thoughts and frustrations on Melbourne theatre through bright young eyes

Interview with David Ryding, Emerging Writers’ Festival

David Ryding is a very tall man. He is also a scriptwriter, director and arts administrator with a keen interest in installation art. David is Director of the Emerging Writers’ Festival 2008, now in its fifth year, to happen in Melbourne from 9th to the 11th of May. I recently had a chat with him about the Festival, what it means to be an ‘emerging’ writer, and the future of writing in Australia.

I was reading a blog you recently published on an arts website in which you discussed the difficulty in using ‘emerging’ as a blanket term.

David: Oh, you’ve been reading those lovely diaries. Yeah, it is an exclusive term. It’s a bad word – any word based around funding decisions is going to be tricky. The real questions are “who wants to be called ‘emerging’?” and “when does ‘emerging’ end?”

What do you think?

D: I’ll turn it back to you. When do you expect not to be an emerging writer?

I guess ‘emerging’ is about being at the forefront of the form. It’s about knowing who and what has preceded you and then being able to create new pieces of art or writing or work which best reflect you and your intentions. You’ve got to be going forward and pushing boundaries. I’d say, I’d probably not be an emerging writer once I’d found the way to articulate myself with my own voice. I think it’s about a level of personal satisfaction with what you’re producing.

D: It’s interesting that you didn’t mention commercial success.

Oh, I do think commercial success is part of it. But I guess that’s the desired result of ‘emerging’ rather than a precondition. You can be a very commercially successful writer and still be ‘emerging’.

D: I think ‘emerging’ really depends on your audience. From different perspectives and different parts of the industry, you’re going be given different labels. If I wanted to work with small theatre companies or arts organisations, with my experience I’d be seen as established. If I decided to work with the Sydney Theatre Company, I’d be ‘emerging’. Understanding your audience is good from an industry point of view, but it’s dangerous when you start relying on these people to tell you that you’re ‘emerging’ rather than you discussing it within yourself.

I guess opening up this sort of dialogue in people, and with each other, is one of the goals of the Festival.

D: Exactly.

Can you take us through what the Festival is about, and how it’s different from Melbourne’s other writing events?

D: The Emerging Writers’ Festival is really about the process of writing and not the product. The art and craft of being a writer. You’re not going to be judged by what you’ve written in the past. There’s no readings, no book signings, no question and answer sessions. It’s about looking at skills, the development of products from beginning to end, and where there’s help for writers. It may not make you a better writer, but it’s a chance to learn about different processes.

It is easy to be sceptical about another writing festival – there are already so many commercial opportunities in Melbourne for writers to flaunt their egos.

D: Yeah. This one is about development in every direction – development in growing upwards, and into different fields. But anyone and everyone should come along. People who are interested in reading are interested in writing. It’s a cheap weekend – come along and have fun.

Mentoring is also significant as part of the Emerging Writer’s Festival.

D: Yeah, it’s important to get out of the tradition of sitting in a room and writing to have some casual conversations about the industry and to meet some mentors. I believe that there’s nothing that can be learned through a university course that can’t be better learnt through a mentor. And for a writer who is emerging not in a university system, it’s a very important opportunity. At the Festival you should meet people beyond where you’re getting stipulated. We have five established writers to be mentors and to come and talk. You can get more information in a five minute chat than you can in a seminar. I think sometimes it’s just realising that they’ve come from the same place, same fears, same anxieties.

Will that tradition you mentioned, of the solitary writer who submits a manuscript and gets it published, will that type of writing survive in Australia?

D: Can you name one art form that hasn’t changed to survive? Opera. Ballet.

Classical music.

D: That’s about it. There’s such a tradition of writing. There are always going to be people who want to read the book or read the newspaper. You can buy anything now.

It’s a bit of over-saturation, even.

D: There’s so much crap. Publishers worry about their future and their control. Maybe the end is going to come around and people will buy books again? Will literature go back to word of mouth? Will blogs be the main thing? There are so many crap blogs but there are so many interesting blogs.

But art could be a lot more successful in this country if it wasn’t just one person sitting in a room. Australians love involvement. That’s why we go to the football. We love it being casual, we love being involved. Poetry is having an amazing resurgence in Melbourne. Which makes me wonder why theatre doesn’t do so well. It’s very under-funded and undervalued. There’s something in the Australian ethos that says we’re not about theatre.

Very true, and sad, really. But you’ve done a lot of work with youth and community theatre through your career, where are you at with that now?

D: I mentor a lot of writers. The reason I do it is not because I’m particularly skilled or apt to do it, it’s because I believe in mentors. I’ve moved forward from mentors. Having mentor figures is really important and I enjoy helping people develop their art. It sounds arrogant to say ‘give something back’, it’s not like that. There’s a web of people I still help, and I’m always quite keen to help even if sometimes I’m not the most useful person for them. But it’s not work.


D: It’s fun working with people. It’s always interesting and always rewarding. Work is chasing the work.

Emerging Writers’ Festival runs Friday 9th – Sunday 11th of May,


  Paul Terrell wrote @

great interview but hayloft, rock and roll, tartuffe, chop chop chop! we’re counting on you!


  theatargh wrote @

I know, I know. So much to see so little time. Will do at least two of those shows by the end of next week, promise! And then there’s much more exciting stuff on the way.

  Andre wrote @

hmm, so are we still emerging chris? or have we emerged?

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