GETTING TO KNOW: DAVID COLE

David Cole is Fairfax Media journalist based at the Goulburn Post, but his stories also appear in many newspapers across Southern NSW.

He has also written four plays to date. Three of his plays have been produced by the Lieder Theatre Company – The Ballad of Mary Ann Brownlow (2004, 2005, ACT Region Tour in 2008); Windfall (2009) and Life’s a Bitch (2014). Two of these plays received Commonwealth Arts Funding.

David was a member of The Hive from at the Street Theatre from 2010 to 2013 where he developed Life’s a Bitch, which went on to be successfully produced by The Lieder Theatre Company. It is also in David Spicer Production’s catalogue.

David studied at the Australian National University and the University of Canberra, living in Canberra from 1991 – 2002 where he was a part of the arts community as a musician in various bands including Ice Cream Headache and Barry Drive.

He started writing plays when he was asked to help research and co-write The Ballad of Mary Ann Brownlow with veteran writer, the late John Spicer. This play is based on the true story of a woman hanged in Goulburn in 1855 for the murder of her husband.

David Cole.jpgDAVID SPEAKS TO THE STREET AHEAD OF THE FIRST SHOWING OF IRENE’S WISH.

YOU HAVE DESCRIBED IRENE’S WISH AS A LOVE STORY WITH A MORAL NARRATIVE IN WHICH THE ISSUE OF EUTHANASIA IS EXPLORED IN A PLAY CHARACTERISED BY HUMOUR. PLEASE TELL US MORE.

At its core, this play is about love. About how love is a redemptive force that may even transcend death. A moral question in the play is about whether we should have the right to decide when we can exit this life – especially if a person is suffering from a terminal illness.

This is a question being debated in many parliaments across Australia right now.

But I didn’t set out to write ‘a euthanasia play’ just because it is topical or political. This play came out of knowing carers and hearing them tell me about their work. My father also went through a slow and painful death a few years ago, and I hated watching him go through that. Certain characters started to develop in my head, characters who were dealing with different aspects of life and death – it can’t get more universal than that can it? We all experience both.

This euthanasia question is played out in the play, but the piece is not didactive or preachy. It just presents the issue in the context of these characters and this situation and I hope it presents both sides and leaves people talking.

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING TO ACHIEVE IN CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT?

I hope to develop the best play I can out of it. It’s hard to be objective about a play when it is just in your head. This will be the first chance for me to see it and hear it in action too, then I will know what parts are working and what parts need more work. I am sure I will get some great feedback on this too. I want to ensure that the characters are as well-developed as they can be and that the relationships in the play are all working as they should.

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN AN ELDERLY WOMAN WITH TERMINAL CANCER AND HER CARER IS ESSENTIAL TO THE STORY. WHAT CAN AUDIENCES EXPECT OF THIS RELATIONSHIP IN IRENE’S WISH?

Audiences can expect an odd-couple pairing between carer (Stuart) and elderly woman (Irene) who has terminal cancer. Though they are from different sides of the tracks, they form a close bond of trust.

They both have lots of baggage, but they discover a common sense of humour and a shared interest in punting on horses – though this is not an ideal situation for Stuart, as he is recovering from a gambling addiction and the temptation to relapse is ever present for him.

Their relationship is at the core of the play and a lot of the humour comes from their interplay, despite their age difference.

Amidst this backdrop is Julie, Irene’s daughter and Alf, an old flame of Irene’s who re-enters her life.

Julie is feeling guilty because she does not have enough time to properly care for her dying mother. She and Irene have had a difficult relationship over the years and now with what time is left, Julie is seeking to make amends, but will Irene let her? Will they be able to ‘finally put things right’ between them?

TALK US THROUGH THE PROCESS FOR YOU OF WORKING WITH A DIRECTOR, DRAMATURG AND PERFORMERS.

I am not sure how First Seen is going to go because this is my first time in this program, but I am open to this creative process to make the play the best it can be. I have watched how other writers in First Seen have benefited from the feedback the audience provides at the end of the performance.

I have been in The Hive program and worked few dramaturgs now and they all have their own styles. I enjoyed working with Peter Matheson program because he just interrogates you and doesn’t let you off the hook and as a result he gets the best out of you.

Actors bring so many ideas to the table and they are usually brutally honest, though it can be a bit daunting too – to be so open with your work like that.

Apart from people I have worked with before at The Street, like Barb Barnett and PJ Williams, I have also worked with dramaturg Francesca Smith from NIDA and directors Annabel Scholes and Chrisjohn Hancock, and the late John Spicer, whose work was quite popular in Canberra. Television writer Christopher Lee has been generous to me by reading my plays and giving his opinions.

WHAT HAVE YOU GAINED FROM PARTICIPATION IN THE STREET’S DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS?

This idea was first fleshed out with dramaturg Peter Matheson in his ‘Bee Program’ – an extension of The Hive. I hope I have internalised Peter now when making decisions about what to cut and what to leave in?

I have been working closely with dramaturg Shelly Higgs and director Dene Kermond and they have been very helpful in helping me realise this work.

The Street Theatre is a great place to come with an idea for a new play because they will trust you and support you in developing it and they are willing to take risks – like I feel they have with me and this play, considering its subject matter. This is brave, and I wish more theatre companies took risks and produced new work properly like The Street does.

WHAT DOES THE FIRST SEEN PROGRAM OFFER A PRACTICISING JOURNALIST AND WRITER LIKE YOU?

First Seen offers me an outlet for my creative writing. As a journalist by day, I write mostly news stories, which is different to creative writing.

News stories are factual. They are about what is happening now. They are usually less than 400 words. They have a lead, some background, some facts and a few quotes. They must traverse the ‘who gives a shit’ – or ‘would people talk about this at the pub’ factor. I write about anything that is happening – accidents, police or court stories, or politicians’ bullshitting. Things of general interest.

The closest that journalism gets to creative writing is maybe writing a feature story about someone or writing reviews. I had a column for two years called ‘You’ve Got Male’ which allowed me to be creative as well.

I like writing news, but I also like creative writing, but I think I got into journalism in the first place to earn a living from writing, which I do.

First Seen is different to my daily life. It is all about creativity and making it up. It feels so free to just explore ideas with other people – but it is also maybe a little scary too? That said, I have a thick skin from being a journo now for 15 years. I have copped all types of abuse and rudeness in that role, so I don’t think anyone can rattle me that much anymore.

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

Once I have an idea, I just write and write and get a draft out without too much internal censoring. Then I give it a while to settle and then I go back to it and re-write. I usually write about 10- 12 drafts of a play. That’s why it takes me about two years to complete one. I wish I could write them quicker and I am determined to do so in future. Journalism has taught me not to be precious with my words and to always try for economical writing. Less is always more. Also ‘theatre’ means ‘to do’ – that’s a thing I try to remember.

WHAT KIND OF THEATRE DO YOU WANT TO MAKE?

Australian realistic theatre, reflecting contemporary issues in our country. If that means writing populist work, then so be it. I think it must be relevant to the audience. They must want to sit there for an hour and watch it. There are too many other things competing for people’s time and attention. That’s why I think it must also be entertaining. Comedy often slips into my work. I can’t help it. This is just how I think.

WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?

Being around younger journalists and their crazy ideas and their self-confidence. I am lucky enough to work in a job where stories literally walk in off the street and I am expected to catch them and write them down.

I recently had a bloke walk into the newspaper office and tell me he was the first person in Australia to have an operation where they inserted his tooth into his eye to cure his blindness. I nearly fell over when he told me that. That story made the Sydney Morning Herald and went all over the world via Buzzfeed. Recently, I have interviewed people as diverse as former bank robber John Killick (who escaped Silverwater prison in a helicopter) and George Lazenby – Australia’s only James Bond. How can you not be creatively inspired when you are talking to such people?

WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?

I always have a few books on the go at the one time. Absurd really. I am currently reading Peter Hill’s Stargazing, and Gideon Haigh’s A Scandal in Bohemia. I love reading crime fiction such as Peter Temple’s The Broken Shore and his Jack Irish series. I am watching ‘The Tunnel’ (series three) on Netflix, which is a remake of The Bridge. I love Scandi noir.

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