We writers often talk about the need to refill the creative well, so that our imaginations don't run dry.
There are many ways to do this... through travel, meeting new people, having new experiences (good and, unfortunately, bad), listening to music that speaks to us, reading wonderful books and poetry, watching movies... and less often, plays.
And you know... there's something about the tight construction of a really well written play and the immediacy of a live performance that can teach us a lot about characterisation, mining emotion, dialogue and plain, honest story telling.
Last night we went to see a play put on by the local amateur players. It was Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, which is one of Australia's most significant plays, written by Ray Lawler in 1959, and later made into a movie starring John Mills, Angela Lansbury, Anne Baxter and Ernest Borgnine.
It's about two cane cutters, Roo and Barney, who travel each year to North Queensland for 7 months of the year, then return to Melbourne for the lay off. Each year, when Roo comes back he brings a doll on a stick for his girlfriend, Olive . This summer is the seventeenth year he's returned -- and like all the best stories, it's a summer of changes, and the changes are hard for all the characters to deal with.
I loved every second of it, even though the actors weren't professionals, and I recommend checking out your local theatre to see what they're putting on. You might be pleasantly surprised -- and inspired.
And while I'm here, talking about plays... I thought I add these stanzas from an old Aussie favourite, a verse novel written in 1915... it's about a working class, courting couple who go to see "Romeo and Juliet".
THE SENTIMENTAL BLOKE by C.J. Dennis
V. THE PLAY
Wot's in a name? -- she sez . . . An' then she sighs,
An' clasps 'er little 'ands, an' rolls 'er eyes.
"A rose," she sez, "be any other name
Would smell the same.
Oh, w'erefore art you Romeo, young sir?
Chuck yer ole pot, an' change yer moniker!"
Doreen an' me, we bin to see a show --
The swell two-dollar touch. Bong tong, yeh know.
A chair apiece wiv velvit on the seat;
A slap-up treat.
The drarmer's writ be Shakespeare, years ago,
About a barmy goat called Romeo.
"Lady, be yonder moon I swear!" sez 'e.
An' then 'e climbs up on the balkiney;
An' there they smooge a treat, wiv pretty words
Like two love-birds.
I nudge Doreen. She whispers, "Ain't it grand!"
'Er eyes is shining an' I squeeze 'er 'and.
'Wot's in a name?" she sez. 'Struth, I dunno.
Billo is just as good as Romeo.
She may be Juli-er or Juli-et --
'E loves 'er yet.
If she's the tart 'e wants, then she's 'is queen,
Names never count ... But ar, I like "Doreen!"
A sweeter, dearer sound I never 'eard;
Ther's music 'angs around that little word,
Doreen! ... But wot was this I starts to say
About the play?
I'm off me beat. But when a bloke's in love
'Is thorts turns 'er way, like a 'omin' dove.
If you'd like to read the entire poem, you can do so here...