'Bite off more than you can chew, and chew as fast as you can'

27 July 2018

Photo: NIDA Head of Writing for Performance, Stephen Sewell. (Photo: Maja Baska)

Each month we're catching up with a different Head of Department at NIDA, to show you the artist behind the creative leader. July is the turn of NIDA’s Head of Writing Dr Stephen Sewell, who leads the Master of Fine Arts (Writing for Performance).

‘Bite off more than you can chew, and chew as fast as you can,’ is Stephen’s advice to any aspiring writing student.

Stephen is one of Australia’s most celebrated, experienced writers. He has won great popular and critical acclaim as a playwright, screenwriter and novelist, as well as directing for both theatre and film over a career that has spanned 30 years.

‘NIDA is a wonderful place to work filled with the idealism and passion of young people caught in the great enterprise of the creative arts,’ said Stephen. ‘I'm sure that anybody stepping through the door is immediately struck by the joyous, frantic energy filling the space, and the dedication of everyone working and studying here.’

‘To abandon yourself to what you're doing is one of the great thrills of life, and NIDA gives the students plenty of opportunity to do that.’

Collaboration is a hallmark of NIDA teaching, and writing students are continually collaborating both across disciplines with fellow students, and with outside organisations.

‘One of the great collaborations is our involvement with the beautiful people of Midnight Feast, the performers group of people living with disability, who are now a feature of our school's life,’ said Stephen. ‘We are also involved in projects with high school students across the country, such as the one we ran last year dramatizing the experience of a patient of the Australian health system, performed for a conference of health workers. NIDA writers are also involved in a project dealing with climate change, so our interests and activities reflect the passions and interests of the writers themselves.’

NIDA writing students are active in the industry and are avidly sought after by television producers. ‘Our writers have received numerous awards, from the Patrick White Playwrighting Award to the Griffin Award,’ said Stephen. ‘They are active in the establishment of new theatre companies, they are getting commissions, writing new works and contributing not only to theatre, but to film and screen industries generally. Finding a place for yourself in the arts is a very difficult task, especially so for writers, so I am immensely proud of the achievements of our NIDA writers.’

NIDA encourages all its teachers to continue producing work and engaging with colleagues in the industry and Stephen is no exception, with many live projects in development and coming to fruition. ‘A few examples are a circus piece I'm developing with NIDA graduate, Zeb Hunter, that will be premiering at Theatre Works in December; a new production of my play Welcome the Bright World, for which I've done a new draft, which will be opening in Adelaide in September under the SATC's Umbrella program, with NIDA graduate Director, Charles Sanders, and I'm also looking forward to directing my second feature, SometimeGirl, which I have written for a number of NIDA actors I met while they were studying here. I also have some big mainstage shows in the pipeline, so I’m having a lot of fun.’

What about the future for writers in Australia? ‘We really are a creative nation, and I have no hesitation in saying I think some of the best work in the world is currently being done here in Australia. Inspiration?  Bloody hell! We are living in ‘interesting times’ and you'd have to be dead not to be continually inspired by the tremendous dangers and exciting possibilities erupting in the world on a daily basis. This is a brilliant time to be a writer for performance.’

Read more about Stephen Sewell here.

Applications are now open for all 2019 NIDA courses including Master of Fine Arts (Writing for Performance) courses. Details and information on how to apply here.