I’d like to defy expectations.

But I also just want to write something my Mum might like, which means nothing with an interval. She hates the interruption.

 WHAT IS INSPIRING YOU IN THE PERFORMING ARTS?

I’m inspired by the women writing for the stage right now: Kate Mulvany, Paula Vogel, Lucy Kirkwood, Angela Betzien – to name only a few. I feel like there’s a revolution about to occur in the theatre… I can’t quite put my finger on it (I’m not known for entirely reliable inklings) but it seems exciting. I’m also encouraged by the sense of community in our local theatre. We have a good thing going on in Canberra where mutual support is central to the way we operate.

WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?

I read a lot of plays! I usually work my way through a particular playwright’s body of work (because I’m an epic nerd), and at the moment I’m reading everything by Annie Baker. I just finished her Gothic piece, John, which was utterly brilliant. As for viewing, I’m not a television fan (I don’t even own one!) but I recently saw Michele Lee’s Rice at Griffin Theatre and The Rover at Belvoir – I’d recommend them both!

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