BWW Interview: Award-winning Playwright and Screenwriter, Lewis Treston
Next up on our local artist's segment is Lewis Treston, who is an award-winning playwright and screenwriter who has had his plays performed in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Gold Coast and London. Full length plays include: Meat Eaters (NIDA, developed by STC), Hot Tub (rehearsed readings at STC and La Boite), Follow Me Home (ATYP) and Reagan Kelly (NIDA, Metro Arts, Lion and Unicorn Theatre). Short plays include: Condo Osaka and 1800-Real-Talk (Periscope Productions), Ghost Hunter (White Rabbit Theatre) and The Arcade (ATYP). Screenplays include: Blood and Tinsel (Essential Media) and Fireworks (Sunday Pictures). Awards and nominations include: recipient of the Patrick White Playwright's Award (Hot Tub, 2016) and Matilda Award nomination for Lord Mayor's Best New Australian Work (Reagan Kelly, 2019). He is a graduate from QUT and NIDA and is currently a research student at UQ investigating camp humour in Australian theatre. Here's what Lewis had to say...
VIRAG: How did you become involved in the Australian arts sector?
LEWIS I always had ambitions to work in the theatre and like most people I started out as an amateur actor but I lost faith in my ability. I knew I was doing a woeful job playing the 'the most popular guy in school' archetype which I was coerced into on a number of occasions because the other boys were even less convincing than I was (can you imagine!) At that time projecting forward I couldn't really see myself playing Stanley Kowalski from Streetcar Names Desire or Macbeth from, well Macbeth, or any of those other macho roles. Had I read more widely I am sure I could have been majestic in the plays of Noel Coward or as Prior Walter in Angels in America but my acting muscles have well and truly atrophied now and I also suspect I was never the good in the first place ... But I have digressed from the question.
When I was a kid my mum enrolled me in drama classes because I was a very shy with literacy problems (ironic, yes?) As a teenager I wrote funny skits here and there that people said they enjoyed. After finishing my undergrad in drama at QUT I attempted to write my first "proper" play and the feedback was encouraging enough for me to consider studying further. From there I was accepted into NIDA where I wrote my play Reagan Kelly and from that point onwards interesting and/or professional opportunities have continued to come my way. I don't want to suggest that I was "born to be a playwright" because I have worked too hard at developing my craft for that kind of nonsense. However, it sometimes does feel like the decision wasn't entirely within my control.
VIRAG: How has the coronavirus impacted your own creative practice?
LEWIS: From a production perspective there have been a few disappointments as a result of covid-19 but I haven't really ruminated on that for very long. My short play Condo Osaka as a part of Disparate Scenes for Millennial Dreams (produced by Periscope Productions, directed by Benjamin Sheen) was touring to KXT and I was intrigued to see how it'd play to a Sydney audience. Similarly, another short play of mine as a part of The Human Voice (Redux) was scheduled to premier in Melbourne around this time. Both these productions have been rescheduled so c'est la vie!
In terms of my creative practice, I think the isolation measures may have been beneficial because it has given me the mental space to write and reflect Personally I have begun to realise there's no point in writing polite plays when our lives at times have become genuinely frightening and completely absurd. Not that I have a reputation for writing polite plays anyway but the desire to dig deeper into awkward, uncomfortable and unpalatable aspects of human behaviour feels more urgent. I want to try and write a play so devastatingly hilarious that the audience collectively shits themselves before a very smelly standing ovation ... That's always been the goal really but 2020 has made it feel as though time is running out!
VIRAG: Many companies and artists have started live streaming their work, in order to give a life to it as well bring some entertainment into our isolated state. Do you think live streaming is going to become a more and more prominent means of storytelling and performing? And, have you ever live-streamed a work and if not, would you consider doing it?
LEWIS: I honestly didn't realise a recording of my play Follow Me Home (produced by ATYP, directed by Fraser Corfield) was being streamed to some classes until I received a sweet email from a Brisbane teacher the other week saying that she saw it. From an access point of view it makes perfect sense for theatre to be streamed into classrooms, remote communities and wherever else, whether we're in quarantine or not. NT Live productions have been an important part of the way I consume theatre for years now. However, streaming pre-recorded productions is very different from attempting to finagle something of the theatre experience into a live-streamed zoom call and in truth I am not interested in that kind of content. I've attempted to conduct a creative development on zoom with some success but I'm not pining to do that again. As a playwright I am personally not that interested in seeing my work produced over zoom. Maybe as a reading but that's not a question I've had to consider seriously yet.
VIRAG: Lastly, have you been able to stay creative and keep generating and refining ideas while you've been in self-isolation? Or have you found it difficult to stay creative during these overwhelming times?
LEWIS: Over the past few months I hav been very busy developing a number of projects. I have been working on my new play Hubris & Humiliation which is essentially a contemporary queer version of a Jane Austen-style romcom set between Brisbane, Sydney and Berlin. On a conceptual level I am in discussions with director Riley Spadaro and composer Matthew Predny about adapting my Patrick White award-winning play Hot Tub into a toe-tapping musical. It's also just that time of year when playwrights have the opportunity to pitch play ideas to companies, which can be very time consuming to prepare, so I've been busy doing that. To be frank I have actually been busy. On a pragmatic level these conditions are not that different for many new playwrights because we are used to working across a number of unfinanced projects. Emotionally however the grim vision of the future has left a lot of artists feeling paralysed. I have found the recent changes to the university sector to be particularly disheartening, as it paints a dull and uninspired picture of Australia in 2040 ... There is.of course. no shortage of very bad news lately.
Fortunately, in times of strife. I tend to bury myself in work but that goblin voice in my head does shriek from time to time: "GET OUT OF THE ARTS NOW! THIS SHIP IS GOING TITANIC!" For whatever reason I keep writing my campy romps because you gotta do something and there's nothing good to watch on Netflix now that I've finished two seasons of Below Deck. If there is an industry to return to in the coming years I am sure people will want a laugh, which I can provide on the proviso that somebody hands me a briefcase filled with cash and gives me a purple sash with the words 'working writer' written on it. More realistically however I am looking forward to simple pleasures like being in a rehearsal room with my friends again, when the director comes up to me, points to my favourite line in the script and says ... "We need to cut this.