Nigel Featherstone's new play with songs, The Story of the Oars, is many things.
But one thing it is not is Lake George: the Musical.
Featherstone's work is undergoing the 2020 First Seen creative development program at the Street Theatre. Two years ago his song cycle The Weight of Life was in the same program and was produced at the Steet,
The Story of the Oars was inspired by a true story. In 1956, five Royal Military College cadets drowned when two boats capsized on Lake George.
In the play, three teenaged brothers from Sydney went out to sail on an ephemeral lake - not specifically named as Lake George - and never came back.
"It starts with a mystery - what happened at the lake?" Featherstone says.
Many years later, on the anniversary of the event, four people come to the lake at the same time. Western Australian freight train driver Clocker Bell and his 18-year-old son Tom are on their first trip to the east coast. Gail, a school chaplain from Adelaide, is camping beside the lake, and Piera is a grazier who owns a vineyard and lives on the lake.
The mystery is explored through the four characters.
Featherstone says the work, a contemplative piece, came out of a master class with New York singer/songwriter David Sisco.
He decided to write a dramatic work, but "a play with songs" rather than a musical.
After further previous creative development he has written lyrics and will collaborate with a composer later in the process.
He says that when he writes a novel "it's 99 per cent mine" but a play, especially one with music, is a collaborative effort.
Among the collaborators during this two-week First Seen development are director Zsuzsi Soboslay, dramaturg Anne-Louise Rentell, project coordinator Shelly Higgs, and actors PJ Williams, Tom Bryson, Sally Marett and Tracy Bourne.
Sobolsay says, "I'm having a great time with it - it's such a wonderful script."
In part it deals with "the myth of the lake", she says, where "past trauma is strong".
She also enjoys working with Featherstone, saying he's an excellent collaborator who's open to suggestions about changing things. At present, she says, many of the songs come across a bit like soliloquies in which the characters explore unresolved issues and self-realisation in their different ways,
Despite the limitations of rehearsing via Zoom, she says she and Featherstone can send comments to each other through chat while the actors are going through their lines and actions.
On Friday at 5pm there will be a live reading of the play shown online. For more information and bookings see thestreet.org.au/shows/first-seen-story-oars-nigel-featherstone or email email@example.com or telephone 6247 1223.
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