Resolution – Lisa chat’s with Luke Holmes (Theatre interview)
Resolution is the new production from the Brave New Word Theatre Company, who are dedicated to bringing new Australian works to the stage. The importance of local writing for theatre can’t be underestimated and we all must hold a special place in our hearts for the theatre companies devoted to nourishing and displaying the enormous writing talent of Australians. Brave New Word’s latest work is titled Resolution and is on at The Actor’s Pulse, 103 Regent st Redfern from 26 July to 6 August. You can grab tickets here.
Check out the blurb below:
Abigail Woods has tried her whole life to separate herself from her mother Diane, the public and formidable CEO of Olympus Media. But when her mother dies suddenly, Abigail’s life is pulled out of control as she is catapulted into the world of corporate media. It’s about how she survives in an environment where not even she is sure who she is, and about the weight of the responsibility she now carries.
Luke Holmes has been working on drafts in collaboration on Resolution for two years and I was lucky enough to have a chat with him about this long powerful project and its facinating subject.
LT: In her essay, The Crises in Culture, Hannah Arendt said:
“There are a great many authors of the past who’ve survived centuries of oblivion and neglect, but it’s an open question as to whether they can survive an entertaining version of what they have to say.”
One of the great debates about the media currently is its sound bite approach to intellectualism. Strangely, in proportion to its refusal to engage deeply with contemporary subject, it appears to take itself more seriously today than it ever has before. Theatre can be argued to have the opposite approach to intellectualism – encouraging it by medium while refusing the declarative or authoritarian voice. What made you want to combine theatre and the media in a modern Sydney play, and how is Resolution specifically Sydney, or Australian?
LH: When I began working on Resolution, one of the things that started shaping it into its current form was the frustration at how reluctant most modern theatre seems to be to deal with issues that are ‘intellectual’ and large scale. Of course it always is for the characters involved, but I wanted something where those around her and the audience could tell at a glance “Oh, this is big, and I don’t really know what she should do.” I liked giving Abigail, and the audience, a situation where the right course of action isn’t always obvious because there’s a lot of information she doesn’t have, and she has to dig to find out what’s really going on around her. That approach just happened to work really well in a media environment, since the company around her has the job of doing that on a national scale, but she has to do it from the inside.
As far as the play being specifically ‘Sydney’ or ‘Australian’, I’m not really sure it is. Rather than having the play be reliant on one city or country for setting, I’d say it more belongs to a particular culture, which I think is shared by a number of countries at the moment. Part of the reason for choosing a large media company as the setting was the thought that in classic texts, we got large scale, high stakes situations from things that we simply don’t have anymore: Princes, kings and queens, generals of great armies, the lord of a great and ancient house, we can’t really put our characters into these worlds any more because the world is so different. So a this setting was my equivalent. The Price (or Princess) of Denmark isn’t really a position we can give a character, but CEO of a large media conglomerate is one of the most influential and powerful in our culture.
LT: That’s interesting about media moguls being the equivalent of royalty. In classic grand narratives, there exists a conflict between generations that plays itself out in the broader kingdom. Do you use this device in Resolution?
LH: Absolutely. I’ve always enjoyed plays and stories that can create a larger world with its own consequences and stakes just by the interactions of characters, so a major part of the play is how Abigail’s differing views on how to run the business and handle things affect everyone at Olympus and even beyond that. I’d say the handing down of power to a younger generation (though not always smoothly) is one of the main themes of the play.
LT: You’ve chosen women as your two protagonists, while the Australian media empires are (in)famous for refusing women anything other than a “Woman’s Day” access to the public conversation. Why did you choose females to play media moguls in Australia?
LH: That actually came about partly through design, partly through circumstance. Before I had the details of the play down, I knew it was always going to be a story of a woman struggling with her relationship with a deceased mother. That relationship, and the fact that Abigail is forced to confront and re-evaluate her own image of her mum after she’s passed was always the core of the story for me, so once I settled on the setting Diane kind of had to be the old CEO.
Having said that, a certain amount of it was also very deliberate. I really liked the idea of setting up a high stakes, precarious, very demanding position for the lead (basically the type of story that would go to a man in a classic text) and give it to a contemporary woman instead. I really wanted her story to have significant impact and stakes not just for her and those immediately around her, but for a much much larger world, since we so rarely get to see female characters in that position and I don’t know why.
LT: What made you want to write a play about a woman struggling with her relationship with a deceased mother?
LH: We’re going back a solid two years here, but I’d say that was more of a thought process than one idea. Right from the beginning I wanted to centre it on this young woman who inherits something big and complex that she has a lot of uncertainty about, and during the first writing sessions we kept talking about how she got to that position. Giving her a lot of unfinished business and struggles with her mother just tied really nicely into it, and that quickly became the core of her character.
LT: Interestingly, the Australian media is heavily tied up with dynasty – it’s all very Ptolemaic. You’ve taken the same road here. How do you think relationships between parents and children impacts the way that the media presents itself to a broader society at large?
LH: I know personally, whenever I hear of a media company that passes onto a family member, it always sounds instantly less dynamic and honest, and far more closed and rigid. Almost less of a media company, more of a pre-determined opinion megaphone. I think there are two ways Australians interact with the media: They either pick an outlet that affirms them, and consider it the ultimate validation (while adopting anything else that group has to say) or they view everything with equal scepticism and distrust. I’m a member of the latter group, but it’s far from ideal, and seems to some from a place of ‘if so much seems dodgy, I’m not even going to trust the stuff that looks honest’. Without going into too much detail, that is an issue that comes up fairly strongly in the play. The old guard of Diane’s ownership versus Abigail coming in has a lot of that conflict to it. Abigail may have been handed the position, but that doesn’t mean that she wants it, or even trusts it.
LT: It’s a nice idea that a person next in line to inherit a large empire doesn’t trust its function. There seem to be so many interesting ideas floating around Resolution, its surprising its all in one play. Did you have a sense of other plays emerging as you wrote it? Will you end up writing some of them?
LH: I think on the one hand it’s definitely a very full play, but through the writing process I was able to (with the help of some very talented collaborators) condense everything to fit the story of either Abigail’s emotional or professional journey. They’re the two threads through Resolution, and everything in it serves one of them in some way.
Having said that, it’s been a bit over two years since I started writing this one, so in that time there have absolutely been extra ideas that sprouted from it that I’m saving up. I’m not yet sure what the next play will be about but working on this has taught me a lot about how much I enjoy giving characters and the audience and uncertainty about what the truth is. I think in a lot of media (books, films, plays etc) we’re trained to accept that is a major character tells us something as if it’s a fact then it is one, and I like proving that assumption wrong. So whatever my next work is, someone will probably lie in it!
Here’s to the lies that feed us! Thanks Luke Holmes. Resolution is on at The Actors Pulse, 103 Regent st Redfern from 26 July to 6 August. You can grab your tickets here.