Australian Graffiti first came to STC as a work-in-progress in 2015. As part of our Rough Draft program, it was given a week-long workshop with director Paige Rattray and a cast of actors working with Literary Manager Polly Rowe and the playwright Disapol Savetsila.
At the time, Disapol was a 21-year-old newcomer to professional theatre, so before the workshop got started, we caught up with him to find out more…
How did Australian Graffiti come to be part of Rough Draft?
I'm still at university studying and a friend of mine there encouraged me to apply to the Lotus Playwriting Project, which is an initiative from Playwriting Australia. It's basically a program to encourage more diverse voices in theatre, in particular those from Asian backgrounds, to tell their stories. I found out about it in the last fews day that you could apply, so I assembled this short piece that I'd been working on called Australian Graffiti. Having sent it in, I was accepted into the next stage in the program and that's how I got to meet Polly Rowe [STC's Literary Manager]. After the Sydney salon for Lotus, she invited me to be part of this Rough Draft.
Has writing been something you've been drawn to for a while?
Yeah, I'd say I've always been a writer. I'm really, really bad at everything else, so I'm very much banking on it being my thing. At the moment I'm majoring in Creative Writing at the University of Wollongong and it was my friend there Joel Burrows who suggested I apply for the Lotus program. Joel and I also have an amateur theatre company down there that we both write for called Theatre Versus Everything.
And has theatre always been part of that interest in writing?
That's really only happened this year, to be honest. I think the first time I wrote something for theatre was at high school for the HSC. And that really didn't go too well. In my first year at university, I wrote a monologue for the first time and that was still just testing out the form – writing through character and exclusively through dialogue – but I entered it into ATYP's 'Where in the World' competition and it was one of the winners. Since then, I've been upping what I do more and more and, it might seem obvious, but increasing the number of characters has been one way to get a better feel for the form of playwriting.
So, before you started exploring theatre and dialogue, what was your form? Were you scribbling out poems or prose or ...?
Exclusively prose. I could never get a handle on poetry; I tried many times, failed many times. It was usually dialogue-heavy prose, so still a little theatrical in that regard. The sad thing is now I feel like I can't write prose any more. I've been trying to write some this year and everything has just been terrible. So, dialogue-driven writing very much feels like my form now.
What are you hoping to get out of the Rough Draft?
I'm still really early in my career, so I'm still hoping to become one of the greatest playwrights of all time. But more realistically, I'd say that right now I'm good at writing a set up for a play, but I haven't mastered the action that follows. I feel like my characters can get stuck bemoaning the situation they're in without ever taking action or allowing it to change. I think that's something that the Rough Draft development process can help me with. As an example, I've already had some preliminary meetings with Polly to chat through problems in the play around writing in more action. And, from those discussions, I've introduced two new characters and considered how to develop those characters through some improvisations with the actors we'll be working with.
You're studying in Wollongong now. Did you grow up there too?
No, I grew up in Sydney and Bathurst, with a year in Parkes.
Where did your interest in writing come from?
I didn't come from a literary family. My family are restaurateurs – Thai migrants who came over and started cooking Thai food. My brother probably hasn't read a book since Year 8. In fact, he hasn't read anything of mine. But I read a lot as a kid, it was something I really enjoyed doing. And the writing developed out of that, doing something that I love.
Were there particular writers or a genre that you were most influenced by?
It was mostly fantasy. I certainly wasn't a very literary-minded reader until the last couple of years, when people started saying things like, "You haven't heard of Hemingway?" What I grew up loving was fantasy – The Lord of the Rings, Emily Rodda's Rowan of Rin books – and it remains an influence. I'm really interested in how the real and the magical intermix.
Australian Graffiti is set in rural Australia and it doesn't paint it as the easiest place to live. Was that your experience in Bathurst?
It's more the story of my parents' generation and my family – the other men and women who work there in the restaurant whom I call my aunties and uncles. It was difficult for them, it is even to this day. They don't really have the language, they keep to themselves. In Sydney, there's a community for them to be part of, but somewhere like Bathurst their lives shuttle from home to the restaurant for work and back without much more. It's that sense of isolation that I was trying to capture.
And aside from this play and Rough Draft, are there other projects that you have in the works?
Yes, with Theatre Versus Everything we're working on interactive theatre concepts at the moment. We’re taking a play in that vein up to Newcastle for Crack Theatre Festival.
Australian Graffiti, 7 Jul – 12 Aug 2017, Wharf 2 Theatre
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