Water Child: Local Play Premieres at Newcastle Theatre

Water Child: Local Play Premieres at Newcastle Theatre

How late is too late to start a family? When is it time to say ‘enough’?

Water Child, a new Australian play by CONDA and Music Theatre Guild of Victoria Award winning actor Emma Wood, which premieres at Newcastle Theatre Company from March 3, explores these controversial questions and more.

A drama with comic touches, the play examines issues surrounding one couple’s desire to start a family later in life, including miscarriage, relationship and wider family tensions.

Stage Whispers asked Emma where the inspiration to write Water Child sprang from.

I experienced my first miscarriage about three years ago, and although it was a shock and a huge disappointment, I didn't suffer any lingering sense of trauma. But a sadness remained, and always will. I noticed at that time a lot of things that never would have occurred to me before though. Firstly, that grief for a little unborn person is not equated with other forms of grief in our community - and perhaps that is fair. I would never wish to compare the loss of a foetus, particularly early in a pregnancy, to the loss of child who has been born, and lived a little, and been lost. But the grief of miscarriage is nevertheless very real, and in many cases quite profound, and can cast a pall over a relationship and even the rest of your life.

So how does a couple respond when there are no accepted forms or rituals to give shape to their grief? And how do friends and family respond when they really have no idea what to say or suggest? It's a real black hole. There is no funeral (usually), no ceremony, and no ongoing way of paying respects to the grieving couple or the memory of the baby.

For most people it is not a 'baby' at all - it was a pregancy and became a miscarriage. But those very clinical words belie the grief the couple feel: it was their baby, and they loved it from the moment they knew it was alive. In most cases they longed for it, and had had weeks and months to feel the pure joy of knowing their baby was alive, only to suddenly discover it has died.

But one thing I think all couples who have suffered this kind of loss notice is how spectacularly hurtful and unhelpful well meant comments can be - ranging from the classic 'never mind, you can try again', to 'it wasn't meant to be' - to much, much less helpful ones I will not detail here for fear of offending friends!

Happily, in many cases, a miscarriage is just mere bad luck, and women go on to easily give birth to other healthy children. The loss does not become a source of lingering regret and sorrow. But a seed was planted in my head: what happens when the miscarriages keep on happening? Or what happens if your first experience of pregnancy is loss, and if you're already at an age - dare I say the magic four oh - at which conceiving and carrying a child becomes much more difficult than it might once have been? Somehow these thoughts consolidated in my head into the beginnings of an idea one morning at 4am, and I got up and started writing the opening scene. It was quite a remarkable experience - I was of course conscious but I had not until that point consciously decided to sit down and write a play about these issues.

They were just suddenly brimming in my head and I followed them and the characters started to be formed.

How long has the play taken to write?

The intiial wriiting was surprisingly quick - perhaps 30-40 hours in total spent over a few months in between other aspects of my life. But after it was workshopped, the editing, refining and developing was longer - and harder, but infinitely worthwhile

Is it your first play?

Yes - I have never written fiction before. I was surprised though, how easily it came out. I guess many years experience as an actor, director and also English/Drama teacher has given me a great deal of exposure to scripts. I had gleaned a lot of important lessons in what makes a good script over the years.

How did the play come onto the radar for Newcastle Theatre Company?

I am quite involved with NTC as an actor and after I had written the first draft I invited a few friends from there to have a reading and see what they thought. Richard Murray, who is the director of this production, was one of those friends, and took an immediate shine to the play and proposed it to the company for selection for the 2011 season. It was not selected at that stage, but garnered a fair bit of positve attention. A friend in the company, Janet Nelson, who worked as a professional director in the UK for many years, offered to workshop it, to allow me to refine it. After that process was complete it was selcted for the 2012 season.

What process has the play gone through in reaching the stage?

An excellent work-shopping process which took place over seven nights mid last year - six local actors/directors led by Nelson read and discussed the play scene by scene, and I took some ideas from their discussion and went off to refine and develop a new opening scene.

This was the most significant change. Since then not much has been changed - once rehearsal started I cut a few lines here and there, and added one or two, but in essence it has not changed.

How involved have you been in the rehearsal process? What has it been like seeing your play on its feet, and has anything in rehearsal surprised you?

Richard Murray has always made me welcome at rehearsal, and I have attended quite a few, though I have deliberately not been to all or even most, as I wanted Richard and the cast to feel complete ownership of the script and not feel i was constantly interfering or offering advice. One director is enough! But I think they have found it useful to be able to clarify some parts, and ask what interpretation I would give in particular scenes, and I guess even just to be able to discuss certain aspects of the experience of struggling with fertility and miscarriage. (I forgot to mention before but since the first draft 3 years ago I went on to suffer two more miscarriages in mid term, which were much more traumatic than my first. The only good thing that came of this was it helped me deepen the play. However, important to note the play is fictional and no characters or events represent me or anyone else I know.)

What sort of role can community companies like Newcastle Theatre Company play in fostering local playwrights?

I couldn't speak on behalf of other companies, as this is my first experience as a budding playwright, but I have found NTC generally, and certain members particularly, to be incredibly generous and supportive of what I have tried to achieve. It would not be what it is now without the support of my workshopping group, but also the general support of the membership, many of whom have shown interest by attending early readings. NTC holds a fairly new but annual event called Play in a Day where in a 24 hour period writers write, then directors and actors come and put together a short play on stage.

While I haven't written for this myself, I have been in the audience each year, and seen that this has given many people the confidence to develop their skills and confidence as writers, and receive public feedback. I hope Water Child is successful for many reasons, but one would be that it may develop a more regular culture of writing and workshopping at NTC.

Emma, who completed an Arts degree majoring in Drama at ANU in the mid 90s, has always had a love of acting, which later expanded into singing in musicals, though she confesses she was never much of dancer. She has performed in and directed many plays in Canberra, where she grew up, Sydney, Byron Bay, Ballarat and now Newcastle – where she intends to settle.

Emma won a Music Theatre Guild of Victoria Award, 'The Gladys Moncrieff Award for Best New Talent' for playing Grace in Annie in 2005.

In Newcastle last year she won the CONDA for Best Actress in a Leading Role for playing Billie in Born Yesterday. She won Best Director at the 2010 Cessnock One Act Play Festival for Three Hours Between by local playwright Micahel Fiddian.

Water Child premieres at Newcastle Theatre Company from March 3-17, 2012 as part of the 2012 season.


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