Playwright takes the plunge

By Anthony Probert

EMERGING Albany playwright Sam Kemp is wearing his heart on the sleeve of his black denim jacket – there is barely a week to go until the curtains open on his second big play and he is visibly on edge.

There is a lot to fall into place before the preview of A Place Not To Stray at Southern Edge Arts on October 12.

The construction of the set is yet to be completed and the final run of rehearsals and last- minute re-writes add to the overwhelming sense of doubt about the production’s readiness for the opening night.

It’s déjà vu for Kemp.

He was plagued by the same doubt in the lead-up to his debut play in 2014.

Take the Plunge gained unexpected attention with its strong themes and took on a life of its own.

“When it got close to the first performance, I started to doubt what I had written and whether I’d done the themes justice,” Kemp said, when he sat down with The Weekender.

“By that stage, Headspace had become involved and it was becoming a lot bigger and made to be a lot more important than I’d originally thought it should.

“To me it was a story about friendship and in many ways it was a coming-of-age story. It was centred on some very heavy themes, and those were what everyone took an interest in.

“I don’t think I was quite ready for that, so that in itself made me have some doubts.”

The doubts were unwarranted.

The show was as successful a debut as a young playwright could hope to have.

“The first performance was quite a wonderful show. We had a wonderful audience. I think it helped that my family were there,” he said.

“By the time everyone took their bows I thought it might not have been great, but it was good at least. Everyone seemed to like it.”

Following the success of Take the Plunge Kemp tried to keep the momentum going.

But several self-proclaimed failures at threading a new story together and developing new characters from the shoelaces up led Kemp to realise he simply needed to take a break.

“I found it very hard to find the motivation to write,” he said.

“Early in 2015 I wrote a short one-act play which I never took past the first draft because I knew what I’d written was not any good.

“It took me quite a while simply to get back in to writing something new because I’d spent the last year writing about that single topic so much, and I’d become so ingrained with those characters that I was finding it very hard to switch over to a new story.

“To start writing a first draft again, which is very much different to doing re-writes and doing a second and third draft – I’d been so involved in that process that I almost forgot how to sit down and write a good first draft.”

When the time came to bring a new story to life, Kemp developed the basis for what would become his second major play.

“A Place Not to Stray is set around four friends that go out into the bush camping,” Kemp said.

“It’s the middle of the second night when three of them return back to their town with stories of the fourth friend missing.

“What it then hinges on is that two of the friends have doubts about the third and whether he’s been acting a bit shiftily.”

There is no doubt that despite Kemp’s pre-show apprehensions, audiences will enjoy the opportunity to see an original production that has been developed and nurtured entirely from local talent.

The chance to see the work of a talented young playwright on the rise will also be savoured.

A Place Not To Stray previews on Thursday, October 12, with the premiere on Saturday, October 14.

There will also be one show at the Denmark Civic Centre for Brave New Works on Thursday, November 2.

Tickets are available at southernedge.org.au