The Open Door – Creative Development

“A strong theatrical work exploring contemporary challenges including sexuality and young people, domestic violence and peer gaslighting. This work thematically resonates in educational and cultural contexts and will encourage social discourse around the issues… the work has the capacity to be a significant contribution to Australian playwriting and performance culture…”

Dr Linda Hassall, Drama, Griffith University; dramaturg on the creative development.

The Open Door dramaturgy table – not that we stayed there! L to R: Elaine Acworth, Robert Kronk, Lil Hassall. Photo: Shaun Charles.

The Open Door (working title) is a work that explores gender inequity, unequal power relationships, sexual and family violence and peer gaslighting. A fabulous team explored the script at the Yeronga State High School theatre – 4 actors, 3 directors, 1 playwright/producer, 1 dramaturg, and 1 lighting designer, with assists from friends and colleagues. And I am very, very grateful to them all.

One of several extraordinary things that happened during this creative development (September/October 2022) was the gradual realisation that there were actually two plays contained within the narrative story we’d put up on the theatre floor.

One play, which we’ll call Rowan’s Story (for soon-to-be-obvious reasons), centres on the 17-year old youth, Rowan, as he navigates understanding himself, his sexuality, his family’s past history of violence, and his relationships with his parents around this. Essentially, asking the question ‘How do you be a ‘good man’ or ‘good woman’ in a society that still practices misogyny in some areas and, as the saying goes, knows the price of everything and the worth of nothing? This is a 45-minute work whose target audience is a youth and education one.

The second play, still called The Open Door (working title), centres on Rowan’s mum, smart, feisty, clever with words, wicked sense of humour – who nevertheless, as her circumstances at work deteriorate with some misogynistic peer gaslighting, is forced to examine her past history – how did she end up powerless in that violence relationship?  And what has she carried through from that into her relationship with her son? And throughout this, she becomes increasing obsessed with an historic true-crime abusive relationship that she researches for work – allowing the play to compare gender relationships from 1943 with those found now.

Both of these plays are being developed. And developed with input from community organisations like White Ribbon that deal with the consequences of, and the assumptions that underpin, violence against women every day. I’ve had terrific discussion with White Ribbon staff – and they swiftly pointed out where my own assumptions and prejudices came glaringly into focus. Thank god.

Jsss Veurman (standing) with actors L to R: Nikhil Singh, Emily Liu, Barbara Lowing. Photo: Shaun Charles.

For such dense and potentially tough subject matter, there was a lot of joy and giggles brought to play – so huge thanks to that goddess of dramaturgy, Lil Hassall, the 3 directors (Robert Kronk, Helen Stephens, Jessica Veurman) who heroically undertook passing the baton to each other as we played with structure, visual theatre and moment-by-moment character work, lighting magician Geoff Squires, our 4 extraordinary actors, Barbara Lowing, Kathryn Marquet, Emily Liu and Nikhil Singh who dealt with 3 different directors and a playwright whose response to questions from the team was often ‘I don’t know – can we try that?…’

And of course, so many thanks to Yeronga State High School staff and students for sharing their home with us!

This project has been supported by the Queensland Government, through Arts Queensland.