Fresh Ink is a festival of three curated readings of developing plays. The Falling, written by local writer Karen Zelas, is the second play of the series and will be performed at The Court on Sunday 20th May. Zelas sat down to tell us about the play, her writing process so far and why she's interested in the story of the infamous Minnie Dean.
The Falling is based off your verse biography on the subject. How has writing a play been different to writing a book on the subject?
The Falling is being developed from my verse biography The Trials of Minnie Dean, published last year, but it is not only about Minnie Dean. The play occurs where history and the present collide and Minnie Dean becomes entangled in the life of Clemency Xavier, a present day lawyer.
Minnie Dean is mostly seen as a villain in New Zealand history. What interested you in telling her story?
Minnie Dean was the first and last woman to be hung in New Zealand in 1895. This in itself is an interesting sociological fact. She was convicted of the premeditated murder of a child on evidence that would most likely not have seen a conviction today. She can also be looked at as a woman who cared for unwanted children, children Victorian society preferred were invisible, and she was scapegoated for her commitment. It is up to members of the audience to decide for themselves as to her guilt or innocence.
What was the hardest part about turning the book into a play?
The hardest part is integrating past and present, not only time-wise, but also regarding poetry (past) and prose (present). The poetry in my book comprises many voices, including those of some inanimate objects, and is said to be compelling emotionally. Some of this is incorporated to tell Minnie's story. Deciding what to leave out, and deciding how to present the material has been and still is a challenge.
Why is it important for audiences to see this play?
I need to get a sense of what does and does not work for an audience, to guide me in further development of the script. Audience feedback following the reading will be helpful in shaping the play.
What do you hope audiences will take away after hearing the reading?
I hope they will be moved by the reading and see the potential in the play, and feel themselves to be a part of the process of its development.
How has it been working with The Court Theatre to build and grow your play?
It has been amazing! And I am so grateful for their support. I doubt I would have set out on this track without their encouragement. Their feedback on each draft has sent me spinning in new directions and I feel I still have a lot to gain.
What are you hoping to get out of Fresh Ink?
I have a few decisions to make about the direction the stories take and I hope that the workshopping and public reading will help me make the necessary choices and move The Falling towards being a completed script, available for production.
Fresh Ink continues this Sunday, 20th May with a reading of Zelas' The Falling at 4pm. This will be followed by Joe Musaphia's The Sexiest Man in the World on the 27th May at 4pm. You can find out more and buy tickets here.