Update from 2019 Creative Writing Fellow

In this guest blog, our Creative Writing Fellow, Nicky Peelgrane, updates us on her progress as she continues her project on Shakespeare's The Tempest and the Grin and Tonic Theatre Troupe.

Creative Writing Fellow Nicky Peelgrane, examining Fryer materials at the Awards and Acquisitions Night, December 2018.

"It’s been a few months of research since my last blog entry regarding Prospero’s Dukedom. As well as exploring the Grin and Tonic collection and the Paul Sherman papers at the Fryer Library, I have been conducting interviews with Grin and Tonic actors (both past and present), observing rehearsals and school performances.

Verbatim theatre

One of the intentions of the project is to find out what it takes to bring Shakespeare to Queensland via verbatim accounts of actors and audience members. Verbatim theatre has been around for a few decades – it’s a bit like documentary for theatre. I’ve been learning what is possible with this form – you may have seen my mentor David Burton’s plays, St Mary’s in Exile or April’s Fool.  Verbatim has also been used by other writers in plays that have been turned into films: London Road or The Laramie Project.

As a writer, this approach is quite terrifying because I have to trust the participants to provide the dialogue in their own words – very scary for a control freak like me! However I’m discovering some insightful gems amid all the ums and ahs and run on sentences. Each quote below comes from someone involved in Grin and Tonic.

On teenage audiences

Emily Burton (ex-Grin and Tonic Actor)

I think there’s this weird idea out there that teenagers don’t get Shakespeare, it’s too hard, it’s too this, it’s too that. But actually they get it, I think better than anyone cos they are in it. Like high school is a Shakespeare play. 

On acting in a Shakespeare play

Jimmy Stewart (ex-Grin and Tonic Actor, actor on Home and Away)

And the other thing about acting Shakespeare is that the actor has to do everything. Now I work in television right now and I’ve got 40 people on set, one person puts a light on, one person puts a camera on, right up in my face, one person puts a microphone under me, I don’t have to do much at all. But in his day, in Shakespeare’s day and even now with thespians, you’ve gotta be the guy who does the close up. So if I’m gonna do a closeup I’m gonna say, ‘her cheeks were as white as snow’ so I’m explaining to the audience what her face looks like.  Now I’m gonna do the long shot. I’m gonna say, ‘The Scottish Army is coming through Burnham wood.’ Now I’m looking out over the audience…so as the army is coming down, I’m the guy explaining it. But I’m also standing in snow so I’m shivering. The Shakespearean actor is doing all of it…that’s why he’s the best (Shakespeare), because there’s no one else who makes you do everything like he does. 

Cast and dancers from Queensland Theatre Company production, The Tempest (1999); directed by Simon Phillips. Photography: Rob MacColl. From Fryer Library's Paul Sherman Collection, UQFL428 parcel 1. Publication courtesy of Queensland Theatre Company.

On the Queensland landscape

Actor and poet Paul Sherman (whose papers are in the Fryer) toured both with Grin and Tonic and Queensland Arts Council over many years. He wrote this recollection in his journal about connecting with the landscape during his 1966 tour (age 33):

One day, a drive day between Mackay and the Brigalow belt, Bryan (Nason, founder of Grin & Tonic) stopped the bus at noon in the middle of the bush for us to have lunch.  On this tour we were all friends, working cooperatively (except for one or two flare-ups)…  After hours cramped in the bus we were glad to separate, some to doze in the sun, I to wander alone, trying to move as softly as possible on creaky leaves. I saw no wallabies, no birds but crows. Only a smidgin of wind touched the fingertips of the gum leaves.  I cracked a leaf and smelled the gum… I realised then that my personal and artistic centre, whether it expressed itself in Shakespeare’s words or my own or those of Banjo Paterson, Val Vallis or Judith Wright, would always be in Australia.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be conducting final interviews, as well as touring with 2019’s Grin and Tonic actors to experience life on the road first hand. This morning for example, I joined students at Marsden SHS as they watched Grin and Tonic’s production of April’s Fool by David Burton. From there I will enter the ‘creative cave’ to begin the collating/writing process – can’t wait!"

Interested in knowing more?

Find out more about Nicky and her project in our blog from January 2019.

A reading of Prospero's Dukedom will take place as part of Nicky's Creative Writing Fellowship event in October 2019. Keep an eye on our blog and social media for updates about the event.

Change to this fellowship for 2024

The 2024 Creative Writing Fellowship provides an early career Australian author with the opportunity to write a new creative work using the special collections in the Fryer Library.

The fellowship is offered by UQ’s Centre for Critical and Creative Writing in the School of Communication and Arts in conjunction with the Fryer Library and with the support of the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund. 

Applications for the 2024 fellowship close at 5pm on Monday 13 November 2023.

The Fellowship is offered with the generous support of the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund and library donors. An additional $90,000 in funding from the Cultural Fund, announced in late 2018, will enable us to continue to offer this fellowship in future years.

Last updated:
20 October 2023