Study Guide 2016

Arthur Meek, Playwright

Arthur’s Study Notes: Viewed Performance Strand

Where can I get ideas for devising or writing?

2016 Tour Cast and Crew

2016 Script Extracts and explanation around framing

Arthur Meek, Playwright

arthur-thumnail-photo-writers-guildArthur Meek’s plays include Trees Beneath the Lake (ATC), On the Upside Down of the World (ATC, national & international tours), Charles Darwin: Collapsing Creation (Downstage/ Nelson Festival of the Arts), Dark Stars (Artworks/ international tour), Yolk (Young & Hungry),  & Mando the Goat Herd (Allen Hall).

He is the co-adaptor of On the Conditions and Possibilities of Hillary Clinton Taking Me as Her Young Lover (La Mama, New York). He is an original member of the musical comedy band The Lonesome Buckwhips, and was the co-creator and star of the television show Feedback (TV2).

Awards include the Harriet Friedlander New York Residency, the Bruce Mason Award for Playwriting , the Summer Writer in Residence at the Michael King Writers Centre and most recently the Playmarket scholarship to Writer in Residence: Scotland.

“I’ve figured that the thing that links all my characters is that they’re all trying their best to impose themselves and their dreams on the chaos around them. Most of their strategies are delusional to the outside eye, but they really believe them and even if their tactics don’t ultimately ‘work’ it gives them a sense of control over their lives and destinies.“

Arthur’s Study Notes – Viewed Performance Strand

Viewed Performance Strand of the Drama Matrix

Level 1.7         Demonstrate understanding of the use of drama aspects within a live performance.

The 2016 exams have said they are going to ask questions around the following things:

  • an important relationship between two characters in the live performance viewed as a member of the audience
  • a convention used in the live performance viewed as a member of the audience

1.7. An important relationship between two characters in the live performance viewed as a member of the audience

From Ensemble Impact’s scene from Sheep, by Arthur Meek.

Two characters – Bruno & the Nurse.

In this scene, the Nurse helps Bruno to empathize with women who want access to birth control.  Because of this relationship, Bruno will go from being confused and nervous, to wanting to help.

The scene is set in Masterton, 1961. 18 year-old Bruno has arrived in a doctor’s office with Rebecca, a girl he’s only recently met. He’s agreed to pretend to be her husband so she can get access to contraception. The pill had only just become available and legally, a woman had to be married in order to get a prescription. Rebecca has barely explained anything to Bruno – he doesn’t understand what contraception is, or why a woman would want it, and when Rebecca goes into the doctor’s office, he’s left alone in the waiting room with The Nurse.

The Nurse is smart. She can tell that Bruno is not married to Rebecca. She figures out that Rebecca is trying to get the pill. Bruno admits that he doesn’t understand why Rebecca is so determined to access birth control. The Nurse reveals that she has had a baby after becoming accidentally pregnant. She helps Bruno to understand the impact her unplanned pregnancy had on her life and career – and how it restricted her choices. Because Bruno can now see the world from the Nurse’s point of view, he can now understand why Rebecca might want to have more control of her own body.

When Rebecca emerges from the doctor’s office, she is upset. The doctor won’t deal with her because she’s female. The doctor has insisted on talking to her ‘husband.’ Because of Bruno’s important relationship with the Nurse, he is no longer confused and nervous. He has clarity and purpose – and he is confident he can help. So Bruno marches into the doctor’s office, pretends to be Rebecca’s husband and gets her a prescription from the pill.  If it hadn’t been for Bruno’s relationship with the Nurse, he never would have known how or why to help Rebecca.

Level 2.7         Discuss drama elements, techniques, conventions and technologies within live performance

The 2016 exams have said they are going to ask questions around the following things:

  • the communication of character in the live performance they viewed as a member of the audience
  • the use of colour in the live performance they viewed as a member of the audience.

2.7 Communication of a character in the live performance they viewed as a member of the audience

From Ensemble Impact’s scene from On the Upside Down of the World, by Arthur Meek.

Character – the Māori boy.

In this scene, Arthur tries to create the character of the Maori boy in the minds of the audience, rather than on stage.

“I believe that the audience’s imagination can do a better job of designing characters than I can. So rather than cast an actor to play the character of the Maori boy, I get another character – Mary – to describe him, so that every member of the audience gets the chance to paint their own picture of him in their minds. I think their individual pictures will help them create version of the boy that they love and care about more than any actor we could get to play the part. To help the audience paint a mind picture, I try to leave as many clues as I can about what he looks like, how he behaves and acts.

“He is a short, fat, snub nosed Maori boy, with very thick, stumpy legs and soft, curly black hair, of which he is very proud.”

But I also leave out a lot of details. We don’t even know his name.  This is because I think theatre is at its most powerful when the audience’s imagination is engaged.”

Where can I get ideas for Devising or Writing?

How I devised/scripted the scenes from the Ensemble Impact production.

By Arthur Meek

Scene from The Cottage.

Devise/Scripting technique: Adapting a scene from an interview with a real person about their life.

“The Cottage was made for two specific actors, Kate Fitzroy and Cooper Amai. Both of them are gay and they wanted to work with me to create a story about being gay in contemporary New Zealand (2006). They wanted it to be really truthful, so I thought a good place to start was by asking them about their own personal experiences.

“For the scene in Ensemble Impact I interviewed Cooper about his personal experiences of being gay. He told me that because of how he behaves, some people don’t believe that he’s gay. He told me a story about a girl at his university hostel who liked him. He told her he was performing at a drag night, and she asked to come along. He thought she was coming as a friend and she thought it was a date. When he tried to make it clear that he wasn’t interested in her in that way, she told him she believed he was only gay because he hadn’t met the right woman. When he told her she was wrong,  she became really angry with him, and blamed him for ‘leading her on.’

“I thought his story had a lot of interesting elements to it about how people behave when they want something they can’t have, so I adapted his story into a scene.”

Scene from Sheep.

Devise/Scripting technique: Collisions of unrelated historical events. Researching via online archival footage.

“Sheep was written very fast. I wanted to create an unusual history of New Zealand by using a technique called collisions.

Through googling, I discovered that two seemingly unrelated things happened in 1961 – The first Golden Shears shearing competition took place in Masterton, and the oral contraceptive pill became available in New Zealand for the first time.

I decided to try and find a way to collide these things to make a scene. But first I needed to know more about the time. So I went to the film archive in Wellington and searched for footage of the Golden Shears in 1961. A lot of this type of footage is now available online for free at

I thought that the shearing commentary from the footage was hilarious, so I used it word for word. The footage showed me that at the end of the competition there was a fashion show.

Then I wanted to work in the story about the pill. I rang Family Planning to ask about the history of the pill. They gave me the contact details of a doctor who was working in 1961. She told me that at the time, the law stated that a woman had to be married to get a prescription. She said that lots of single women who wanted to get the pill would go to a different town, (so no one knew who they were) and pretend to be married. Once, she told me, she heard a story of a nurse loaning a young woman her own wedding ring to fool the doctor.

So I decided to make one of the characters (Rebecca) a clothing designer who has come to Masterton to put on the Golden Shears fashion show. She decides to use the fact that she’s in a town where no one knows her to get the pill. But she needs help. So she asks Bruno – a camera operator for the Golden Shears who’s the same age and happens to be staying in her motel. So after a little bit of online research, I had the bones of my scene.”

Scene from On the Upside Down of the World.

Devise/Scripting technique: Adapting a story from a book.

“I was on holiday in the Bay of Islands and I needed a book. I went to a second hand shop, and in a basket by the road was a box of books marked ‘free to a good home’. I saw one called Our Maoris by Lady Martin. It made me laugh because it sounded like it was going to be an old-fashioned person accidentally being very culturally insensitive. So I took it home and read it. When I did, I couldn’t believe it. Mary Martin’s story jumped out at me. She was disabled, and arrived in New Zealand just after the signing of the treaty – she was one of the first Pākehā women to arrive in New Zealand. At first she didn’t speak Māori and she had a very difficult time getting enough to eat. She told a story about how hard it was to buy a pig when she could only speak English and the owner of the pig could only speak Māori. Then, when she learned Māori, it was so much easier.

I liked the moral of this story – if you want to survive you have to learn to communicate with other people on their terms. So I started writing it as a play around that theme.”