Freezing our socks off here in lovely Melbourne but lucky enough to be sipping on a hot cup of tea whilst munching a digestive biscuit (how very British of me!)
Today’s edition of Creative Crumbs is dedicated to writer, novelist and playwright Clare Mendes. Previously a scriptwriter for TV soap opera Neighbours, she currently dedicates her time to Melbourne Writers’ Theatre as the Company Manager. She has written four novels, Drift Street, A Race Across Burning Soil, The Curtain Raiser (HarperCollins) and The Unvoiced Consonant (Little Owl Press).
She is also the recipient of an Angus & Robertson Fiction Prize, an Asialink Award, a Varuna writing residency, several Arts Victoria grants and a Playworks Script Award – however less of this and more about Clare and her latest play Trash Goes Down The River. Apart from the fact that I never seem to see Clare out of Lycra and she tells me she can lift 24kg at the gym, she also never gets out of bed unless she has spent some time doing her Prambanan breathing, she tells me I don’t breathe enough – she is probably right!
Clare Mendes talks – TRASH GOES DOWN THE RIVER
“I woke up one morning in 2015 with an image burning in front of me. A glowing box with someone inside it – a woman, I felt, though I couldn’t see who she was. I went and told Elizabeth [Walley], my director. I tell Elizabeth everything. At the time we were working on something else, so I had to keep that glowing box in my head for a few months, unopened.
When I opened it, what came out was a short monologue called “Trash Goes Down The River”. I just had a glowing box and a title. I have always loved rivers. I decided that the woman inside the box had been banished from society in some way, otherwise why the box? So now I had a female outcast, an untouchable, travelling down a river – I didn’t know why. There appeared to be a second woman who was responsible for trapping this untouchable inside the glowing box but for some reason was forced to travel down the river with her. This is how all my ideas start – with an image that doesn’t make sense but won’t go away until I make sense of it. To do this, you keep asking questions. I wake up early each morning, usually at 5am but sometimes 3 or 4, with some question or other that needs answering. This is why I write.
The woman in the glowing box was clearly ‘Trash’, and the other woman I called ‘Melody’. It’s just pretty. Musical. They both began to take shape – you let this happen naturally, without forcing it. My advice to anyone who wishes to write is to stop thinking. Melody emerged as an unhappy woman who was obsessed with perfection, detested filth and dreamt of a world that was sparkling clean. Trash became a homeless woman who, simply through her presence, was stopping Melody from fulfilling her goal. I wrote it as a monologue but instead of putting Trash in a glowing box, I trapped her in a drawstring sack which Melody dragged around the stage. I felt that Melody hated this woman enough to do that. So there were two characters on stage, which is strange for a monologue, but there was only one voice as Trash was not allowed to talk.
I stretched it into a full-length play – it seemed to be demanding this. I introduced another character, Melody’s husband ‘Rich’, and gave Trash a voice. Melody’s dream of a better world became ‘Eden Gardens’, a selective, high-security gated community for Melbourne’s wealthy, and it was to this destination that Trash was being transported, for reasons you will discover if you come and see the play.
Sometimes, as might happen with other writers, I write something and it becomes a reality – as though by giving it space and worth and opportunity to grow, you have given it permission to exist. This happened with TRASH. In early 2017, Melbourne became consumed with the homelessness crisis that seemed to be polluting our city streets – a big public debate broke out about what to do with all the rough sleepers along Flinders Street, and two years earlier I had written a play about a homeless woman living on Elizabeth Street. The solutions that the city, the police and community groups were now proposing – Melody and Rich had come up with these in 2015. In TRASH, Melody calls a public meeting to discuss the rising incidence of rough sleepers; she launches a campaign to move the homeless on; she coordinates a Big City Cleanup. So 2017 is the year to put this play on a stage.
I hope people who were fired up about homelessness in January will come along and see TRASH in June. There’s no point asking questions if we’re not then going to look for answers, and homelessness is a question begging for an answer. Launch Housing, Open Canvas and Vinnies are backing this show – maybe you’ll join them, but if not, that’s the story of how TRASH GOES DOWN THE RIVER came about.
By CLARE MENDES
7th May 2017
For tickets to Trash Goes Down The River CLICK HERE