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Interview with John Romeril

My first theatre experience was… when I was very young. Easter time in Maldon, a Central Victorian gold fields town. They have (from mining days) a parade, events, and so on. I got to stand up on a chair end of the row at a theatrical recital done in the old Penny School. Once a school, even then (the 1950s) an under-used venue stroke piece of heritage real estate. I remember lurid lighting. Some Diva doing elocutionary things. She was a larger than life tragedian. No memory of ‘the items’ tackled. Wowed by her ‘hyper-theatrical’ attack. Us, in the dark, her being an over the top wailer. Us assigned a role – audience – harkening unto her. Listen you! OK. Hit me babe! From pub rock to the ballet to the club circuit. Same trade the world over. Meaning, play the social commentator – first create event! Parade me your worth! Why I listen to you? Why I buy ticket to you?

If I was a character in a play I’d be… I’ve been characters in plays. Ham in Beckett’s Endgame’s an example. My respect for the art and craft of acting grew from doing it. You are shockingly naked out there. You have to risk failure to even get close to success. You have to be worth looking at, listening to. My credo as a writer for performance starts and ends there. I try to arm actors for the task of taming (aka, seducing and exhilarating), a mob.

I hate theatre when… it’s boring, when it’s pretentious, when attending it is time off my life. That’s robbing Peter while not paying Paul. If that’s what your scam - give me a break - go drown yourself.

Playwrights who inspire me… are the usual suspects. Anyone who is good at the trade. That stretches from Sophocles (a Greek) to Cortese (a Vandemonian).

The best line that never made it into one of my plays is... I’ll take another tack re. that question if I may. I have the knack of rendering myself vulnerable. I once wrote a play called I Don’t Know Who To Feel Sorry For. Asking for it. And some arsehole critic knew the answer: “The playwright may not know who to feel sorry for, I do. The audience”. May that prick rest in hell. I think his first name was Geoffrey something. Even dead I’ll outlive him!

My best or worst moment working in the theatre was... my earnestness, seriousness of intent, has more than once brought me undone. I happen to think the nuclear industry is a time bomb and therefore penned a peice called, The Radioactive Horror Show. I wanted everything re. the topic in the show. I was gonna cover all bases, Pine Gap to Three Mile Island. It proved a monster as an event. Overload for the actors, and a long show’s usually a bad show for the audience. You want people to entertain ideas, first entertain people! Opening night got to be 25 to midnight – one Act to go! People would miss the last train, the last tram, have to pay the babysitter overtime…Re. the Yellow Cake no-no, the nuclear dilemma, I had one of my characters say: “Will we ever get out of here?”. Pause. An audience member piped up: “Starting to look like we won’t…” Easy to die. Hard to (theatrically) live!

Heroes or villains - whose side are you on… I vote 1) Machiavelli; 2) Jonathon Swift. Truly elegant wranglers of the eternal Good versus Evil hassle. Piety – a wank. Pure evil – a fetish. Between them two outposts – the drama be strung!

My last big laugh was about… me and my Torres Strait Islander mate Gibbo, blowing a fuse at the Judith Wright Centre in Brisbane. I’m trying to improve his TV reception. Coupla good electricians we be! Issue: how do the Goons make such great radio! They lived the moment. That existential act has made them memorable. For us (in our here and now) to be as brave!

My last big whinge was about… I’m not past caring but I am beyond whingeing. It is a blessed state. Have no wish to trouble the airwaves with anything resembling a whine. More than enuf white noise from the disappointed and disaffected. I thank the Lord for every new day. And the sparrow for whatever poop it lands on my brain pan. Kind of a born in Moorabbin Buddhist. Who writes.

The role of theatre in 21st century Australia is… survival. Staying a live (alive) medium is the key to our art form’s future. When wasn’t it thus? Up to us. We who weild pens, strut boards, pitch theatrical fare for the price of a ticket. I was never Michael Jackson – was though, kind of a Johnny Rotten. Can tell. So few teeth!

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