The plight of a playwright is an odd one. You labour over a work for months – years, even – only to give it away at the last moment, placing your faith in the hands of the strangers who will then bring it to life onstage.
Given this odd working method, you’d expect lauded playwright Alana Valentine to be nervous about the upcoming premiere of her new play, Ladies Day. Or at the very least, no-one would begrudge her some fairly deep-seated trust issues. But since Valentine has made a career out of bucking trends, perhaps it’s unsurprising that she’s completely sidestepped such anxieties.
“I’m in a state of great anticipation rather than anything else. I’m really excited about the premiere,” she says warmly. “It’s the most amazing cast. And they’re doing a great job. I’m looking forward to it, actually. Because I write a lot of Australian stories, I’m really keen to get it in front of an audience as quickly as possible. A play is not a play until it’s in front of an audience.”
Set at the Broome races in the northern part of Western Australia, and concerned with the stereotypes and adversities that members of the LGBTI community face in rural regions, much of the dialogue in Ladies Day was drawn from interviews Valentine conducted with Broome locals.
“I met a lot of gay and lesbian people up there,” she says. “I was heading over with another friend of mine and decided it would be really interesting to formally investigate the experience of gay men in particular in regional Australia.”
Prior knowledge of the area meant Valentine knew what to expect, and she got to experience a side of Broome that city-dwellers may be surprised by. “It’s not as ‘redneck’ as you might think up there,” she says. “There’s a lot of gay men and other LGBTI people up there. People who are quite integral to the communities. And some people felt they were even more accepted and integral to the community than some people in the cities they’ve lived in. It really depends on the town and the place.”
That said, although Valentine encountered many locals who had nothing but positive things to say, a simple scratch of the surface revealed the underlying darkness. “I was surprised by the levels of tolerance and acceptance and the fact that lots of people were having a really good time, but of course you always find stories that are not that. And there are people who wanted to tell me darker, more difficult stories about discrimination and violence.”
The aggression and conflict in the region is what led Valentine to construct Ladies Day’s fictional narrative, and moved her away from simply documenting the troubles in a more factual, journalistic manner. “I wanted to fold [these people] into a fictional narrative so that … it protected people and they could talk more freely. This kind of writing confronts the communities with its own flaws as well as its own strength. And that’s why people are so fascinated by it. We forget that these things happen on our own doorstep.”
As far as Valentine is concerned, now is an exciting time for local theatre. Things seem to be moving away from cultural mimicry, she says, and a more defined Australian voice is being developed. Certainly, the anticipation building up around her own play seems to suggest an important cultural shift.
“I think now particularly audiences are more hungry for Australian stories than they’ve ever been. We’re claiming an ability to tell our own stories in a uniquely Australian way.” Her voice goes soft. “I do feel very hopeful about that.”
[Ladies Day photo by Brett Boardman]
Griffin Theatre Company‘sLadies DayrunsFriday February 5 – Saturday March 26 at SBW Stables Theatre.