Interview with Paula Armstrong – Playwright.
Paula: I’m so excited about this workshop! It’s a wonderful opportunity for young writers to learn how to write a ten minute play. Ten minute plays are a great way to experiment with playwriting as it follows a similar format to the larger plays – just squished into ten minutes. In our two day workshop (Saturday November 17 and Sunday 23rd at ELT), students come armed with their ideas for a play and then learn how to put it on paper and make it interesting for an audience, whilst also learning about structure and plot development. They also get to see a ‘bad’ play and ‘good’ play being performed so they see the difference. Students go away and write their play and then come back the following weekend and workshop it. That’s the really fun part! When they watch their play being performed they can then make any changes to improve it and then hopefully enter it into ELT’s Ten Minute Quickie play competition.
The Bell: Can you tell me why you think playwriting is so important?
Paula: A good, well written play can make you laugh, make you cry, can make you feel. Live theatre is an experience. Anyone can come up with a story – it’s how you craft the story that makes all the difference. To rely solely on television and movies for entertainment would be like only ever eating strawberries without the chocolate dipping sauce. We must always have people who know how to make chocolate sauce.
The Bell: What are some of the plays you have written?
Paula: Plays I have written so far, and have had performed, include: Katerina (full length comedy), A Criminal Mind (One Act Play), Criminal Minds (10 minute) and Just One (10 minute). One Night I Had a Dream (Monologue) is still under development and needs workshopping. I have three other that are half written and am waiting for some inspiration!
The Bell: Where do you get your awesome ideas from for plays?
Paula: Katerina was inspired by Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. In one of her books there was a little dwarf hiding in her cupboard sniffing her shoes. It was so weird and funny! She couldn’t get rid of him! He inspired my Mr Bob character, who decides to live in Katerina’s cupboard to escape his wife. Mr Bob has proven to be an audience favourite and does excellent beer burps.
Just One came about after I was thinking about my mother, who passed away 10 ten years ago. I was wondering if I only had one question to ask her, what would that be? The play is a very open and raw piece and affected people in many ways. (It was quite cathartic to write, and I encourage any writers who are starting out to write about what you know and what you feel. Write from your heart and you can never go wrong.) My other play A Criminal Mind sprung out of the murky depths of my imagination and the thought for this play actually came in the form of a strong opening image. Impact in the first 5 seconds was my aim! Plot ideas kept flowing after that…
The Bell: What do you prefer: sleeping in or shopping with your friends?
Paula: Sleeping in! Mind you my hours have changed over time. A sleep in for me now is 10am, usually only on a Sunday. I’m now the one trying to wake my teenage children up at midday saying the same words my Mother said to me “Get up! You’re sleeping the day away!”
The Bell: When did you get interested in playwriting?
Paula: It wasn’t until around 2005 that I thought to give playwriting a go. I was inspired by the comedy in Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series and created the man in the cupboard. Plot and storyline slowly formed around him. I saw my first Short+Sweet ten minute play festival in Melbourne a year or so later and decided to give writing a ten minute play a go. Just One made it into the Melbourne S+S in 2011 and Criminal Minds made it into both New Zealand S+S and Sydney S+S – and got through to the Sydney Wildcard Final after winning that week’s round! It still amazes me how far I have come from that single thought in the audience years ago “I wonder if I could write a ten minute play” to actually seeing my play on that stage. An awesome feeling to be sure.
The Bell: In school were you good at writing?
Paula: I was never a ‘polished’ writer at school (still not!) but I had great stories that really sucked people in. I was a big fan of Stephen King and so I used to write mainly horror stories which really freaked my English teacher out. The poor woman dreaded receiving my creative writing assignments. She had to sleep with her light on after marking it. I used to write poetry and prose too for my own enjoyment.
The Bell: Do you ever preform in your plays?
Paula: No. Some of it is too close to home. I also wanted to see what other actors would bring to the character first. I am very visual and I need to see the play performed to better understand any changes I may need to make to the script. I have directed Criminal Minds for 1812 theatre and loved it. I wouldn’t mind directing Katerina if I got the opportunity. Unfortunately I am a lot older than Katerina and wouldn’t do her justice if I was to play her.
The Bell: What else do you do other than playwriting (e.g. hobbies)
Paula: I am currently studying to be a Hypnotherapist and plan to start facilitating personal growth workshops in 2014. I have a keen interest in helping people change their belief systems into strong positive ones. (I want to teach what I have myself discovered: it’s not confidence that gets you started, it’s the letting go of the fear of failure and deciding to just give it a go).
I am also the webmistress for Eltham Little Theatre and run the Facebook. I am producing the Ten Minute Quickie play competition at ELT in 2014 with submissions opening for that in November, which will keep me busy. I also love revamping old furniture into shabby chic kind of look. My summer project will be turning my old boring brown dining table and chairs into a white washed antique look.
And I absolutely love reading and going to see a movie at the theatre. (Can’t wait to see the new movie ‘Gravity’)
The Bell: When you were little what did you wish to be?
Paula: I wanted to be a teacher or a child psychologist and also write a book. I became neither but have led a very diverse and interesting career which allowed me to work with so many interesting people. I have worked in a cosmetic factory, retail, office work and administration, mystery shopper, television extra and car wash attendant. I wouldn’t change a thing and I can’t wait for my next chapter as a Hypnotherapist. The book is still in the making….
The Bell: What is your favorite food?
Paula: Is coffee a food? One weak latte a day keeps the doctor away. It’s a meal in France. They have it in a bowl for breakky!
The Bell: Do you like to read?
Paula: I love to read, although most of my reading at the moment is for my Hypnotherapy studies. My three most recent books that have had an amazing impact on me are;
“This is How” by Augusten Burroughs
“Do One Thing Different” by Bill O’Hanlon
“The Happiest Refugee” by Anh Do
I also love period romances (my favourite author Kathleen E Woodiwiss) and would love to write a romance one day. When I was a teenager, for every Stephen King or Dean Koontz novel I would read, I would make sure to read a romance as my next book. I had to get the balance right – and still do. Life is about an equal balance of light and shade really isn’t it?
Interview questions by Alex M.