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Meet our Writer-in-Residence

Award-winning writer, Lachlan Philpott has been working with Year 9 students to devise an original script for a play, which Wenona will perform in Term 4!

Lachlan Philpott is a Sydney based writer, dramaturg, teacher and – big tick from Wenona – a dog person! He’s worked with companies and festivals around the world, including The American Conservatory Theatre San Francisco, the Edinburgh Festival, La Comedie Francaise Paris and the Sydney Theatre Company. Lachlan was the program manager of Australian Theatre for Young People’s Emerging Writers’ Program and has been a writer-in-residence for numerous theatre companies and schools, including Keesing Studio at The International Cite des Arts Paris, The American Conservatory Theatre San Francisco and Newington College here in Sydney. Among his many achievements, Lachlan was the inaugural Australian Professional Playwright Fulbright Scholar and Chair of the Australian Writer’s Guild Playwrights’ Committee between 2012 and 2015.

And now he’s writing a play with students at Wenona!

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This week, Lachlan, along with Wenona’s Head of Drama, Ms Crittle, met with some of our Year 9 students to continue brainstorming and workshopping ideas. It was a lively and productive session, which sparked some highly original thinking. The students’ thoughts, ideas and experiences will inform Lachlan’s first draft. He will then come back to Wenona to seek feedback and input from our students, so that they can quite rightly feel ownership of the resulting play. Once they are happy with the script, Ms Crittle will organise auditions for the play, which will be performed at Wenona in Term 4.

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This week, we caught up with Lachlan to find out a little bit more about him, his work and his approach to writing.

Who were your favourite writers/playwrights when you were a teenager?
I loved reading as a kid. I particularly loved Dystopian books - it was the late 1980's! I was involved in a youth theatre that did a lot of musicals and I loved Sondheim. I still do. My parents took me and my brother to a lot of theatre as kids - we Ioved it! I think I was destined to work in theatre. I wanted to be an actor, but I wasn’t good enough. I am glad to have ended up writing instead.

Who are your favourite writers/playwrights now and why?
I am an enormous fan of British writer Caryl Churchill. She has an immense intellect and is endlessly inventive. There are some wonderful Australian writers too. I love the work of Vanessa Bates, Declan Greene, Nakkiah Lui, Suzie Miller and Ross Mueller because they are bearing witness to the world as it is evolving now.

If you had to choose the best production you've ever seen, what would it be and why?
I don't know if I can tell you that. I've seen a lot of theatre and it impacts me in different ways. I'm a fan of intimate theatre rather than big spectacle stuff. 

What is your favourite theatre and why?
I love going to Griffin in Sydney because it is so intimate. You can see the dirt in actors finger nails and the spit in their mouths.

How old were you when you wrote your first play - and roughly how many plays have you written?
I co-wrote my first play when I was in Year 11 at school and made about 60 people in my year be in it. We had a lot of fun. I have lost count of the number of plays I have written, but I have had 13 published to date with two more on the way this year.

To write a play you need a big idea - how do you go about finding big ideas and what are the big ideas that resonate with young people today?
You never know where a big idea is going to come from or when it will come so it can be a bit frustrating waiting. If I am writing for young people, I workshop ideas with them so I can see what resonates. It's always an exciting process.

It has been said that schools are where the future rehearses itself? Would you agree?
I don't think the future gets to rehearse. But if schools are doing a good job, they prepare young people for what we expect and what we don't. I think that is about being creative and curious more than anything else.

What are the challenges of working with young people who are just starting to understand themselves as social, independent beings?
I really enjoy it and there aren't too many challenges although sometimes it’s hard to get people to listen to one another. The world doesn't reward good listening enough if you ask me.

How do you help them to channel their thoughts and ideas?
I listen and I ask a lot of questions. I try not to take up too much space.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to writing a play, but what tips do you have for aspiring playwrights?
Read a lot of plays, go and see new Australian plays and have a well-paying job as a backup.

How do you develop characters that will resonate with young people?
I get the character to do stuff that young people find surprising. And I never judge a character or what they do.

How important is setting to a play?
I think it is very important. It affects everything humans do. The conditions of our environment are significant, we learn that more and more each day.

How hard is it to write authentic dialogue for young people - and do you have any tips and tricks for doing it?
Yes, it is. I spend a lot of time listening to them so I can tap into it. I also do a lot of drafts and run them by young people so that they are authentic.

It has been said that good plays ask questions rather than give answers. Do you agree?
Yes. Nobody needs to be told what to think.

Roughly how long does it take you to come up with a first draft for a play once you have mapped out your original idea?
It depends on how long I have and how quick it is flowing. I never sit down and just write. There is a lot of planning to be done. If it is a big cast play it takes longer because you have to do a plot of planning around characters.

We are very excited to see what Lachlan and our students come up with. Watch this space Wenona!