Testing 'Sisterly Love'

M. E. Macdonald
Ashton Brown as 5 characters
Kat Glass as 5 characters
Playwright M. E. Macdonald talks to Renee Liang about 'Sisterly Love' and experimenting with her new comedy at Auckland Fringe.


How much do you love your sisters? What would(n’t) you do to help them on their wedding day? Playwright M. E. Macdonald asks this question in her comedy Sisterly Love, premiering this week at Auckland Fringe.

Renee Liang caught up with M.E. in the midst of frenzied preparations.

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When I got married, my two sisters were my bridesmaids. The day went smoothly and my sisters looked after my welfare (literally; my middle sister, who’s a surgeon, had to ‘operate’ on my foot trying to remove a splinter minutes before I walked down the aisle.) But apparently it’s not like that for everyone, and playwright M.E. Macdonald mines the rich comedy potential of sisters and weddings in her new play, Sisterly Love.

M.E. and I are both members of the Auckland Playwrights Collective, a group of writers mutually supporting each other and running the popular Read Raw rehearsed playreadings.  I’ve long admired M.E.’s knack for smart, heartstring-tugging comedy. In Sisterly Love, M.E. teams up with director Jesse Hilford and actors Kat Glass and Ashton Brown in a hilarious one-woman comedy. One-woman I hear you say? So then what’s a guy doing playing a bunch of girls..? Read on….

How did you start writing plays?

Writing stories is something I’ve always done. I think it’s because as a child I was a ‘varmit’ and had to tell stories to get out of trouble.  My earliest memory is at about 11 when I wrote, directed and starred in my school film. 

What do you enjoy most about being a playwright?

I’m never alone as my characters hang about and sometimes refuse to leave. 

What's the hardest part?

Putting the words on the page. Then coming back for the re-write and removing the words on the page.

How has Auckland Playwrights Collective helped the playwriting?

The collective has helped by providing a supportive community with other playwrights who understand the creative process with all its ups and downs. The APC is also very practical in that they provide workshops and readings so a playwright can make intelligent decisions on the next re-write. Writing is really re-writing.   

How much do you follow the old maxim, 'Write what you know?"

I believe in following your passion and interests and if you don’t know – research, research, research. You will be found out. There is no excuse for poor research.

What's the favourite play you've written to date, and why?

The Getaway (a short version of Disconnected). I had a wonderful opportunity to work with director Denise Roberts (Sydney based director, writer, actor, producer) who was very generous and kind to me. I learned more about blocking, running lines, structure, beats, breaking down a script, in those few days with her than I have from many courses I’ve attended. The audience response was exactly as I had intended when I wrote the script – magic. 

To what extent are your characters a version of yourself?

None at all, I’m an incredibly boring person. 

How did you get the idea for "Sisterly Love"?  Is it modelled on a real life experience?

I have three sisters, I grew up in a household of women, and talking to yourself in the bathroom mirror was pretty normal.  Sometimes as a kid I remember walking past the bathroom hearing an entire conversation going on inside, only to see one person exit. Pep talk, self-talk was always going on. The real life experience is the curse of the large family with labels firmly attached from birth: she’s the smart one, the beautiful one, the dumb one, the slag…..
For the record I was known as the ‘varmit’. 

Comedy vs Drama - what's your preference?

I like comedy as they must end with a happy ending.  I also like the way comedy can be a tightrope or a fine knife edge, balancing between what we find painful and what we laugh at.

Why did you create Still Life Fast Moving Productions, and what are your plans for it?

I created SLFM Productions to help playwrights move their work from workshop to full productions. I am a strong believer in development and at the moment there are too few spaces available for playwrights who want to develop their work. I see myself as a creative producer working with playwrights and directors to provide new work with longer life spans rather than the usual  one week production and disappear. I’m looking to create work that can tour or have a long term life span. 

You take the unusual step of casting Ashton Brown in your one-woman show.  Why?

Fringe is a great time to experiment and see an audience react. The early show is Kat Glass and Ashton Brown the late show. I cast a man to play five women because I wanted to see how a man in a frock would impact the sometimes painful female humour in the play. Can a man in a frock go to the places of humour that a woman can’t?  Would an audience be more receptive to a male or female when the situation may strike a raw nerve? I grew up seeing male comedians in dresses – Benny Hill, Monty Python, Danny LeRue, Dame Edna and now Mrs Brown’s Boys, why do we love them? 

As writer, do you prefer to be in or out of the rehearsal room - and why?

I prefer to be in the rehearsal room for some of the time (not all of it). I’m the expert on these characters, their history and their lives; I can save time and disputes with a few quick questions to make sure everyone is on the same page. There is nothing worse than one person who goes off on a tangent without the rest of the team on board or heading in the same direction.

What's the ideal working relationship with a director?

This depends on the level of experience of the director and the preferred process. With all directors it should be a collaborative two way street between writer and director, with each person providing space to create the best audience experience possible. This will mean different things for different directors/writers. The learning process may be from director to writer if the director has more experience whereas if the writer is working with an up and coming director, the director may want to listen and pay attention to the punctuation in the script.
If there is a creative problem then the final call should be made in conjunction with the producer. The producer is ultimately responsible for the entire production and audience experience. The role and value of the creative producer should never be under estimated. 

What are you working on next?

I’m re-writing a play presented at Read Raw at the Herald Theatre. It’s called Solastalgia about the sense of loss and belonging of a family from a country town as the children move to the big city and internationally. 

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Sisterly Love 
Feb 20-23, 2013 at 6:30 pm and 8:00 pm - Q Theatre - The vault 305 Queen St.
Box Office: 09 309 9771 

Written by

Renee Liang

20 Feb 2013

Renee is a writer who is exploring many ways of telling stories, including plays, short stories, poetry (which she also performs), and cross-genre collaborations with composers, musicians, sculptors and filmmakers.

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