Canberra-based playwright/actor Dylan Van Den Berg has been selected by The Street to progress one of his scripts to production-ready stage in the First Seen program.
Van Den Berg’s work, Milk, is currently going through creative development with directors, dramaturgs and actors before taking the stage on Sunday 12 May.
Having participated in First Seen in 2017 with an absurdist comedy script, Van Den Berg took a significant thematic departure from that this time around.
He told Canberra Weekly that Milk tracks the discovery of his Aboriginal heritage through three characters “spanning time who meet in a metaphysical space and talk about the ways colonisation’s impacted them”.
Van Den Berg spent a lot of time researching his own Indigenous heritage and the history of Tasmania’s Indigenous population for Milk.
“I’ve tried to weave what actually happened there into the personal story as well.
“There are lots of great books out there; I’ve also interviewed a lot of my family members including my great-grandmother.”
Van Den Berg said the extensive research he conducted left him feeling proud of his Indigenous background.
“I feel really proud of the heritage and I think it’s really important, particularly in the Tasmanian Aboriginal context, that you identify.
“It almost feels like a responsibility to share the story, stand up, and say that.”
The three characters comprise an Aboriginal woman from the 1800s in Tasmania; a mid-20th century composite of Van Den Berg’s older family members denying their Aboriginal heritage; and a present-day role modelled on the playwright himself that he will play on stage.
“It’s inspired by me and there is a healthy dose of fiction in there, but it is essentially a story that I connect with and is about my life, which is why it’s important I get it right,” he said.
The weeklong development sees Van Den Berg, director David Atfield, and the cast rehearsing scenes on stage, improvising moments of the script and even shuffling around the structure of the play.
“It’s really about serving the play and getting the words right,” Van Den Berg said.
He said invaluable feedback will come when his work is performed in front of an audience.
“Having the opportunity to have actors read your work is so crucial. Plays aren’t works of literature that you can sit at home and read by lamp; they need to be performed.
“For me, so many of the problems of the work become clear in front of the audience.
“There’s nothing like that feedback that occurs between an actor and an audience. Nothing has to be said, it’s all there in that silence, that laughter or that gasp.”
Project coordinator Shelly Higgs says it’s important for writers and theatre makers to be given the opportunity to try out ideas and new work.
“A week-long development is a melting pot of creativity and vigour not many artists get to experience.
“It is this interrogation that can really elevate a work and give it the breathing space to grow and unfold into something tangible and alive,” she said.
Milk will be performed at The Street Theatre, City West on 12 May 4pm; thestreet.org.au