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Feeding the Young and Hungry

Dan Bain
Ralph McCubbin-Howell
Renee Liang interviews Dan Bain and Ralph McCubbin-Howell about their experience writing for Young and Hungry.

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Following a successful season in Wellington two commissioned plays from Young and Hungry 2014, Uncle Minotaur and Second Afterlife, hit the stage in Auckland in October.  Renee Liang asked writers Dan Bain and Ralph McCubbin-Howell about their experience.

Following a successful season in Wellington two commissioned plays from Young and Hungry 2014, Uncle Minotaur and Second Afterlife, hit the stage in Auckland in October.  Renee Liang asked writers Dan Bain and Ralph McCubbin-Howell about their experience.

Young and Hungry, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, is an annual festival of plays for and performed by young people, mentored by industry veterans.

Uncle Minotaur is a surrealist play about the after-effects of eye surgery, and Second Afterlife charts the adventures of its protagonist, Dan, as he attempts to unplug from the internet.  
 

Dan Bain – Uncle Minotaur
 

Have you been involved with Y+H before?
 
Yes. Uncle Minotaur is my second commission for Y+H. I wrote a piece called Gameplan which was produced in the 2012 festival in Wellington. It was fun. 
 
How did you come up with the idea for your play?
 
I had eye surgery. I played an improv scene where I was the Minotaur. Something from both of those things stuck and fermented into something else. 
 
What's the process of writing a play for Y+H... best bits, bits you'd rather avoid?
 
You get a year. That's both ages and not long enough. Both times I've had great dramaturges attached to my project. For Gameplan I worked with Carl Nixon and for Uncle Minotaur with Gary Henderson. Both of who are wonderful craftsmen and artists and who taught me a lot about interrogating my choices and gave a really considered outside perspective on the works. 
 
Any advice for other writers (like me) who would like to get a commission with Y+H?
 
Don't skimp on your pitch. Make it interesting as well as factual. Convey that you have a distinct voice. Make sure your scene sample is some sparkling dialogue and that the outline makes dramatic and logical sense. Oh, and write characters that are the age range of the people who will perform it. 
 
What's the difference with writing for young people?
 
I'm not sure there is one. Be less boring? 
 
How involved are you in the rehearsal process?
 
I'm based in Christchurch, so, not at all. I answer any questions that I get emailed. Then I turn up and see it and hope for the best. It's both a luxury and a terror. 
 
Do you get to be involved in both Wellington and Auckland seasons? How different are they?
 
Well, I've been emailed quite different questions... so obviously something different is happening.
 
Have the plays turned out like they were in your heads?
 
The play didn't even make it on to the page the way it was in my head. It kept twisting about and becoming something else. So, not quite, no. But close. 
 
What are you working on next?
 
I'm the Artistic Director of the Court Jesters, so I'll be poking away at that for the foreseeable future. Doing comedy. Writing a musical with a composer friend which is an interesting experience as I've never tackled something like that before. My first full length play Stag Weekend is opening in Christchurch at Court which is exciting. Gigs. Projects. The general mess of a life in the arts. Might play some xbox. Pat the cat. Y'know.
 

Ralph McCubbin-Howell -  Second Afterlife

Have you been involved with Y+H before?

Nope. This is my first time.
 
How did you come up with the idea for your play?

At the time I pitched the play, I was living overseas. I'd been thinking about the ways social media allows us to connect with those geographically distant - how our lives online almost always diverge from reality, and sometimes veer wildly off course. The play draws upon Dante's Inferno, and I'd liked the stupid audacity of taking something as canonical and lyrical as this epic medieval poem and reworking it through something as colloquial and transient as the net. Also, I was in Edinburgh, so I was thinking about ghosts. They've got a fair few of them.
 
What's the process of writing a play for Y+H... best bits, bits you'd rather avoid?
I wrote Second Afterlife in a few short bursts in between working on Broken River - the play I wrote and directed for STAB in 2013. Broken River was this big, epic, political piece, and so writing for Young and Hungry was a great way to cut loose. It was all about being fast and funny and letting my imagination run riot - my main driving force was writing something that would be fun to watch and fun to stage. 
 
How involved are you in the rehearsal process?
I worked with both directors throughout their rehearsal process, adapting the script to respond to their discoveries with the cast. That said, I was less involved than I am with productions of my work that I put on with Trick of the Light, where Hannah and I work very collaboratively and where much of the honing of the script is done on the floor or throughout the season. In some ways I found this really freeing. It meant I could write these ridiculous stage directions as provocations for the company, without censoring myself by thinking of the realities of how to make them work (coughsorrykerrynsorryleon). It's been pretty exciting to see how these have been realised.
 
What are you working on next?
We're currently touring our play The Bookbinder around NZ and Oz, and the script continues to be an ever-evolving beastie. Next I'm going to write a show called Beards! Beards! Beards! about a little girl who aspires to grow the world's most magnificent beard, and a very different play called The Devil's Half-Acre which is a dark magic, political thing set in the slums of Dunedin during the 1860s gold rush. 
You can keep track of what we're up to at www.trickofthelight.co.nz

Written by

Renee Liang

29 Sep 2014

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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