Hear it from the Playwright

HSC Drama collection

The plays that we study in high school often make a lasting impression, shaping how we make, view, and respond to theatre for many years. In the latest course prescriptions for Drama students (Stage 6 2025-2027) in NSW, plays by Yve Blake, Jane Harrison, Michelle Law, and Lally Katz are featured as texts for ‘Contemporary Australian Theatre Practice’ in the core study of Australian Drama and Theatre.

This Hear it from the Playwright series places these incredible playwrights at the centre, including reflections on how they have used dramatic forms and performance styles to convey their ideas, and how various cultural, social, and political issues and concerns are reflected in their work.

These interviews are intended to provide a thought-provoking introduction for students as they begin engaging with these texts. We’ve also included recommendations for further resources on each play. You can find these below each interview.

Interviews in this collection:

Fangirls by Yve Blake

APT: Fangirls is a delightful mix of dialogue, music, song, dance, and video. Why was it important to use a range of performance styles to tell Edna’s story?

Yve Blake: At the centre of Fangirls is a 14-year-old protagonist, and personally, when I was 14 – I felt everything so MUCH. The stakes of my life felt operatic, y’know? even the smallest things felt like life or death. On top of that – this is a show about first love, and caring about something so much that you need to scream – so for all those reasons it was clear to me that this show needed to PUMP with adrenaline, and it so made sense to me that it should be a musical.

This show is also about the importance of listening to and respecting teenagers (and specifically teenage girls), so I loved the idea that my characters would be able to sing these big, loud, pumping songs, and have an audience cheer for them.

The video element had sort of two points of inspiration. One was that, I knew I wanted part of this story to take place inside the internet – so I began writing in stage directions like:

An ocean of short sentences is projected across the space. We are swimming in fans’ messages to Harry: ‘did u get my letters?’, ‘love you baby’, ‘falling asleep thinking of u’, ‘plz notice me’, ‘love your smile’, ‘love ur pecks’, ‘luv u my cupcake’, ‘how was ur day’, etc.

But also, visually, I wanted this show to feel like more like a pop concert than a Musical. Paige Rattray (the Director) and David Fleischer (the Designer) looked at a lot of Grammys performances // MTV VMAs performances when they were designing the set for the original production, and I feel like they perfectly fulfilled my dream for this show – which was to make it feel like the theatrical equivalent of having multiple tabs open.

I think of this entire show as something I made for my 14-year-old self, and so for me, a big goal was to create a show that would hold the attention of young people who, like me, have grown up online.

APT: As a playwright, how have you seen different audiences respond to Fangirls?

YB: I love this question because I have so many stories!

In the original 2019 season, I was actually in the cast of the show – and so I got to watch the audience every single night. At the start of each show, you could really tell where the teenagers were sitting – because they were the least filtered audience members. They would cheer the loudest, scoff when it was awkward, and gasp when it was shocking. But then, each night, when we began Act 2 with our feral and raucous fake-boyband concert – that moment did something to our crowds. It was like, by asking everyone in the room to SCREAM for our fake boyband ‘True Connection’ – suddenly, every single person in the audience became a teenager for the whole rest of the show. It was like it unlocked something, and from that moment onwards, crowds would begin to gasp and even yell stuff out like ‘NO! DON’T DO IT!’.

I’ve always felt like theatres can be overly ‘polite’ spaces, and a big goal of mine is to make work where audiences can really let loose and express themselves. It’s more fun that way! I remember that so so so many older people came up to me and told me the show made them feel young again, and I also remember that one night when we were pretending to play the boyband – a woman who looked to be in her seventies fully pretended to flash us.

As the show went on again and again over the years, incredible things began to happen. Some young people saw the show multiple times (I think the record was more than 20 times in total!), and also began to bring posters for the fake boyband in our show. People showed up in handmade t-shirts, and in costumes based on the characters – and also made the most jaw-dropping fan art. An incredible online community formed around the show, and my favourite thing is knowing that, now, that community has resulted in so many real-life friendships.

APT: You’ve written and spoken about how the gendered treatment of fangirls and minimisation of young women’s concerns inspired you to write the play. Have any of your cultural and/or social concerns about this changed or evolved since writing Fangirls?

YB: Definitely. Since I first started developing this work in 2016, the conversation around how we view young women and young people’s interests has evolved a lot. Harry Styles himself said in an interview with Rolling Stone:

“Who’s to say that young girls who like pop music — short for popular, right? — have worse musical taste than a 30-year-old hipster guy? That’s not up to you to say. Music is something that’s always changing. There’s no goal posts. Young girls like the Beatles. You gonna tell me they’re not serious?”


With every year that passes, it feels like people are becoming more and more conscious about the gendered treatment of fangirls. Interestingly though, there’s a theme in the show that feels like it only gets more relevant – and that’s the theme of how young people (and specifically young women) are socialised into viewing ‘hotness’ as a source of credibility and power. As I write this, it feels like we live in a world where 12-year-olds are anxious to complete 10-step skincare routines! So, I think that sadly, Jules’ constant anxiety about being seen as ‘hot’ will never not speak to the world we live in.

The only other thing that comes to mind is that over the years this show has become more and more Queer (thank goodness!). When I began writing this show, I wanted to unpack some really hetero and patriarchal ideas (See, Edna’s song ‘Silly Little Girl’), but as time went on I was like… wait… this show having only one clearly queer character (Salty) doesn’t feel at all representative of the teenage experience today. The published text of Fangirls that is on the HSC curriculum actually pre-dates the most recent draft we’ve presented in Australia, but in that new version – the character of Brianna is unequivocally queer, and part of her journey is about learning to take up space instead of letting her friend Jules constantly centre herself and her quest to get a boyfriend.

APT: What do you think makes your play distinctly Australian?

YB: I have a theory that as Australians, we’re a bit allergic to sentimentality and earnestness. I certainly feel that way. As a writer, my comfort zone is humour, silliness, and cheekiness – and I think that’s a very Australian trait. I really believe that in order to get an audience to listen, you first need to get them to laugh. So, while this show deals with serious topics – the tone of the show is deeply un-serious, and that’s very intentional.

I also think the language and lexicon of the show is distinctly Aussie. I also chose to make our teenage protagonists specifically Australian, because, as teenager growing up in Australia – it annoyed me that every single school musical we ever did was an American show that required an American accent. It felt a little radical to write a musical where the characters sing with thick Australian vowels, and say stuff to each other like “don’t-a” and “as if” and “fully”, and “don’t be slack to my mum!”.

It’s also worth noting – many famous works of musical theatre are from America, some are from the UK, but very very few are from Australia. We don’t have the same tradition of developing musicals as America does – and we certainly don’t have the same resources. For example, the original cast size for Fangirls was just 7 people on stage. For Australia, that’s a big cast! But in Musicals on Broadway – it’s not uncommon to have a cast of 28! Therefore, to create the same sense of scale and spectacle, we needed most of our cast to multi-role, or play several different characters. To me, that scrappiness and forced-innovation feels like something that Australian theatre makers are particularly skilled at, because our smaller arts economy has meant that we’ve always had to be.

APT: Do you have any advice/final words for students studying this play?

YB: It’s paramount that you have the most possible amount of fun while studying this show!! When rehearsing this show, our director Paige [Rattray] was always encouraging of the cast to try really big and silly offers when performing. This show is a comedy, so feel free to really play with it. I also think, when playing the Fan characters, or the school characters = avoid ‘cuteness’ at all costs. These are people who take their love of Harry very seriously, they’re determined! the stakes are high!

Also – you have so much more than the script to play with. The show’s cast album is streamable everywhere***, and seeing as the original production played 3 times in Australia – 2019 premiere seasons in Brisbane and Sydney, 2021 national tour, and a 2022 run at the Sydney Opera House – there are a bunch of different production images and little clips floating around from each of these seasons. Two of the best videos to watch are this news feature that the ABC did in 2019, and this follow up one they did in 2022.

Finally: if you’re in your final year of high school – take care of yourself!!! I still have nightmares about my HSC exams, and I think it’s because that year felt so full of pressure. I remember staying up into the early morning studying (or avoiding studying) and I don’t recommend it! I wish you a year that is full of sleep and full of fun!

*** If you’re playing the cast album – This show is intended to feel like a pop-concert, so I would BLAST the music as loud as you can! and that’s the law actually!!!

Script and Further Resources

The Visitors by Jane Harrison

APT: The script specifies that although the play is set in 1788, the characters wear modern clothing and their props are modern. Can you explain how this shapes the dramatic meaning of the play?

Jane Harrison: I didn’t want my characters to be seen through the lens of the ‘noble savage’ and if they had worn loincloths or been semi-naked they would have looked ‘primitive’ to our modern eyes. I wanted them to be seen like the statesmen they were – respected Elders with positions of authority in their communities. Having them wear suits automatically visually positions them as powerful figures – the Senators of their era. Also, I wanted to pay homage to the Aboriginal concept of time, where the past, present and future co-exist and so in a sense it is 1788 but it is also now.

APT: While The Visitors can be read as a single scene, the script is also demarcated with ▼ ▼ ▼ – a symbol which you indicate means “a change – of mood, physical action, position relative to one another, soundscape or lighting”. Why did you choose to structure the play in this way?

JH: This actually came to be part of the script during the first production where the director Fred Copperwaite inserted that symbol in the script to signify a change in mood. The dramaturgy of a play also includes the pauses and the subtle changes in mood through lighting and sound. It is all part of the storytelling.

APT: The Visitors is imbued with a deep sense of dramatic irony, as we watch a conversation in 1788 from the perspective of 2024, knowing what was to come. How has this dramatic irony shaped audience’s responses to the play?

JH: I am not interested in developing a purely historical play – it must resonate with audiences today and have something to say that is relevant now. Particularly during the 2023 season, what was going on outside the production was the campaign for the Voice referendum. The irony was not lost on the cast and crew, and myself, that this play was demonstrating agency and ‘voice’ in action – all the characters have their opportunity to voice their opinions, concerns, fears and optimism regarding the arrival of these aliens, while all the while convinced that they will not stay. That is their unshakable belief – as they are so attached to their own country, they cannot imagine someone would relinquish their own country. The play models what a Voice would look like; people from different areas coming together to discuss and ultimately agree on a course of action. Also the play ends with a powerful action – the Welcome to Country and it is directed towards the audience. I continue to be amazed how Elders deliver Welcomes with such a sense of generosity, despite the ravages of colonisation. There is irony in them enacting this symbol of generosity when we know what enormous loss they are about to experience.

APT: You revised the script for the 2023 Mooghalin/Sydney Theatre Company production. Can you explain why you included two female characters in the revised script? 

JH: The main changes for the 2023 production of The Visitors was that local Dharug language was included (using cultural consultants to do the translations) at both the start and the end of the play and that language was woven in seamlessly. The second major change was that women were cast in some of the roles. The feeling was in the community that women occupy strong leadership roles in our communities and that they needed to be represented. I was open to this. I wouldn’t say that the roles were rewritten for women performers – as really only the pronouns were changed and the characters remained essentially the same. For example Jacob/Jacki had multiple wives. The opera version also had three women play various roles – these were different to the stage play.

APT: Do you have any advice/final words for students studying this play?

JH: January 26 is a significant date in our country and yet there is a lot of debate on whether it is a reasonable date in which to be celebrating our nationhood. I would like young people to examine this concept from a variety of points of view, including that of First Nations people (who don’t all think and feel the same way). There is a lot of misunderstanding about the real events that occurred on this date at the start of modern Australia and I wanted to draw attention to what I imagined the First Nations people of the region were experiencing and feeling and thinking on that day. But I also wanted to explore how colonisation is about to affect them (its like a miasma that is slowly descending on them) but also what in the Aboriginal psyche has also endured – the need to sit down and talk things through thoroughly, for everyone to be listened to, the desire to share knowledges and keep an open mind.

APT: Do you have any advice for teachers who are considering exploring The Visitors with their students? 

JH: Don’t be scared to explore First Nations themes and stories. It is our shared history that we are engaging with and a valid thing to be reflecting on. You might not ‘know it all’ but allowing yourself to explore is important as otherwise we are made invisible. Can you engage with a First Nations person who might be connected with your school community – a parent, for example. There is not one point of view but as many as there are First Nations people.

APT: Do you have any suggestions for how teachers and students can approach and interpret the script?

JH: Explore the context – that Cook visited 18 years before and some of his exchanges with Aboriginal people were problematic and would have influenced how they responded in 1788. Knowing the reasons for sending convicts to the other side of the world also gives context. Explore the significance of 26 January in our national psyche and that it only became ‘Australia Day’ very recently. Discuss why I might have given the characters western clothes and western names. Is it a historical narrative or a contemporary one? Keeping in mind the Aboriginal concept of time where past, present and future co-exist.

APT: Are there any other resources you would recommend?


  • Twelve Angry Men [by Reginald Rose] influenced the plot of the story.
  • Watkin Tench’s 1788 by Tim Flannery and The Birth of Sydney also by Tim Flannery are excellent source material.
  • William Dampier’s description of Aboriginal people – I turned this on its head in The Visitors.
Script and Further Resources

Single Asian Female by Michelle Law

APT: Why did you choose the dramatic form of comedy to tell the story of Pearl and her daughters?

Michelle Law: There are some serious themes in the play: bullying; reproductive rights; family violence; and racism, to name a few. Because these themes have been explored prolifically in art (you may have heard that there are no ‘original’ ideas; rather, what makes something original is the artist’s unique point of view), often audiences can become desensitised to what they’re seeing and want to disconnect. This disconnection can happen due to overexposure, didacticism on the playwright’s part, or potentially personal feelings of guilt and fear. But if you’re able to make someone laugh… to get them to empathise with your character’s struggles, to invest in the story – essentially get them on side – those issues become less frightening, and hopefully more accessible. When you appeal to someone’s sense of humour and charm them, they’re more willing to listen to what you have to express; more willing than if you were to, say, get up on a soap box and rant at them, which can be antagonising and lead to people putting their walls up. If you scratch below the surface of any comedy, you will usually find there is a burning anger about a particular socio-political issue(s) about which the playwright cares deeply.

APT: The play begins with a prologue of three scenes introducing Pearl, Mei, and Zoe to the audience. After each of these scenes a word is illuminated in neon: ‘SINGLE’, ‘ASIAN’, ‘FEMALE’. Can you share why you chose to start the play in this way?

ML: The play begins in this way for functional and thematic reasons. Functionally, I wanted to drop audiences into the centre of each protagonist’s lives in a way that would raise more questions about who these women were in order to advance story. And thematically, I wanted to highlight each woman’s aloneness and the isolation they feel from each other and the world. (In two moments of the play, you see the three women in isolated spaces: during this prologue, and later, at a moment where each of their secrets has led to them becoming alienated from each other). Ultimately, what Pearl, Zoe and Mei need is to confide in each other… but human beings are complex, stubborn creatures managing relationships with fraught histories. So while each of their struggles feels unique to them (i.e. dealing with the various challenges of being single, being Asian, and being a woman in contemporary Australia), it’s actually a shared struggle that the three of them are experiencing in tandem.

APT: You have written about how Single Asian Female was written to shine a spotlight on labels and how we struggle against the limitations imposed by those labels. Can you share about any significant artistic, cultural, social, political and/or personal issues that influenced you when writing this play?

ML: With Single Asian Female, I wanted to spotlight the unique set of challenges faced by Asian women in contemporary Australia that are born of systemic sexism and racism, and the intersection of these two forms of discrimination. On an artistic level, I’d never seen three-dimensional, leading Chinese characters on Australian stages before, due in large part to historically excluded playwrights being denied a voice. So off the bat, I wanted to create a world and characters that were familiar to me – something I wish I’d been able to see when I was studying drama in high school myself. Politically, I wanted to explore women’s rights, particularly in regards to bodily autonomy, which is still an ongoing battle not only in this country but globally. I also wanted to shed light on the deliberately labyrinthine Australian immigration system and how our xenophobia never disappears; it simply gets recycled and shifts to target different cultural minorities. And culturally, the fetishisation and stereotyping of Asian women has frustrated me to no end, simply because I myself and most other Asian women I know are not these two-dimensional, exotic doormats, which is how we’ve been rendered for so long by white writers.

APT: There are several songs in the play, including Cantonese dance music, ‘I Will Survive’ and ‘Chains’. How do you think the use of music shapes audience’s responses to the play?

ML: I specifically used mainstream pop (albeit mainstream pop particular to a generation and a culture) for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I wanted to help audiences gain an understanding of the characters, the time and the place. The kind of music a character listens to and enjoys gives us a lot of context not only about the character’s past and life experiences, but also the type of person they are. Secondly, I wanted to encourage a wide audience to feel welcome in the play’s world and know that it was written for them. By which I mean, theatre can be an elitist and exclusionary place, but it used to be a medium for the masses. So many people I know have never been to see a play in their lives, and that can be due to financial or lifestyle restrictions, among a plethora of reasons. However it’s often because they don’t feel like the theatre is a space where they belong or will be able to connect with a story because historically the stories being told on Australian stages have spoken to a very white, privileged experience.

APT: Do you have any advice/final words for students studying this play?

ML: Aside from my own personal hope that they enjoy and are entertained by Single Asian Female, I hope that students from diaspora backgrounds are able to experience feeling seen and understood on some level, and that those students who don’t come from diaspora backgrounds find their world views expanding and their unconscious biases being questioned. My advice for the play would be to come into it with an open mind and heart, and start interrogating the socio-political structures in which we live, who built those structures, and who benefits and loses as a result of those structures. I’d question whether the show does or doesn’t have a happy ending, and how you envision the character’s lives unfolding once the play has finished.

Script and Further Resources

Neighbourhood Watch by Lally Katz

APT: Neighbourhood Watch is a play that resists easy categorisation. Director Simon Stone described it as “a time-travelling mix of fantasy, hyperrealism, sitcom and epic theatre”. How would you describe the dramatic form of the play?

Lally Katz: I like Simon’s description of it!  I think what I always wanted when I decided to write the play and when I met Ana was to tell a story that was both epic and of the every day. When I knew Ana in real life, it always blew my mind that she had lived through these extraordinary and heartbreaking events and yet here she was in Coles with me. As a writer I am always looking for the magic in the everyday. I’m looking for wild things to happen in domestic and suburban settings. That really excites me and I think it’s the reality of most people. Here we are, living our everyday lives and there’s actually all this mindblowing stuff around us all the time that sometimes we pick up on, sometimes we don’t. To me as a writer and as a person, fantasy is a part of the everyday. I guess the style of the play just felt like reality to me. We are all always living in the shadow of epic world events, in our everyday realities that are both filled with humour and longing. All of these things are always existing at once.

APT: Ana is such an iconic character – tough and funny. Do you think the artistic concerns of Neighbourhood Watch are different now from when you wrote the play?

LK: I guess absolutely the world has changed SO much since when I wrote the play. I was 27 when I first met Ana. My concerns as a writer and as a young woman at that time were about trying to search for a compass in a world that I often found confusing. I guess when I wrote Neighbourhood Watch, it was my heart sending out a searchlight. When I first met Ana, I knew she was a great character and that I wanted to learn her life and write about her, but I was also so drawn to her for answers in my own life. I was always getting advice from her. I was lost and haunted and she had very clear opinions. I think for both of us, we felt happier in each other’s company. Now I’m 45 and I’m a mother. I’m still investigating reality and searching for answers, but I feel like I’ve been in the world a bit longer and seen more of it. I think the young generations of today probably have different questions than I had then, because they’ve been through COVID and the online world has developed so much.  I had a flip phone when I was writing Neighbourhood Watch – obviously the world has changed so much with technology in that time. And Ana would be almost a hundred if she were alive today. But I think it never changes that young people are living in an uncertain world, against the backdrop of history.

APT: What makes staging this play now different from staging it in 2011?

LK: I guess the differences are how much the world has changed. But I don’t know if the staging would have to change so much. I guess it would be up to production if they wanted to keep it looking like 2011 or if they’d want to do something different with it.

APT: The play begins and ends with allusions to political change (Kevin ’07 and Obama’s election). When you wrote the play, what did you imagine political change would look like?

LK: I guess I imagined a world where hope really influenced reality. Where beliefs created real change. I guess I thought things would change for the better environmentally and that people would be kinder to each other. I guess people are still hoping for that.

APT: Do you have any advice/final words for students studying this play?

LK: It means a lot to me that you’re studying it. When I was a high school student in Australia I remember the Australian plays that I studied and seeing bits of my world reflected back to me and it was very inspiring to me. I guess I would hope that if you are someone who’s interested in writing that you will see that you can tell things in your own voice and it can reach an audience and I would hope that you will look at the people in your everyday life and your neighbourhood and see how interesting they can be. In terms of studying it, hmmm. There was someone who got in touch with me on twitter a few years ago (I don’t have any social media anymore) asking me for clues on what he should write about in his report. I had to tell him that I didn’t have any better answers than he had! That in my opinion, with any piece of writing, there is no universal truth about what it is or what it should make you feel. That his thoughts about it were just as relevant and correct as mine. I guess I just hope you enjoy Ana, like I did. Even now, I am still trying to take her advice, but still always ending up the Baby Horse.

Script and Further Resources

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