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‘Theatre is empathy’ Writer Katy Warner talks about her play nest

Photo: Katy Warner, by Lachlan Wood

Australian Katy Warner has written nest, a play that looks at those feeling left behind by society, in social housing and struggling with mental health. She cut her teeth as a writer in the UK and Berlin and was inspired to write this play during her time here in Europe. The script was picked up by Yasmeen Arden, Artistic Director of Small Truth Theatre who are presenting the play at this years Vault Festival, London.

Katy speaks to Run Riot about her inspirations, women, writing quirks, synchronised heartbeats, and how theatre is empathy.

Eli Goldstone: What inspired your play, nest?
Katy Warner:
I happened to stumble across a very tragic story about a couple living in a flat in Leeds. There was something about their story that really stayed with me and whilst nest isn’t a retelling of that event, it was definitely an inspiration.

Eli: More than half of the VAULT Festival lineup of work has been written or directed by women. Do you think the status quo of theatre is being sufficiently challenged?
I think it is starting to. We still have a long way to go. Particularly in Australia. I feel as if I can’t really speak for the UK experience but I do have the sense it isn’t all that different to the lack of diversity we experience in the Arts in Australia. Things are starting to shift (albeit slowly, slowly, slowly) but there does seem to be greater awareness around these issues, and action is being taken to challenge that status quo. Is it sufficient? Not yet.

Eli: What else are you working on at the moment?
I recently submitted the final draft of the YA novel I feel I have been writing forever to my editor. I have learnt that writing a book is HARD and I admire anyone who has actually finished one. AND I am working on a new play for two Melbourne based theatre companies: Melbourne Theatre Company and another for Red Stitch Actors' Theatre. (Oh, and my wedding!)

Photo: Iona Macleod Photography. 'nest' at Vault Festival, 28 February - 4 March

Eli: What are some quirks of your writing routine?
I prefer writing by hand than using the computer. And - I know, I know - it is time consuming and old fashioned but there is something freeing about scribbling all over a page. I know I don’t censor myself so much when I write by hand. The ideas come a lot easier. And I am less distracted by emails and Twitter and The Guardian.

I also like noise. Writing can be pretty isolating but sometimes sitting in our little flat all day can be exactly what I need. Other days, I really need the noise of a café or library or something. In those moments, I can often find myself listening in to conversations and using some real life dialogue to spark a new scene or develop a character.
Eli: What can theatre do that no other form can?
Do you remember late last year that article that did the rounds on social media about how, during theatre performances, audiences heartbeats synchronise and beat at the same time? I loved that. The shared experience.

There is an immediacy in theatre and live performance which you cannot get from film or television. A danger. A risk. No two shows will ever be exactly the same because no two audiences are exactly the same. Theatre is one of the only forms that makes its audience switch off from their phones and demands their absolute attention otherwise the person behind you is going to get pissed off and tell you off (that would be me). But, I do love how in theatre we cannot just sneakily check Twitter or reply to that email or answer a text the way we might when watching Netflix or something. You sit in the dark, in a room full of strangers and together you share this story in the moment. The fact we have been doing that for thousands and thousands of years is something very, very special.

Eli: What helped you find your feet as a playwright?
I think it is a case of just doing it – not just writing the play but putting it on. A play is meant to be seen and heard and felt and experienced. You can’t learn or develop as a playwright if your plays are never seen. So, in the early days, I would produce or co-produce my own plays at Melbourne Fringe Festival. Fringe is a brilliant way to ‘find your feet’ – it gave me the support and network and space to put on new work in front of audiences. It was terrifying and wonderful and it taught me a hell of a lot about how to write and wrought plays.

Eli: Whose stories do you think particularly need to be told right now?
It feels like the world is getting meaner. People scream their racist, homophobic, misogynistic garbage and are rewarded and celebrated for it. I think we need stories to counter that noise. Stories that give space to the voices who are being screamed at or over. Theatre is empathy. And empathy is something sadly missing in politics the world over.

Eli: Finally, tell us about your favourite theatre.
My favourite theatre is the stuff you can’t get out of the head. The stuff you need to talk about with your mates. I remember when I saw Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette and how, after the show, my friends and I just sat in silence and tears as the room emptied around us and we talked and talked for hours at the theatre bar. And we still talk about it. Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children recently opened at Melbourne Theatre Company. The opening night foyer talk kept spinning back to the show – people needed to talk about what they’d seen. THAT is my favourite theatre. Shows that can elevate our small talk about the opening night catering. I love that. The connection and conversations good theatre can initiate.


nest by Katy Warner
28 February - 4 March
at the Vault Festival
Info and tickets: vaultfestival.com

Presented by Small Truth Theatre
Directed by Yasmeen Arden, Artistic Director

Find out about Small Truth Theatre’s Crowdfunder campaign, here (expires on Saturday 24 February.


nest by Katy Warner | VAULT Festival 2018 from Robyn Bennett on Vimeo.