At only 23, Nicki has already received numerous awards and prizes for her writing. Her first play, Tender, debuted at the Belvoir St Downstairs Theatre in May 2007 and will have a further two seasons in late 2008.
In 2007, along with her husband Geordie, Nicki started a production company, nowyesnow. This company has become a showcase of their own work, and a home for other artists and collaborators they like to work with.
I have always had a passion for both writing and theatre, but I’d never thought of combining these passions until relatively recently. Since I can remember, I’ve thought of myself as a writer. I have been writing stories and poems my entire life. In 2006 I had a new idea for a work, but it didn’t feel like a story, its natural form felt like a play. So I started writing and this idea eventually became my debut play, Tender.
I completed a Bachelor of Arts (Advanced) at Sydney University, with a triple major in Performance Studies, English Literature and Australian Literature, but there’s no specific qualification for what I do. Some playwrights I know have PhDs, some have degrees in medicine or law, while others have no tertiary education whatsoever.
There are plenty of opportunities to do workshops as a playwright, either workshops that are led by other writers, or workshops involving actors and a director who stage a play that you’ve written. I find the practical workshops are more beneficial, but the way you learn most is by having your play reach production stage.
Tender was first produced as part of the B Sharp season at Belvoir Street Downstairs Theatre in 2007. B Sharp is a curated season which means that the curators ask for applications from independent companies and theatre-makers then put their season together based on what is submitted.
I had formed the company, nowyesnow, with Geordie and we took the proposal for Tender to B Sharp. They liked it, so it became part of their season and nowyesnow produced it.
Every play has a slightly different process. If a play is commissioned, an agreement is made with the commissioning company on what the piece will be about. Then contracts are signed and delivery dates are confirmed for each draft of the project. With this framework in place, a writer can then proceed with the work.
Research, preparation, writing, editing are all part of the process, although they may not always come in that order.
Some plays start with research, but others may start with writing and the research component comes in later. Some plays may begin with pegging out a structure while others may begin with a series of images that are then shaped into a story.
My process is quite fluid and differs for every play. Some of my plays begin with an image which then begets a character which begets a situation, while others start with a conceptual idea, or a desire to write about an historical person or situation.
Most of the work I do is self-driven, unless I am under commission from a company. If that is the case, the literary manager, artistic director or associate artistic director are available for me to talk to whenever I want to discuss the project.
I also have a good core group of supportive people – people I like to work with and whose opinions I trust. My husband, Geordie, is a theatre director, the co-artistic director of nowyesnow as well as my creative partner. I also have a dramaturg who I show every piece of work to.
I’m currently under commission from three different Australian companies, so I’m working on three different plays– two originals and one adaptation. I’m also working on a new play for nowyesnow, which I’m waiting on funding confirmation for, and I always seem to be preparing an application for one grant or another.
At the moment I make a living from being a playwright so it is my full-time job. I’m currently in the middle of drafting so I work ‘regular person hours’ – this means I work five days a week and am at the computer from 8 am until about 5.30 pm.
However, when work is lean I might only do a few days a week, or if I’m in rehearsals or need to make a deadline, then I might work seven days a week from 8 am til 11 pm.
I usually work from home in a studio detached from the house. Each day I begin by answering emails, and will usually speak to my agent. I often write in long hand in the mornings and then type in the afternoons. I also try to read for at least an hour a day.
Writing is all I want to do, so I think I have a great work–life balance! It’s great to be able to work from home doing exactly what I want to do, but the downside is that I have to motivate myself to do everything. I also need to constantly plan new projects and find new work if I want to stay afloat.
At the moment, because things are so busy with playwriting, I do not have time to pursue other kinds of writing I am interested in, such as fiction. I’m sure there’ll be a lean period at some stage though, and I’ll be able to get back to that novel …
I’m in a very fortunate position at the moment where I can make a living from my writing, but this is not the case for most playwrights in Australia, and it could cease to be the case for me at any time.
Most playwrights have other forms of income. This can include teaching a few nights a week, having a flexible job working for someone you know, as well as working full-time as a lawyer and writing in the evenings.
In the past I have had many jobs to help make ends meet – I’ve worked in a cinema, been a salesperson for a wine marketing company, processed subscriptions for a theatre company, worked in a bar, worked at a friend’s toyshop and minded children.
Having an irregular income is never fun, but I am lucky in that I have a very supportive partner who is a freelance artist as well. This has sometimes meant that at times we have no money, but it also ensures a level of understanding between us that money is far from the most important thing in our lives. We have recently moved from Sydney to the South Australian countryside which has eased our financial worries considerably. Having an irregular income means that sometimes we’ve missed out on things, but as they say, ‘you have your art to keep you warm’.
I had a lot of input into the production of Tender because I was a co-producer as well the writer. The director ultimately has final say in casting, unless an agent has managed to work into the contract that the writer has final say. If another company were to buy my play, I would have little say in which actors they chose.
For Tender I won the Inscription Chairman’s Award for Best Play, and the Adrian Consett Stephen Memorial Prize. I was also short-listed for several other major awards. It’s great to get recognition from my peers and nice to know that other people appreciate the work I’ve been doing.
Unless a play wins an award or has been picked up by a production company, it’s easy for it to fall by the wayside. An award means that people will look at the script and it can potentially becomes an interesting prospect for directors looking for a play, or investors looking to sponsor a production. The financial rewards that most awards bring are also very welcome.
I am heading to Germany for two months later this year on a Goethe-Institut Australien German Language Scholarship. These scholarships are given to Australians working in the arts who have some knowledge of German, and wish to further their level of linguistic and cultural understanding. I will be taking in a lot of theatre, going to language classes and hopefully meeting some people I can collaborate with in the future, both in Australia and in Germany.
My adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts will be performed at the State Theatre Company of South Australia in October 2008, and now yes now’s return production of Tender will be on at the Hothouse Theatre Albury-Wodonga in early November, and at Griffin Theatre Company, Sydney, from 14 November to 20 December. Beyond 2008, I will be looking at some opportunities working with companies in Australia and overseas, and of course furthering the development of now yes now and my own work.
Collaborators are very important if you want to work in the artistic side of the theatre industry. Making a theatrical production is not an individual undertaking – so many people are involved in turning a script into a final performance. If you have people you trust around you who have similar artistic rationales, then you’re on the right track.
The most important thing you need to do as a playwright is read – read all the classics, the forgotten plays, the plays of your immediate predecessors and your contemporaries, fiction, non-fiction, the paper – just read as much as you can and as widely as you can.
If your passion is in theatre then it’s a dream job. The financial rewards are negligible most of the time; you have to do it because you love it. But if you love it, why would you want to do anything else?