Writing and starring in your own work is a creative opportunity most actors only dream of.
Canberra’s Street Theatre has provided a bevy of local creatives the opportunity to take their ideas from the page to the stage since they founded their First Seen program in 2012.
Accomplished stage and screen actor turned writer, Peter Cook, developed his new one-man work, Breaking the Castle, from a 10-page manifesto into a fully-fledged script via the First Seen program in 2019.
“As a first time writer, if I’d sent this in to other places it might not have gone anywhere … Caroline (Stacey) saw enough in that to go ‘this in an idea worth developing’,” Cook tells Canberra Weekly.
Breaking the Castle was subsequently slated as The Street’s first in-house production for 2020.
With experience studying journalism and creating plays for young people, Cook knew writing was something that came to him.
“As an actor, a lot of the time you’re sitting around the phone waiting for your manager to call.
“I wanted to work and I also felt I had something to say, so I thought I’d give writing a crack,” he says.
The work continues to evolve throughout the four-week rehearsal process prior to taking the stage from 29 February to 14 March.
A graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts, Cook has lived and worked in Canberra over the past decade.
With Breaking the Castle, he plays multiple roles in a work exploring the complexity of men’s mental health concerns.
“The play is, to me, a slice of life of one human being, and I think a lot of people will see themselves reflected back.
“I made it as funny as I possibly can as well, because a lot of it is quite heavy. Getting people to laugh with you recognises truth.”
Cook says the concept and themes covered in the work – addiction, love, family, grief, loss, trauma and reality – tie into the old adage of ‘writing what you know’.
“I did go through a rough patch in my life; I’ve definitely been through some darker periods with depression and anxiety. I’ve definitely dealt with periods where I was using substances to cope.
“There’s a lot of things in here that I wanted to say. Number one is about addiction, which is very misunderstood and very easy for us to label people as addicts or junkies, and not see them as human beings who are struggling with life.
“I think we need to approach that topic with much more compassion.
“Number two is touching on what it’s actually like to be an actor and to want to create art, and have that drive, and not be able to do it.
“Everyone has a dream or an ambition or a hope, and wants to feel fulfilled in their work. And the character in this play especially, who is different from me … all he wants to do is be on stage,” he says.
Breaking the Castle will be staged at The Street, City West, 29 February-14 March; thestreet.org.au