Ross Mueller is a multi-award winning playwright. His hit play, A Strategic Plan, premiered at Griffin Theatre Company’s Stables in 2017 to rave reviews. Zebra! premiered at the Sydney Theatre Company’s Wharf 1 starring Bryan Brown and Colin Friels. Ross won the 2008 New York Dramatists Award for his play Concussion, which then premiered at STC’s Wharf 2 as a co-production with Griffin Theatre Company. His most recent plays include: I Can’t Even (Dir. Matt Lutton for Malthouse Theatre); and, A Town Names War Boy – a commission from ATYP and The State Library of NSW.
The Glory won the 2007 Wal Cherry Play of the Year and premiered at Hothouse Theatre Company the year after. Ross’s play The Ghost Writer premiered at the Melbourne Theatre Company in 2007 and has since been produced in Brisbane and Perth. Construction of the Human Heart was shortlisted for the New York New Dramatists Award and for the 2007 AWGIE Award for Best New Play. First produced by The Storeroom, Construction was then presented at the Malthouse and toured the eastern states. In 2007 No Man’s Island had its US premiere at Here in New York City. In 2002 Ross was the Australian playwright at the International Residency of the Royal Court Theatre in London.
He has been the Artistic Director of Courthouse Arts, Geelong – an affiliate of the Melbourne Theatre Company, a founding member of Melbourne Dramatists, and a number of his plays are published. His other works include; A Party in Fitzroy, Little Brother, Great Ocean Road, Colosseum, Pinters Explanation and (a pilot version of…) Something To Die For.
The Street talked to playwright Ross Mueller who has been commissioned by The Street to write a museum theatre work telling the story of Australian families who found themselves faced with the emotional and intellectual challenge of framing an epitaph. The work will be performed on a regular basis at the Australian War Memorial (AWM).
TELL US ABOUT INFLUENCES ON YOUR WRITING.
I love great story tellers; my favourite playwrights include Caryl Churchill, Lachlan Philpott, Angus Cameron, Vanessa Bates, David Hare and Billy Bragg.
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE EPITAPH PROJECT?
The stories of World War 1 are part of our Australian DNA. The opportunity to work with Street and the Australian War Memorial seemed like a gift to me. I was excited at the prospect as soon as I heard about it.
HOW HAVE YOU USED THE AWM COLLECTION IN THE RESEARCH STAGE OF THE PROJECT
Yes, of course. That was an essential part of the process. The Education team, the researchers and Librarians have been so wonderful to work with.
YOU UNDERTOOK A WORKSHOP IN JUNE WITH DIRECTOR SHELLY HIGGS AND ACTOR KRISTIAN JENKINS TO DEVELOP THE WORK? WHAT DISCOVERIES WERE FOUND THERE?
Working with actors is an essential part of my process. Kristian was wonderful, patient and hard working. We were able to drill down into the character and find the real dilemma for the piece – the problem that he is facing, the truth that he is here to share. I find that working alone is the only place to start, but there comes a time when you need to put the work on the floor and just push the options around the room. Who is the character? What are they doing and what do they want? What is standing in their way? This is when the research phase makes way for real story and performance.
TELL US ABOUT THE WORK AS IT NOW STANDS?
I finished the first draft a few weeks ago. It has been compressed and it is ready to be rehearsed.
YOU ARE ARRIVING NEXT WEEK FOR A PRE-PRODUCTION WORKSHOP WITH THE CREATIVE TEAM. WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN?
I’m not sure… I think we will be working with designers and just making sure that the detailing in the script is ready for the rehearsal process. The play will be on site for five years, so we need to make sure it is water tight before we launch it.
WHAT ARE YOUR GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR WRITING A NEW WORK FOR THEATRE?
Tell the truth and make it interesting.
WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE FOR EMERGING PLAYWRIGHTS?
Write. Read. Listen and write. The first draft is always the hardest; you must finish it before you can do anything else. So finish it. Then expect that you will fall in and out of love with the following drafts, this is not unusual. It’s part of the process. Find some like minded people and work with them. Making theatre is a team sport.
WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?
I’m mentoring at the ATYP National Studio. As I write this response I am at Bundanoon, Arthur Boyd’s old property on the Shoalhaven River. It’s a stunning location for a writer’s camp and I am being inspired by the masterclasses of my peers, Vanessa Bates and Donna Alba. You never stop learning.
WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?
I have Peter Greste’s book in my bag right now and I have just finished watching The Tunnel on ABC iView. What about you?