A Way with Words: Playwright Roger Hall

by Roger Hall / 12 September, 2017
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Roger Hall: “I write daily letters to the editor, some of which I submit.” Photo/Ken Downie

Roger Hall describes his writing day.

Start at eight. Ish. To my study, totally renovated with money from my Prime Minister’s Award a couple of years ago. Floor-to-ceiling bookcases at last.

First procrastination: check emails (work and social), online Herald (even though I’ve just skimmed through the print edition), Stuff, UK Telegraph, cricinfo.

Start on the current play. Or an old play for a new production. The trouble with plays is you never finish them.

Half an hour in and I need a Jed’s Grade 2 coffee or risk diabetic coma with an instant latte.

The work pattern changes according to the (ho ho) state of the play. Starting a play is messing about with the characters and what they say. I don’t even know their names or occupations. (Having written 200 parts, about 100 of each gender, I’m running out of both.)

Dialogue dialogue dialogue. “Get it written, don’t get it right.”

It can take weeks settling on the time structure.

More forays onto the web. Check Herald yet again.

More emails. Add something to “Things to Do List” (currently at 107).

Near the end of a play, it’s all slog. At my age, exhausting. Last one it was write for two hours, lie down for an hour, write for an hour, lie down, etc.

Final draft achieved (in typewriter days, about the 10th), which I label “First draft” and it gets sent to theatres. And then, inevitably, rewrites. Sometimes a few light touches. Or a biggie. Currently, “biggie” describes an ambitious work, Easy Money, scheduled next year at The Court, based on Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist.

Here, instead of being set in a house in plague-ridden London, my confidence tricksters are using an Airbnb at an Auckland harbour-front apartment.

After the read-through in Christchurch last year, there was some disquiet expressed about one of the characters, plus I decided to add another thread. Changes to any play are like pulling a loose thread on a sweater. With a farce, the whole thing unravels. Me included.

Soon I will be going to the read-through of Last Legs. Hooray. The play comes alive again. Then rehearsals. Maybe more changes. Actors, bless them, are willing to cope, even after opening night (terror).

Tuesdays and Thursdays, it’s coffee in Ponsonby or Devonport with my beloved Cabin Fever Club (“For men who work at home”). Between them, they provided a play, Book Ends. They still talk to me.

A lot of my writing is linked to other projects. I get angry about many issues, so I write daily letters to the editor, some of which I submit.

My current big project is NZ Theatre Month, planned for September 2018. (Full details are about to burst upon an unsuspecting public.)

Most days I go to the library (the bureaucrats are now turning them into unhappy places). Afternoons I have a read – ie, siesta. In summers I get in a swim.

A final burst of work late in the afternoon and then the writing day’s over. Never enough hours in it.

The Auckland Theatre Company production of Roger Hall’s Last Legs is at the ASB Waterfront Theatre, September 12-27; Clarence St Theatre, Hamilton, October 5-7; Baycourt, Tauranga, October 13-15.

This article was first published in the September 9, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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