‘Permission to write’: Emilie Collyer Interviews Marion May Campbell

By and | 31 October 2021

Permission. Jude, a theatre director, mentored my writing and gave me work on her projects for many years. We made works collaboratively. She settled in Castlemaine after returning to Australia and so our work together was mostly based there. Jude would initiate the concept and I would respond with pieces of writing. I learned a lot about dramaturgy and constructing works that were non-linear, theme-based, and post-dramatic. I was so grateful for this work, this apprenticeship. But all the while I was still also so focussed on writing plays and getting accepted into the machine of the theatre industry in Melbourne.

MMC: [A]nd this is to […] answer [your question] [00:05:00], to respond to what you were saying, Emilie, about […] an official permission to write … When [I’d written]

[00:05:14] early on [about] 40 pages of what I then called Shunted Shunting [the original title for Lines of Flight, published by Fremantle Arts Centre Press in 1985] – which is a terrible working title – I put that in […] for […] a New Writer’s Grant [from the Australia Council] and to my great surprise, I got [one] and it gave me a year of writing and the writing – I tended to do [at times became a bit routine] – I wrote every day. My son was in childcare every day from about eight to four […] I wrote and wrote and wrote, and [quite a lot of it was pretty ordinary].

[00:05:47] It was just, you know, […] it was plotting from A to B to C […]. I was friendly with Wendy Jenkins, who was a poet and [00:06:00] also an editor at Fremantle Arts Centre Press and she basically said, Throw it aside. Cannibalise it for something else, it’s not working.

I am experimenting with how to place the interview on the page. The […] are places where Marion made a small cut or edit to the transcript. Her thoughtful way of marking that on the page. I could delete these, and probably will, but there is something in the rhythm of them. Similarly, the time codes. Of course, I shouldn’t include those. Then again.

EC: Ooh, radical. Was that scary for you or was that sort of liberating?

MMC: [00:06:11] Um, it, I sort of agreed, but it was a bit of a [downer], I suppose. I hoped that she saw something there that I didn’t. [Though that] was silly […] there were parts of a [more] heightened […] intensity that I was very attached to. But […] anyhow, I got a job at Murdoch and it was effectively [all-consuming and] I had to put [the manuscript] aside for ages. After four years of tutoring at Murdoch – [00:06:38] […] I got spat out of the system, because I didn’t have a PhD.

Sometimes I wonder if I made the most out of the relationship with Jude (which continues, but we don’t work together as often now) and, in a way, if I let her down. I feel I didn’t grab the reins of that way of making work as much as I could have. I wondered if perhaps because our relationship started in that particular way, with a sense of mentorship, it was difficult for me to take the lead on projects with her.

In Jude’s study
watching a grainy video
of Tadeusz Kantor’s Dead Class

	theatre can be this
	this can be theatre

	it is more like a painting
	a happening				(a poem?)

	there is no story
	but it is deeply story

	it heaves
	it startles

	the actors are not
	acting but they are

I am confused
and mesmerised

Jude talks, with some
disparagement about
psychological theatre

	(or at least its limits)

I am worried because 
I think that is what 
I write

She saw a play of mine
and called it poetic
I didn’t know what that meant
but I wanted to learn

I stay at her place
for creative developments

thick white sheets
and square pillows

Washing the dishes
I break a beautiful wine glass

	‘Don’t worry’, her partner, Gilles,
	a French wine-maker says,
	‘everyone does that’

Jude’s sweet daughter Margot
sees a plastic bag of mine

in the bathroom and thinks
it is a yellow shower cap

she shyly tells me how 
much she likes my 

yellow shower cap
I am sad to tell her

it’s not a shower cap
just a plastic bag

A different Margot.

Still, the connections are pleasing.

I carry on, collecting fragments of conversation and memory, placing them together.

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