The name that seems to be on everyone’s lips is award-winning playwright and actor Jamie Hornsby. Stepping into the early stages of his professional career, the Honours student has already managed to carve his way into the country’s theatre scene. Between his national tour of because there was fire, to his late residency at Slingsby, he will certainly be someone to keep your eyes on. In the midst of an eventful theatre-making schedule, we sat down with Hornsby to discuss his upcoming projects, the secret to an award-winning play, and his plans for the future.
Let’s jump straight into it. You’ve recently completed a six-month residency with ‘Slingsby.’ What was the experience like for you?
It’s just been the best! During the residency, Ellen Graham and I have been able to produce a play we’ve always wanted to work on together. Before that, neither of us ever really had the time, or the space, to really turn our idea into something, and Slingsby gave us that platform. I remember she originally approached me about the play while we were completing our programs with AC Arts and to now to see it come to fruition all these years later has honestly been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. For those who are wanting to apply for a residency at Slingsby, I highly recommend you do. Their main priority is to help emerging artists find a space and to give them an outlet to grow—so you’ll be in great hands.
During the residency, you created a play with Ellen Graham entitled ‘Claire Della and the Moon.’ What’s it all about?
It’s a children’s theatre show concerning mental health, depression and anxiety. You might think those sorts of themes are quite dark for a show targeted at such a young audience, but Ellen and I thought it was important to be introducing kids to these sorts of emotions. The story revolves around a little girl who can’t quite relate to her life on the Earth and is feeling very overwhelmed by her surroundings—so she slowly retreats to the moon. But, when she reaches the end of her journey, she gets stuck up there and doesn’t know how to find her way back.
Essentially, the play is a metaphor about isolation and destructive coping mechanisms. We wanted to give children that sort of metaphoric vocabulary so they’re able to express how they might be feeling—even if they don’t know how to put it into words. Child psychologists are actually using fictional characters, such as Eeyore from Winne the Pooh, as part of therapy. It gives kids the ability to address these issues, even if they can’t articulate what they are. So, we’re really hoping this show does some good.
When can we expect to see it performed? Has there been any discussion surrounding that yet?
Absolutely! We’ve been very lucky to find a director, and we’re planning for an Adelaide season during April 2020. From there, we’ll be taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe to test its touring capabilities. Then, we’ll be ideally looking at doing a national tour of Australia if we can get enough funding.
You’ve already gained so much recognition for your work. Just last year you were the receipt of the Flinders Young Playwright Award. Give us some insight into your creative process. What are some of your secrets?
You know, whenever I’m asked that, I feel a bit fraudulent because I feel as though I’ve lucked into this a little bit, which I’m sure is just the classic imposter syndrome talking. But, there’s a line in one of my favourite plays where a character says, ‘I can’t afford to work for free anymore,’ and the other character they’re speaking to responds with, ‘then you’re not hungry enough.’ I don’t necessarily agree with that philosophy, but it has been really important for me as I’ve been starting out—you just need to keep working, even if you feel as though people aren’t taking notice. I just wrote as much as I possibly could and through that, I slowly started to get recognition from those who were interested in creating something out of my scripts. But honestly, for me it’s just been a matter of putting in the time: to immerse myself in theatre by seeing shows, to read all the time, to just write all that I can. As you can probably already tell, I don’t sleep very much!
What sort of elements do you believe are essential to any award-winning play?
I feel as though the most essential thing is that something should happen—which sounds quite realistic and self-evident, but it’s an easy trap to fall into. I find that it’s also important to allow yourself to be creating a real journey for your character. You might be identifying with them as you write, but they have to be changed in some way, and in order to do that, you have to be a bit of a sadist and put them through hell before they can come out the other side.
You also shouldn’t worry yourself too much about how people are going to be reacting to what you’ve done. I used to be so caught up with how others may receive my work. In hindsight, I needed to trust that audiences are much smarter than that and wouldn’t, say, misconstrue my words, or be under the impression that I think a certain way because there’s a character who’s displays some traits that would be considered ‘wrong’ or ‘bigoted.’ I needed to just let that go.
On top of everything else you’ve been doing lately, you’re also in the middle of completing your Honours degree. What does your research focus on?
My research primarily focuses on Australian gothic theatre, which is something that has been on the rise recently. The genre has two primary focuses, the first being more about cultural shaming and trauma, which has been known to raise issues about our dark history of Indigenous genocide. As a white writer, I didn’t feel as though it was my place to be exploring that. But, the other side of Australian gothic theatre, which is what my play will use as its model, has more of a domestic concern and emphases claustrophobia, aggression and violence.
My artefact tells the story of Elizabeth Woolcock, who was the only woman to ever be hung in South Australia. She was executed for, supposedly, poisoning her husband with mercury. Although, by today’s standards, we’re able to determine that she probably didn’t actually do it. But, something I really wanted to capture was how someone might have been driven to commit this sort of act on their significant other. It also parallels with the modern world to examine how certain things have and haven’t changed.
Moving along now, how are you able to balance all of your commitments?
Well, I drink a lot of coffee! But in all seriousness, I find that I’ve started to be a lot stricter with myself—to manage my time more effectively and set myself a timeline in when things will actually get done. For me, it’s better to be busy than bored, and I’m really grateful to be in that position.
With that said, how are you able to manage all of these different projects at the same time? I feel with a lot of writers, we focus on completing one project at a time and don’t feel as though anything else is relevant enough.
I seem to hear that a lot, but I’ve never really felt that all-consuming mindset a lot of writers tend to have. I think it could be something relating to my attention span, but when I’m working on something, I have a lot of thoughts bubbling at the back of my head that it becomes hard to simply ignore them. It’s important for me to have a notebook by my side to write these things down, otherwise its lost forever.
Has theatre always been your passion?
Well, no. I originally thought it was acting. But, I fell into writing along the way. You know, just the other week, I was looking through this old hard drive and found all of these stories I wrote when I was about nine, or ten. They were basically regurgitations of silly little fantasy novels I had been reading at the time, but the interesting thing was how I just wrote character dialogue and created stories through that. If I added a few more details and formatted it properly, some of them could definitely be turned into a play. So, looking back on those moments, there must have been something there from an early age.
Ideally, where do you see yourself in five years from now?
I aspire to become someone like Kate Mulvany, who’s a brilliant writer and actor. What I admire about her is that she’s able to jump between all of these different projects, which is really inspiring to me. I’d love to have that freedom in focusing on all these goals at once and to leap towards whatever takes my fancy next.
Interview conducted by Tanner Muller
Images provided by Jamie Hornsby