Adam Zwar, creator of Wilfred and Lowdown, will direct a dramatic live reading of the classic film 12 Angry Men for the Wheeler Centre this month. We spoke to Adam in advance of the event about the appeal of 12 Angry Men, the challenges of making it with women as well as men, and why American accents get in the way.
12 Angry Men is a play about justice and the responsibilities of democracy, set in 1950s America. How relevant does it remain – and do you think it speaks to contemporary Australia?
The play appears to be about justice, but its really about human relationships. It’s about 12 people from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds being put into a room and negotiating whether someone lives or dies. The themes are as relevant in Australia as anywhere else.
The characters in 12 Angry Men were, as the title implies, originally 12 men, each of them intended to represent a different archetype of the ordinary American. What made you decide to cast the play as men and women – and were there any challenges in making this transition?
That came from a discussion with The Wheeler Centre. We didn’t want it to be a man-fest. And there were characters in the play that didn’t have to be played by men.
How were the roles allocated to each character? What kind of factors played into your casting decisions?
We only require the actors for one night, so we had access to some pretty extraordinary names. When you see how well the characters in the script are written, it’s not hard to think of actors who could play them.
Have you adapted the original film script in any way, or is this a faithful adaptation?
We’re being faithful to it. But, hold onto your seats, we’re not using American accents. This is a universal story and American accents get in the way. We want the audience to see into the character’s heart, not to be scoring the actors’ American accents.
I hear that the idea of a performed script reading was originally yours. What appeals to you about that concept? And what kind of experience can the audience expect?
It’s not an original idea. The film critic, Leigh Paatsch, sent me a link to a similar thing they’re doing in LA. And I thought it would be fun to do here. So I pitched it to Michael Williams and he went on Randling and became famous and I didn’t hear from for eight months. And then he got back to me and said, ‘Let’s do it. You can start off with 12 Angry Men.’
Adam Zwar will direct a live reading of the 12 Angry Men film script, with a cast of talented Australian actors (both men and women), for the Wheeler Centre on Friday 14 December. 12 Angry People will be at the Athenaeum Theatre at 8.30pm. Bookings are open now.
Hannie Rayson is a playwright and screenwriter best known for Hotel Sorrento, which was also produced as a feature film. She made history when her play Life After George was the first play to be nominated for the Miles Franklin Literary Award. She has also written for television, including SeaChange. In 2006, she was nominated for the Melbourne Prize for Literature.
What was the first piece of writing you had published or produced?
My first play was produced at Grant Street theatre, when I was in my final year at The Victorian College of the Arts in 1978. It was called Please Return to Sender and it was about a postman who discovered a pregnancy in his testicle.
What’s the worst part of your job?
Being on the tenth draft of a play and not being confident of whether you are making it better or worse.
What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?
Hearing my latest play read at The Manhattan Theatre Club, three weeks ago.
What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?
Write about what you know. (worst) How many plays would you like to see about me typing in my room? Being a writer is a passport for an adventurous life. Write about what you don’t understand, then set out in order to make sense of it. (Advice to self)
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself or your work?
My play Two Brothers was a ‘smug vomit of hate’ according to Andrew Bolt.
If you weren’t making your living by writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
Working in some sort of welfare outfit – I was training to be a psychologist – all the while dreaming of a time when I could be a writer.
There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?
Oh yes. I learn something new every day. There are so many little tricks that can be passed on. I look at this new breed of graduates and I think these writers are so much more assured in style and form than we were as we muddled our way forward.
What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?
Curiosity is your most valuable asset.
Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?
Both. I use a Kindle for traveling, but it is second best.
If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?
I would like to go out with Dina Dalal from Rohinton Mistry’s novel A Fine Balance. I would ask for her to show me India; we could rhapsodise together about Rohinton Mistry’s genius, but over dinner I’d just be happy to gaze into those wise and worldly eyes.
What’s the book or play that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?
Death of a Salesman. Arthur Miller teaches us to open the doors to the street and let ordinary life blow into the theatre.
Hannie Rayson will be appearing in The Australian Moment: What Does it Mean to Be Aussie Right Now? at the Fairfax Studio at the Arts Centre on Wednesday 17 October at 5.45pm. Book now.
When Captain Cat beseeched his deceased lover Rosie Probert to “let me shipwreck in your thighs” in Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood, we truly doubt he meant anything resembling the fate of the Costa Concordia cruiseship which ran aground on 13 January. The disaster has claimed 11 lives so far, with more confirmed deaths expected.
The somewhat odd behaviour of the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, remains the subject of widespread speculation. Was he a cowardly deserter or, as he claims, did he merely slip off the deck and into a lifeboat? And what of the heated exchange between Schettino and Port Authority commander Gregorio de Falco?
Locally, Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott was today under fire for making light of the tragedy on breakfast radio, remarking, “Well, that was one boat that did get stopped, wasn’t it?” He has since conceded that his comments may have been inappropriate.
David Newland, writing for Macleans.ca, has reimagined the shipwreck as an Italian opera. He casts a hero in Hungarian violinist Sandor Feher, who helped a group of children to safety before perishing whilst trying to retrieve his violin, becoming the first of the dead to be identified.
The radio play may have fallen on hard times, but interest in the form hasn’t disappeared altogether. Perhaps that’s because some writers are excited by the potential of a drama delivered entirely in sound. Curiously, the origins of the form stretch much further back than the radio. The first writer to create drama entirely for sound was Seneca the Younger, a philosopher, statesman, dramatist, humorist and a Roman contemporary of Christ’s.
Radio dramas of distinction include Orson Welles' famous adaptation of War of the Worlds, which had many Americans in 1938 convinced that aliens were invading the planet, and Dylan Thomas' Under Milkwood. The form peaked in the 1930s and 1940s, but radio plays continue to be written and broadcast today, despite the form having been replaced by several generations of new technology.
Arts Mitten, youth radio station SYN’s arts and entertainment program, is planning to launch a regular segment showcasing radio plays throughout August. It’s making a call-out for new and emerging playwright to submit their plays to be aired on SYN. Plays need to be 10 to 20 minutess in length, can be of any genre and based on any theme, as long as it works as a radio play. Thesubmission date is Monday, 18 July. To submit or to obtain more information, emaill Florence at artsmitten [at] syn [dot] org [dot] au.
Twenty years to the day since Nicolae Ceauşescu's communist regime was overthrown in Romania, a revolutionary figure of another type is celebrating an anniversary.
It is 100 years since the birth of playwright Eugene Ionesco, one of Romania's most important cultural figures. But, as the Australian reports, there has been little evidence in his homeland that anyone has noticed.
The story of Hamlet is one where the sins of the fathers are visited on the children, there's a bloke who can't make a decision and in the end everyone dies.
Professor Tim Flannery at the Copenhagen Climate Conference
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