Like a lot of our new plays, The Splinter came about as a
result of a commission, which on this occasion was made to
playwright Hilary Bell. The STC usually has about six commissions
out at any one time, including adaptations, original plays,
projects being developed by theatre-making collectives and plays
for STC Ed.
Typically a commissioned play is developed over three drafts and at
each stage the artistic team (me, Tom Wright and Andrew or Cate)
will read the play then offer notes to the writer in response. The
process is very respectful of the writer and we tailor it to fit
their preferred way of working. Some commissioned playwrights will
make contact with us most weeks and whereas others disappear, only
emerging when the new draft is complete.
In recent years STC has been exploring new models for commissioning
and developing plays. The Splinter is one of the first
Main Stage works to emerge from one of these processes and its
journey to production has been unusual. In 2009 we commissioned
Hilary to undertake an 'assignment', which was basically a
pre-commission, research project. She was asked to come up with an
idea that could be developed into a 'spooky' play for young people.
After a few months working on the project, Hilary delivered a
beautiful note book full of research and ideas. The story she
outlined was too 'spooky' for kids but was the perfect starting
point for a psychological drama for our Main Stage audience.
Hilary has always expressed an interest in collaborative processes
of play development (she was very inspired by the collaboration
between Frantic Assembly and Bryony Lavery on STOCKHOLM in
2009), so when she indicated that the play might involve puppetry
we knew exactly how to facilitate the next step of development for
The Splinter. We introduced her to puppeteer Alice
Osborne, who had impressed us when she took part in a Rough Draft
creative development, and set up a workshop for them with The
Residents. The pair used this time with performers to explore
Alice's physical responses to Hilary's initial ideas and
notebook. Hilary's brief was to observe the workshop, take
notes but not write a word of a dialogue. She was extremely
restrained and did not begin writing the play until the two week
workshop was over. When she finally did begin to write a draft it
came to her very quickly.
The creative development process enabled Hilary to imagine and
realise a play that is full of space for a visual production and
for her collaborators (Alice and the director Sarah Goodes, who
came on board when the play was programmed last year) to interpret
and expand upon her ideas.
STC's commissioning and creative development programs are an
essential part of creating new Australian plays. They enable us to
work with Australia's leading writers and to provide them with the
creative support they require in order to achieve their
This is an extract from the program for The Splinter,
available for sale in the Wharf 1 foyer for $10.
Wharf 1 Theatre, 10 August - 15 September, 2012.