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The Readers

"Our Hi-Vis workers are (ironically) invisible"

Inspired by a job reading electricity meters, a new play measures the growing wealth and opportunity gap.

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Show: The Readers
Company: Belvoir’s 25A
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Making Hi-Vis more visible: Scott Smart opens up on The Readers

Date: 29 Apr 2018

“The starting point for The Readers?

In short, being out of work in Sydney and trying to pay the rent.

I moved here from Melbourne in 2017 and had been applying for dozens of jobs every day. No one got back to me until I applied for a position reading electricity meters in the Eastern Suburbs.

It sounded like a dream job on paper, ‘an exciting casual opportunity for people wanting to work outdoors who enjoy walking and keeping fit’. It was choose-your-own hours and work at your own pace (I still think it sounds great).

It was only after I was out on the street doing the training that I came to understand the true nature of the job: the difficulties and dangers involved in accessing hundreds of properties each day to find meter boxes; the live wires, the angry dogs, and the asbestos.

It was during that time an idea for a play began to crystallize, one informed by the genuine admiration I had for my trainer, an extremely kind and intelligent older man.

Patient while imparting his ‘tricks of the trade’, friendly and understanding, he was also very practical and no-nonsense. He never complained about the various indignities he’d suffered on the job. Instead he prepared me to deal with them myself.

He was a lover of the arts, too, particularly reading and writing, and over the course of my training we talked about the books and authors we liked and disliked. We certainly weren’t experts, but it was a source of connection, something to fill the silences while waiting for your handheld to beep.

I wanted to write someone like that, someone whose voice isn’t often heard in the theatre. The working class of Sydney is rarely chronicled. Our Hi-Vis workers are (ironically) invisible.

The contrast I observed in the mansions of the Eastern Suburbs and the ‘battlers’ reading their meters felt like it had real dramatic potential. I wanted to show Sydney’s growing social polarisation and inequality while at the same time making a play about human connection and kindness.

I’m also interested in dramatising male friendship in all its awkwardness. My trainer and I in some ways provided a mirror to each other. Perhaps I reminded him of his younger self and I certainly saw myself in him. He taught me a lot and I like to think he might have learned something from me.

Essentially, he was warning me against the job, and in doing so something may have changed for him, as he no longer works as a meter reader (after one too many meter boxes fell on his head).

I told my partner [actor] Elizabeth Nabben that I was writing the play just after the announcement about Belvoir’s plans to open up the Downstairs Theatre to independent artists.

We decided to aim for the submission deadline for the 25A season, and she acted out my finished script to me in our lounge room.

Following that, I hid it under the bed for a while, until she made me pull it out and we started editing it together. Elizabeth became my dramaturg and we pitched it to Belvoir a week later.

While Elizabeth was overseas performing in Malthouse’s Picnic at Hanging Rock we found out we had been programmed. I couldn’t have done it without her, as the writing experience is very different to the ability to pitch your own work and assemble a team. All of which I knew nothing about.

Dom Mercer from 8th Buffalo read the script after its selection for 25A and decided to publish it, which has been so exciting for me as a writer. I’ll be performing in this production of The Readers and it’s a real comfort knowing there’s a tangible physical copy of the script that I can’t screw up as an actor.”

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