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Interview with Chris Thompson

My first theatre experience was… My Aunty Dawn was Box Office Manager at the old Tivoli Theatre in Melbourne and my Uncle Frank was Stage Manager so I got to see lots of shows there in the sixties when I was just a little kid…apart from getting to hang out with all those Tivoli Girls, the ones that stick out for me are The Wizard of Oz (with Patti McGrath as Dorothy before she met Bert), the Black & White Minstrel Shows (they did a really great ‘silent movie’ routine with characters in a prop car using rear projection), the Deltones (I got to meet Pee Wee) and getting my picture in the Herald (aged 4) backstage at the Tiv with a guy called Jackie Toaduff, the world champion Clog Dancer. No, really, he was!

If I was a character in a play I’d be… a character called Tutivillus in one of the Wakefield Medieval Mystery Plays. He works with the devil and carries a bag in which he collects the whispered words of idle gossipers and ‘church-chatterers’ who talk during the sermon… or the words that are left over or omitted by the priests… a villain who collects words… that’d be a good character.

I hate theatre when… It wastes my time.

Playwrights who inspire me… I work with lots of young and emerging playwrights. Somewhere in the flux between what I know and don’t know, what they know and don’t know and what neither of us knows but is trying to find out… that’s where the good stuff happens…

The best line that never made it into one of my plays is... I can’t think of a good line that never made it in. There’s lots of bad lines that did (and, thanks to various dramaturges, directors, actors and one or two stage managers, they got turfed). The line I wish I’d written is a Shakespeare line from Macbeth, when the Murderers are killing MacDuff’s family and MacDuff’s son calls the First Murderer a ‘shag-hair’d villain’ and the Murder replies; “What, you egg!” and then stabs him. I love that line.

My best or worst moment working in the theatre was... I was a really bad actor in college (which might account for me being a writer now) but one of my bad acting moments from twenty-five years ago is still one of my best moments in theatre. In third year, we toured some shows to schools as well as to Ararat Prison. The admin guy at the prison told us we shouldn’t bother with it, that they’d all just stay in their cells, but we rocked up anyway. We set up in this little assembly hall and waited. And sure enough, they all came. The place was packed (scary and fantastic at the same time) and they whooped and hollered and clapped and had a great time with our show… and so did we. That was almost the best moment. But the truly best moment was that we went back the following year and one of the ‘trustees’ who was assigned to help us bump-in started asking us were we going to do the same stuff as we did last year and described in great detail the bits he was hoping we’d reprise. When we asked him what he thought of last year’s show he told us he hadn’t seen it; that he wasn’t in prison then, but that all the other prisoners had been telling him the bits they liked the best. From a year before! That’s how he knew so much about it. That was a pretty good moment.

Heroes or villains - whose side are you on… villains are always the most fun to write.

My last big laugh was about… 15 minutes ago.

My last big whinge was about… computer software for writers. Especially Final Draft which I love for screenwriting but is hopeless for playwriting. Its American-style theatre layout really doesn’t work for me and increasingly it seems to be encouraging writers to format their plays like screenplays (and while I’m at it, it drives me crazy that I can’t open WORD2007 documents with my perfectly good WORD97 programme. Damn you, Microsoft!!! Grrrrr…).

The role of theatre in 21st century Australia is… we’ll know in the 22nd century.

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