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Emrys Quin on That’s What I Am Now

Originally I set out to write something for a dark, villainous and sinister character, and still try make them the object of the audience’s empathy. Iago’s always been my favourite Shakespearean character, because he appears to be malevolence for the sake of malevolence; and that always seemed more believable to me than virtue for the sake of virtue. That probably makes me a misanthrope, but fuck it.  

However that being said, the initial one-dimensionality of Jasmine really didn’t make her very interesting until I gave her real incentive, extremist incentive: cull the elderly to balance the population overload. There entered death, as in the pragmatic and utilitarian view of death. It was dark, absurd and just downright weird and I really liked it. I realized I liked it so much I wanted to perform it myself. So I asked ‘how can I perform this female part?’ – the answer was obvious: make it a male playing a female. Thus was born a thoroughly dense piece concerning the question of femininity and all in all something a lot more theatrically interesting. However, atyp put Patrick in as the performer, which is a good thing, and significantly less vain.

However, THAT being said, I should elaborate on the question of a male playing Jaz – I was informed it’s the first question at every post-show-question-time. Essentially, it’s all in the final line – Jaz’s sobering question ‘Granny?’ that follows a clear-cut, logical progression of (albeit extremist) thinking. There’s the implication that even though Jaz can vivaciously scream ‘I AM A WOMAN NOW!’ that doesn’t necessarily mean she believes it. In fact she doesn’t – identity isn’t entirely a matter of self-perception, as much as we’d like it to be, there’s a plethora of elements that constitute a very vague final definition. There’s what we project ourselves as, what we’re perceived as, what we’re told we should be, and what we’re treated like. Jaz inherently wants (despite all her evident hostility) to please her grandmother, but because of her physical and sexual ‘deficiencies’ (buzz words: lesbianism, infertility) she can’t fit her granny’s fixed, dogmatic definition of what a woman is, so she’s inherently incapable of pleasing her grandmother. That’s why Jaz strikes out with that age-old adversary of dogma: logic. She tries to reason herself ‘female’, announced with a great triumphant homicidal voice. Again, that triumph is balanced by Jaz’s being portrayed as male on stage – it’s that sobering truth that no amount of homicidal logic can rectify: she doesn’t believe it, because she needs her grandmother’s approval to believe it, and after she’s followed through with the hacking and the pilling she finally realizes that that’s approval she’s never going to get. Yeah, loaded final line.

In terms of characterizing Jaz, she became a creature of extremes – I went by her characteristics in terms of constructing her voice: a utilitarian view of death implied a cold emotional disposition, which suits an analytical way of speaking, but crossing that with the scenario and her age implied an ironically young voice, so she was simultaneously quick and almost ‘bubbly’. The result is – well, what it is, I suppose.

The justification itself was the most challenging, and most rewarding, part of the process – challenging in the sense that it made me aware that one idea (in this case the pragmatic view of death) is only a starting point, not something to base an entire piece on. It evolved into something a bit more interesting, something that asked a legitimate question: ‘what does it mean to be female? To be feminine?’ When I realized that was the question being asked I kind of panicked, torn between the question of theatrical interest and my right as a young male writing for a male part to even ask these questions. Then Ross Mueller, my mentor at the Fresh Ink National Studio, broke with a twelve carat nugget of wisdom during one of our dramaturgical sessions: he said ‘as a 21 year old guy, you probably have just as little experience, and just as much confusion with the concept of femininity as a 17 year old girl does’.

Thank you, Ross. Again. That justification stilled my beating panic attacks and premonitions of letters from the militant feminist collective; it allowed me to go even further with the ideas I really found interesting.


Emrys Quin is a young playwright twice published with Currency Press as part of the Page to Stage initiative. The reading of his play, In the Company of Dead Cats, during Playwriting Australia’s Kicking Down the Doors program lead to his Off the Shelf residency with Queen Street Studio, during which the same play was dramaturged and given a live reading. He has recently undergone his first experience writing and directing a production; The Future Historians was staged in August by the UNSW comedy society Studio Four of which Emrys is the 2012 president. When he found out he was part of the National Studio Emrys kissed his local grocer. He now gets significant discounts.