Words by Athalia Foo 

How much can happen in ten minutes? Sometimes when I'm at home on my computer hours pass and I can have achieved and experienced nothing at all.... like.... literally, at all.

BUT in other cases, ten minutes can be the most heart thumping, painful or pensive moving minutes in ones day (or life!). Enter Short + Sweet Festival Brisbane - a festival (and competition) showcasing a collection of very meaningful and original, independent ten minute plays, sure to punch you in the theatre darkness and make you laugh and feel.

This nifty festival opens TONIGHT and brings its finalists with it from the Gold Coast heats, one of whom is Jessica Palfrey - President of UQ's Underground Productions, and author/director of The Women's Organisation: A Period Drama. She reminds me again why I love theatre so much - and, to be honest, has got me champing at the bit to see the finalist's plays on the S+S bill:

Hello Jessica! If you were one character from a famous Australian play, who would it be a why?
Meryl Louise Davenport from Joanna Murray-Smiths ‘Bombshells’. Except she juggles her children and I juggle theatre, uni and work. This has been the busiest year of my life!

Congratulations on your play ‘The Women’s Organisation: A Period Drama’ being voted into the S+S finals!
Thanks!! The festival has been great!

What has the festival been like so far? What makes it a unique festival, and what have been some stand out shows?
I’ve always loved Short + Sweet- such a great idea and it’s always so interesting and fun, so it’s been amazing seeing my show in the mix. I really enjoyed ‘Immediate Family’ by Georgia Stanton - A monologue set in an emergency waiting room, so moving and really amazing acting. And also the other finalist from my strand- ‘The Wedding Date'- funny and just a little heartbreaking.

Tell us a bit about your show. Where did the idea come from?
My best friend Bonnie and I have always been huge Jane Austen fans and I was telling her about this amazing play I had just read- ‘In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play’ about the origins of the vibrator (the movie Hysteria has a similar story). We were joking about scenarios involving Austen’s characters when I thought of placing the invention of the tampon in that historical context. Realizing it could be titled ‘A Period Drama’ gave us hysterics but the idea stuck and here it is! It was in a short play festival two years ago and was very popular then so it’s been great to revisit it once more, especially having two of the original cast members returning.

What do you aim to achieve through your piece?
Periods are such a taboo topic, which is so bizarre considering half the worlds population are dealing with them once a month. So I suppose I just want periods and tampons to be talked about. No one screws up their face when they hear the word condom, you know?

What were rehearsal processes like?
Rehearsals have been great because I am President of Underground Productions, (the UQ Drama society,) so I just thought of who would suit the roles, rung up the actors and said come over to my house! We’ve been having tea and biscuits and spending half the time giggling. It’s been great, they are such wonderful talented people and I love them so much.

Have you written any other works? If so, could you tell us about a few of them?
Last year I wrote my first full-length play, a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy ‘As You Like It’ retitled ‘As You Strike It’ set in New York Fashion Week. I’m currently working on a romcom set in a Post Office and just this morning I came up with an insane idea about dinosaurs and a new theory to their extinction!

On average how long does it take you to create and write a play script?
It’s hard to say… For me I seem to do a lot of thinking and planning first, then the actual writing comes really quickly. Also with ‘The Women’s Organisation: A Period Drama’, there was quite a bit of research to do first, and that helped inform the idea and get my thoughts ordered and organized in my head.

How are you finding it to direct and write? I’ve heard from others who have done it that it’s quite difficult to direct your own piece?
Honestly, I’m loving it. It has been so fun and really eye opening, as I’ve had to look at my script in a completely different way. It’s been a great learning experience and I think it’s really helped my writing practice too. I also really trust my actors and make sure every direction feels right to them, and we’ve changed a couple of lines to fit with the actors. I’m not precious with my script, I want it to feel right for them and their character because when it comes down to it, I’m not the one going out on stage, they’re the ones who need to connect with the audience.

What is the hardest thing about your particular practice?
Finding the time! I’m currently studying a Diploma of Education at UQ and juggling that with running the theatre company and trying to find time for writing…. AH!

What is the greatest thing about what you do?
The first time I saw my play on stage in front of a live audience and hearing their laughter. That is when I knew this is what I was supposed to do. I have never felt anything like it; it’s the best feeling in the world.

What sets your artistic practice apart from other arts related fields?
I was doing a masterclass with Maxine Mellor this week and she said, ‘remember, all you have is words’. You are basically inviting people in to watch other people have conversations. It’s not really like film, which is all about events. Playwriting is more about what happens after an event and how people deal with it. Like most artistic fields it’s about connecting to people, but plays for me do it in a very immediate and intimate way- the actors are right in front of you and you feel their journey with them. And that is why I love theatre more than any other medium.

Who would you work with, living or dead, if you had the chance?
Shakespeare. Hands down. I also love Louis Nowra and Martin McDonagh. If I could work with any director it would be Danny Boyle or Nicholas Hytner. My dream is to see one of my plays performed at the London’s National Theatre. And one day when I write my musical (I wish!) I think I would first request Sondheim, but if he’s unavailable (aka too old) I will ask Stephen Shwartz. That collaboration would be wicked ;)

If you had the ability to change one thing about the arts scene/community what would it be?
I would encourage the education system to put more value in the arts. Why is there a subject hierarchy with maths, english and science at the top with arts at the bottom? During my time on prac I have seen drama give students courage, confidence, joy… drama is so powerful and gives students skills they will have for the rest of their lives. Surely that is as useful as maths and science, if not more so!?

One piece of advice you’d give to budding artists?
See as much theatre as you possibly can. And go with your gut.

What’s next for you?
I’ve been working on making ‘The Women’s Organisation’ full length for a few years, so I’ll be continuing research and planning on that. I plan to submit a few plays in Underground’s Playground Arts Festival, which is in October this year so hopefully I will get into that (even as President I’m not guaranteed!). I’m also applying to the NIDA Playwriting course this year, so fingers crossed I get in… Wish me luck!

What’s your website? / Any other comments or thoughts?
Underground Productions

Our next production coming up at the end of this month is ‘Bat Boy: The Musical’ by one of the creatives behind ‘Legally Blonde the Musical’. It’s crazy and hilarious. On at the Schonell Theatre for 2 weeks only. Book tickets here