As Wink gets its Sydney premiere, courtesy of indie company Wheels & Co., director Anthony Skuse talks to US playwright and screenwriter Jen Silverman about her process, about writing a play in which any one of four characters can be seen as the lead, and, most importantly, what kind of animal she would be.
AS: How does the idea of queerness inform the writing of the play? Is that something you are conscious of as you work?
JS: I’m sure that my lens on work is influenced by the fact that I’m queer. And I am very taken by what I see as an inherently queer approach to narrative – which I would characterise as a playful subversiveness, an investment in shape-changing and transformation, a sense of humour informed by otherness.
But these aren’t things I consciously, intellectually aim for when I make work. I’m drawn in certain aesthetic directions, and the work manifests itself accordingly.
While we were talking about the play, you mentioned that, in part, it addresses a particular middle-class dilemma. Would you be able to expand on that?
There’s a 1950s American narrative about a specific kind of straight middle-class stasis – a way of being trapped inside these overarching narratives of what a normative, “all-American” level of achievement looks like.
I was interested in starting with that bubble – a husband who goes to work, a wife who stays home, etc – and then seeing what happens when everyone inside that framework starts to shapeshift. When we seek things for which we don’t even have language, when we chase our darkest impulses, when the things we want don’t fit inside the frameworks we’ve created or bought into.
What for you is at the heart of Wink?
The question of what we might become, how we might transform, when we open ourselves to new imaginings.
On any given night I find myself drawn to one character over the other three, and that seems to change with each performance. For you, whose play is it?
The play is built deliberately to be a vehicle for all four characters. They take turns circling in and out of the centre, they diverge from each other in order to take vital steps forward, but then circle back and intersect with each other in new and singular ways.
I want to ask a question about the ending of the play, which is enigmatic, but I’m not sure how to actually shape it. I’ve always thought of it as celebratory, everyone in a state of becoming, and was surprised when one of our creatives described it as a kind of hell. Where would you place these characters at the end?
To me it’s celebratory, but a dangerous celebration. Everyone has broken out of their status quo, but to what ends? Is what is good for the individual necessarily good for society, or the collective? The play shepherds a series of character transformations without trying to assure the audience that it’s all going to turn out okay.
What is your ideal creative process?
I love to find a balance between being involved and giving everyone space to do their work. If it’s a premiere or a second production where I’m actively still working, I usually work with the director to put the right people in the room – actors, designers – but I also believe that once you achieve that, you have to trust those people and you can’t micro-manage. I have several core aesthetic tenets, and when I find collaborators who share those tenets, I tend to work with them again and again.
And our designer Chevy asked me to ask you … why Wink?
The name just appeared and attached itself. Rhythmically and texturally it felt right. And there’s a bit of a wink to the play as well, perhaps, although I didn’t choose it for that reason.
… and are you more of a wolf or a cat?
I need to spend a lot of time on my own, but once I decide that particular people are my pack, I’m very attached to them. A pack-oriented loner – what’s that animal? Maybe some kind of insect. Probably something unflattering.