Roll up! See them here first
Canberra's local theatre is much more than a place that showcases different works from one week to the next. The Street Theatre often plays a part in the artist's journey, sometimes every step of the way.
Street Theatre director Caroline Stacey says, ''We've moved from simply presenting work to working with artists on that initial flicker of an idea, through the development process to presentation on stage.''
The theatre also knows the importance of involving the public in the development of its works. So much so that they're giving Canberrans a rare opportunity to help create new theatre pieces from the ground up with their new First Seen season, beginning tomorrow.
Four new theatre pieces will be performed in the draft stage, followed by a sit-down chat with the audience to workshop what did and didn't work in the production.
Under Stacey's direction, the Street Theatre has been running a writing program called the Hive which is supporting more than 30 playwrights and creative writing teams. Through the Hive, future plays are massaged under the eye of dramaturge Peter Matheson. First Seen's four pieces have been selected from the Hive's writers.
''This program is something that's been in planning for a couple of years, very much part of really creating a body of work about original dynamic stories that come out of Canberra in a whole range of mediums and developing a shared language among creators,'' Stacey says.
''What's exciting is being able to develop voices and capture the uniqueness of how Canberrans look at the world.
''It's also about introducing the Canberra public in a more structured way into the development process and encouraging an active dialogue so that those interested can be part of making work better.''
The writers and their creative teams spent a fortnight in creative development on the plays leading up to their first performances, and while Stacey says the hope is to find pieces to join the line-up at the Street for 2013, being included in First Seen doesn't make your play's inclusion a fait accompli.
''In the creative process the unexpected always comes up, and it might be after this workshop the creators decide to take a different direction and it turns into something else, or that maybe it's not quite right for here but right somewhere else.
''We're clearly interested in all the works and all the artists, and each has the potential to be staged, but this process is partly testing to see what audiences believe, don't believe, or are provoked by, horrified by, love …
''It's also a rare chance to meet the audience and see who we're engaging with, what people we're connecting with at this point in time.''
Cathy Petocz works for Canberra Youth Theatre so she is familiar with creating theatre, but her piece Two Plays sounds an ambitious prospect even for someone with years of writing experience. In it, two separate plays share a stage, unaware of each other until some gravitational force pulls them together and the characters struggle to understand their places in a new, mingled world.
The concept is reminiscent of an image on the NASA website of two galaxies passing through one another, merged at some point, doubtless with destruction of cosmic proportions in some places but very beautiful to behold from a distance.
''I first had this idea when I was at Narrabundah College,'' Petocz says, ''of two worlds overlapping and playing out at the same time and the same space, with bodies moving in between each other with both harmony and discord.
''I'm interested in creating pieces that can only be theatre, that could only be told through theatre, not a novel or a film.''
The 25-year-old says that writing is a good way of figuring out people and relationships. She is also developing a play called Insomniac Attack for Canberra Youth Theatre, based around nightmares.
''That's a really different process from the Hive and First Seen,'' she says, ''where instead of being a director and working from a text I'm acting as an animateur, creating from a central idea with the kids from Youth Theatre, whose ideas and the way they see the world will be an instrumental part of the work.''
Although Geraldine Turner has worked in Australian theatre for nearly four decades, First Seen marks her debut as a writer. Drama Queen is a musical theatre piece about a mother and a daughter's dysfunctional relationship and their approach to show business and men, and Turner is co-writing the piece with music by David King and lyrics by James Millar.
''It is a different process when writing a musical theatre piece,'' Turner says.
''The scenes between songs are relatively short so you don't have the luxury of slowly developing and revealing character and story.''
Turner heard about the Hive while working in Canberra last year on the Alana Valentine play MP, and says she began writing Drama Queen with a role for herself in mind.
''Over the years I've written linking material for cabaret shows and little pieces, but I've never written a play,'' she says.
Turner says the writing is the easy part.
''The hard bit is the next day after a big writing session, looking back on what you've written and cutting, cutting, so you only keep a couple of ideas,'' she says.
''It's terribly exciting for me, to bring in this writing and have this as another string to my bow, and I'm excited about having other people perform the words you've written.''
The other works in this inaugural season of First Seen are From a Black Sky, an operatic work about the 2003 Canberra bushfires by Sandra France and Helen Nourse, and Sampaguita (set in the Philippines) by Noonee Doronila about two brothers and their encounter with an Australian aid worker.
First Seen plays at the Street Theatre, 3pm Sundays, from tomorrow to May 13.