Elise Greig, playwright, Magpie

I’ve been shaped by this place, it’s in my bones and I believe it’s very important to tell stories from and about this place and many others ...

Elise Greig’s latest stageplay Magpie is one part murder mystery, one part coming-of-age story. The Brisbane-based playwright has infused the work with her own experiences as the daughter of an immigrant, to colour her narrative with insightful commentary on cultural difference, ethnic diversity and the ever-changing definition of what it means to be Australia. Ahead of Magpie’s world premiere at the Brisbane Powerhouse on Thursday May 30, we caught up with Elise to talk about her career as a playwright and actor, and also to get some clues as to what we can expect from her latest work.

First of all, we’d love to know how you got started as a playwright! When did you know that penning stage plays was something you wanted to pursue?
My first play was The Romany Project, a one-woman show. On the strength of this, Sean Mee commissioned me to write, create and burn, my first full-length play. This was 16 years ago, when I had my first child. I felt it was a way of diversifying my career and had always written little things. 

What were some formative theatre experiences that truly captivated and influenced your approach to the craft?
A beautiful puppet piece I saw at primary school! I saw everything by TN! Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre Company while I was at high school, and I loved the design for An Inspector Calls at the National Theatre.

When it comes to formulating concepts and ideas for your work, what topics and themes often prove to be the most fertile creatively?
I love works that are driven by character. People interest me, and I guess a leading theme is women finding their voice. I also seem to write a lot about children and identity. 

We’re excited for Magpie’s world premiere at Brisbane Powerhouse! How long has this particular project been in the works?
Magpie was seeded 16 years ago when I wrote The Romany Project. I’ve been investigating cultural heritage since then, but the actual play started taking shape in about 2014.

Magpie touches on cultural differences, ethnic diversity and identity in contemporary Australia as it pertains to migrants and their children. What was it about this idea that resonated with you enough to explore through Magpie’s story?
I am the daughter of an immigrant and this has very much shaped who I am. They sacrificed so much to come here, so I have a responsibility to work hard and contribute. I was also frustrated by the racist remarks some people make about Romani culture. I wanted to inform and contribute to the conversation.

The play also positions the protagonist in two different stages of her life – as a child and an adult. How does the passage of time – and how it colours our past – play a role in Magpie?
The play is set between a time when Brisbane was coming of age, and so too was the central character and in the present – she has to go back in order to move forward. That previous experience had not been integrated and she needed to look at it. The two different time periods also invite us to ask “what has changed”?

Magpie’s story uses Brisbane as its primary setting – as a Brisbane-based writer, how would you say the city itself shapes your stories?
I love Brisbane, the river snaking through, the wide streets, the heat. I’ve been shaped by this place, it’s in my bones and I believe it’s very important to tell stories from and about this place and many others. There’s a theme in Magpie of ‘the outsiders’, and I think sometimes Brisbane assumes that role. 

In addition to your written work, you’re also an actor on stage and screen, as well as an acclaimed voice actor! What do you love most about being able to perform in these guises, as well as being a creator?
I love to have a rich portfolio as an artist – each arm informs the other. I am an actor and my writing and voice work stem from this. It’s just another mode of communication, connection and using your voice.

What do you hope audiences take away from the Magpie viewing experience?
That it’s never too late to integrate your experiences! What you don’t own controls you, so maybe take a look at it. I hope they experience Magpie as a rich story they can connect to. Maybe audiences will want to learn more about Romani culture. Ultimately, I want them to take away a good night at the theatre.

Magpie makes its world premiere at Brisbane Powerhouse’s Visy Theatre from Thursday May 30 to Saturday June 8, in partnership with Metro Arts and Playlab. Get your tickets here.


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