Article Title:Meet: playwright Sam Brooks
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Published on:27th August 2012 - 06:17 pm
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Story ID:12178
Text:He is just 21, and gay playwright Sam Brooks has scored a double bill at Auckland’s The Basement next week. Both his plays, Goddess and Mab's Room, revolve around a gay character - with Mab's Room in particular being an examination of gay identity and just how to be in a relationship as a gay man in society. He tells us more: Tell us about each of your plays? Goddess was actually my graduate piece at Unitec last year; I did the directing and writing course, majoring in writing. We all wrote an hour-long piece that could be about anything we wanted, with not a whole lot of limitations, other than those that come with doing a play at a university. It went on, it went really well, and I really wanted to put it on again. Another director I was friends with, Samantha Molyneux, approached me about putting it on at The Basement and I was delighted to do it with her. It’s changed a lot from the production last year, two of the three cast members are the same, Taofia Pelesasa and Elyse Brock, but we’ve got Amanda Tito, currently at Unitec, in the other role. It’s a completely different production, the dynamics have changed, we’ve also had the benefit of a much longer rehearsal process where we can really dig into the text, explore the characters and just explore what the play can do. At the time, I wanted to really experiment with style and structure in a way that I hadn’t before, and hadn’t seen before, and just how events in our lives inform each other, and how the order of things can really provide emotional context and make more of an impact. The play follows the friendship between two best friends, Amanda and Irvine, who are more or less isolated from the outside world, by choice, and just the intimacy and relationship that develops when people are that close to each other. The play itself is about the relationship between memory and intimacy, and how our intimacy with people can cloud our memory of them, and just how no matter how well we know a person, we can never truly know them because we always see them through our own perspective, not how they really are. Through both rehearsal processes, I’ve discovered that the play means different things to different people and that so long as people are affected in some way, I’ve done my job as a writer. I wrote Mab’s Room last year as well, and it was a very odd experience. I saw i love you, bro last year when it was put on by Silo, and though Mab’s Room is nothing like i love you, bro, I was triggered by the themes it explored to explore some themes that I really hadn’t in my writing before. I also read in a preface somewhere that Gary Henderson, who was actually my playwriting tutor at Unitec, had shut himself up in BATs and written a play in three days and I thought, full of hubris, that I could totally do that. So I did it. (I later found out from Gary himself that it was entirely fictional, but at that point I had a play on my hands so it didn’t really matter!) Then I had a first draft, which I workshopped with the current director, Jacinta Scadden, and two of my actor friends, and then I’ve kind of been rewriting it basically up until now. (I actually made myself lock the script off yesterday because I’ve been constantly tinkering with lines!) It’s a play kind of on the opposite side of spectrum from Goddess. It’s quite stylistically simple and naturalistic; it’s just set in a hotel room where two guys meet up. It’s a lot more of a character study; it’s about these two characters coming of age in different ways. One is younger, one is older, and it’s kind of about the younger character finding his way as a gay person, and how to act, how to just be a gay person in today’s society, whereas the older character is trying to figure out to handle this younger character in a way that doesn’t damage him or make him jaded. It’s quite intimate and warm, and the characters are kind of discovering themselves as the audience discover the characters. The rehearsal process, at least for me as a mostly passive watcher, has been about exploring both the lighter and darker moments in the script, and how those dynamics make a good play, basically. What can audiences expect? Goddess is definitely the more intense piece, it’s definitely one where paying attention is going to pay dividends to how much an audience gets out of it, whereas Mab’s Room is a bit lighter and more about drawing the audience into these characters and this particular situation. I hesitate to put a label on my style, it seems a little bit pretentious and I’ll leave that to my publicity team, but I’d say they’re both darkly humourous, there’s definitely funny moments in both, but they also both have messages that I hope, as writer AND producer, resonate with an audience, regardless of their background. How did you manage to get a double bill? It was my goal this year to put something on outside of Unitec, given that I’m a graduate, and make a name for myself. Submissions for The Basement for this part of the year were due early this year, and at that point I had two plays. So I just thought, “I’ve got two plays. I don’t have a huge amount of money. Let’s put them on together!” And that’s what I did. We got a slot. I didn’t really think how much work it would be casting, rehearsing and producing two shows at the same time, both which have their own boring, difficult production issues which nobody is interested in, but it’s been super-fun and a great experience. Tell us about yourself! I’m twenty-one and from the suburb known to me as Kurafornia, or to everybody else as Papakura. That’s not really significant other than it means I’m disturbingly well acquainted with train timetables. I went to Unitec and did the Bachelor of Performing and Screen Arts, majoring in Writing for Screen and Theatre from 2009-2011, which was a really great experience, made lots of likeminded friends and learned a ridiculous amount of cool stuff from these friends. (I think it’s Directing and Writing, but I never did any directing) Last year I really started getting more into theatre. I wrote two plays, I did two short pieces for SCRATCH Writing Night, which is a really cool thing that Ben Henson does for new writers, and I assistant stage-managed on Young and Hungry last year which was super fun and a great learning experience. It was also when we had a class every week with Gary Henderson, and just having those classes really inspired me to just write something, anything, and just put it on. So that’s what I’ve been doing! I think the big thing that got me into theatre was realising that so many of the ideas I had were ones that could really be explored and highlighted by theatrical language, and that it was such an inclusive, warm community. Since I’ve really gotten into theatre, I’ve met a lot of the warmest, most generous people I’ve ever met, and that kind of community really fosters stories like the ones I want to tell. Mab's Room, along with two other plays I've written, The Sacred Prodigies and Auckland Shakes, won Playmarket's Playwrights b4 25 prize earlier this year. Why do you love writing so much? I think I love writing so much because it’s the only thing I’m actually good at? I read a lot, and I write a lot, and I just work hard at it every day, so I guess I’ve become good at it just through pure stubbornness. I also just love, particularly with film, theatre and TV, the opportunity to just work with other people to bring a story, a vision to life. The best part about writing, for me, is crafting a story, a foundation that other people can then bring their own vision and talent to, and convey it to an audience. It’s the best part about this medium for me by a long shot, to be able to work with other people on it, so it’s not just me tapping away at a laptop. How important is it to tell gay stories on stage? I think it’s hugely important for the gay community to see themselves on stage, and on screen. For the last thirty or forty years, we’ve seen a lot of the same kind of gay stories, stories about AIDs, drug addicts, discrimination, coming to terms with our own sexualities. These plays, and films are hugely influential, there’s no denying that societal impact that Angels in America, The Normal Heart and Brokeback Mountain have had, but as a young gay writer, I’m not seeing myself or my generation on stage or on screen yet. I’m seeing stories that are about being gay, stories about gay people. It seems like a pedantic distinction, but for me, it’s a huge one. The Hours is still a benchmark for me, a novel, and then a film, which managed to be about gay people without being about being gay. In the near-decade and a half since the novel, and decade since the film, there’s not I think audiences, straight and gay, are ready to see gay characters whose issues are not wrapped up in being gay, but are allowed issues, problems, and lives outside of their sexualities. It’s one of my directives as a writer to write characters like this, within all the other themes I want to explore as a writer. Characters should just be allowed to be gay within a story without it drastically altering it to make it about being gay. They should just be allowed to be. Goddess and Mab’s Room are on stage at The Basement from 4-8 September and tickets are just $20, or $15 for students with ID. Buy tickets here. - 27th August 2012    
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