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An interview with Gary Henderson

A major New Zealand playwright, Gary Henderson’s plays include An Unseasonable Fall Of Snow, Peninsula, Home Land, Mo & Jess Kill Susie, Stealing Games, and the internationally successful Skin Tight. Gary received the Playmarket Award in 2013. It’s a Friday afternoon. We sit down with Gary vis-à-vis skype, and in twenty-five minutes he shares with us his journey as one of New Zealand’s most celebrated playwrights. In Trimester Two he will be coordinating CREW 353: Writing for Theatre, right here at Victoria. 

 

How did you get involved in writing plays?

It all started when I was a schoolteacher at Parkway Intermediate in Wainuiomata, Hutt Valley. The first major production they did was in my first year of teaching. I thought it was… not very good. The next year I put my money where my mouth was and wrote something for them. It was one of those big sprawling intermediate plays that had hundreds of people in it, so every kid could do something.

Then I left teaching, went back to Victoria University where I studied theatre and film. I started putting on children’s theatre for the age group that I’d been previously teaching. In the 80s that middle teenage group weren’t really catered for in theatre. I moved onto other things in the early 90s. I’ve just kept going since then!

Why do you set your plays in New Zealand?

It’s just a natural tendency. Quite a few things I write about are drawn from things I’ve witnessed or things I’ve seen around. All of my plays are set somewhere very specific, that you could actually go and visit, and go “there is the place!” That is partly a personal foible I guess, because it’s easy to get my head around somewhere that’s real. Once we start realising that our stories are valuable to our country-men, our neighbours, why not tell them? Why not set them here?

Tell us about the CREW 353: Writing for Theatre course. What can people expect to learn from it?

There will be lots of games in class and sharing out loud—it’s fun to hear each other’s work and it often elicits great responses! The bee in my bonnet at the moment is that theatre is always going through fashions, and my current fashion is trying to make writers aware that they are doing much more than simply writing down what the actor’s should say.

A writer should understand how all the components of a play work, so that they can write in a way that provokes responses to their words. A lighting designer should be able to imagine how the lights will look simply because of the language of the script.

My teaching process will start with where to find stories. You don’t make up stories, you find them. You get down a story as fast as you can write—as clunky and as artless as it might be—and then you dig into it and see what’s really there. It’s trusting the instinct of your thoughts. And then of course, we talk about the technical stuff such as how conflict works, how relationships between characters change, and how little you can get away with saying (and not overwriting!).

The course is mostly just about the joy of creating a story and characters that didn’t exist last week. I never get tired of that, there is always a thrill in inventing.

 

CREW 353: Writing for Theatre

When:  Trimester Two, Fridays, 10.00am–1.00pm

Where: International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML)

Application Deadline:  June 21

More Information:  email modernletters@vuw.ac.nz, or ph: 463 6854

 

Much Ado About Nothing

Victoria University’s THEA302 & THEA308 have decided to hit Shakespeare where it hurts. Is he past it for the millennial generation? Can we turn Much Ado About Nothing, a full length Shakespeare, into something for people with attention spans conditioned to Snapchat, Vines, and 140 Twitter characters?

When: May 17–21

Where: Studio 77, Fairlie Terrace, Victoria University

Book online.

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