Suzanne Ingelbrecht: A Welcoming Community.
Suzanne was a KSP 2021 Established Writer-in-Residence.
At the beginning of my residency, my goal was to write a complete first draft of a new play, focusing on a little known real-life story about Mary Shelley (Frankenstein creator) and her friendship with fellow writer Mary Diana Dods. As the COVID pandemic had begun decimating communities worldwide at the time I wrote my residency application, I had planned to begin with a contemporary story of two actors struggling with the boredom of lockdown whilst blocking the final scene from another of Mary Shelley’s works The Last Man then segueing into the 19th century ‘true’ story of the 2 Marys and a final confrontation between them in a debtor’s prison.
As I delved more deeply into the lives of Mary Shelley and Mary Diana Dods over the time period 1825 to 1830, however, I came to the conclusion that their ‘true’ story was much more compelling and theatrically engaging than any contemporary story about imaginary actors ‘playing’ on stage. My research uncovered that both Marys were beholden to the men who controlled them, particularly when it came to money: in Mary Shelley’s case, her father-in-law Sir Timothy Shelley; in Mary Dods’ case her Scottish aristocratic father, the Earl of Morton. Both did their best, using their wit and intelligence, to rebel against or nullify the stultifying reality of being impoverished writers and artists; and both stepped outside normative societal restrictions of the time when they knowingly enabled Mary Dods to ‘pass’ as a man so that she could marry a mutual pregnant friend (Isabella Robinson) and ‘legitimise’ her child.
This story therefore became the focus of my writing in this residency period; the unusual real-life story of intimate friendship and abandonment. Fairly quickly, I decided to change the working title from The Last Woman to 2 Marys…to underscore the fact that this was a story about Mary Shelley and Mary Dods, their development as writers in Scotland, their repartee and warm companionship as friends and artists, the fatal decision to help a fellow woman in need, followed by Dods' indebtness, and her abandonment both by Isabella and ultimately by Mary S. As I started writing, the serendipitous connections to Mary Shelley’s seminal, masterly work of gothic horror, Frankenstein, started to become clearer and make far more sense in the context of my play than The Last Man. So too did a mostly unknown satirical fairy story from Mary Dods’ writing: The Yellow Dwarf. I discovered the themes of creativity, abandonment and revenge, that manifest through Frankenstein and The Yellow Dwarf, made a highly appropriate thematic arc for 2 Marys.
The storyline of 2 Marys follows a traditional linear trajectory, from roughly 1825 to 1830. The two characters begin playfully, in a state of writerly reverie in Scotland; before shifting to London and their fateful meeting with Isabella Robinson at a famous Dr Kitchener soiree. The timeline passes through 1826 when Dods becomes a man; 1827 when doubt about the Sholto Douglas ‘marriage’ is setting in; 1828 when Dods is being abandoned; to 1830, and an imagined final scene between the two Marys in a debtor’s prison in Paris. Imagining the ‘spiritual’ elements of water, fire, air and earth have given me a visual structure upon which to build this play, essentially as a four-scene work. These elements will also help in the collaboration process of taking the written word to the stage; and building the audio-visual supporting texture for the theatre production.
The ‘time to write’ that the KSP residency has given me has enabled me not only to take the work to Draft One stage; but to Draft Two stage, thanks to a reading/discussion with professional actors Gemma Cavoli (Mary Shelley) and Shirley Van Sanden (Mary Dods) in my final week. Unlike any other writerly forms, writing for performance particularly requires team collaboration and others’ input to progress story and character development; and I am grateful for the time and skill to this process that these fine actors were able to give the project development process. I was also able to schedule time at the Midland Junction Arts Centre to lock in the process for the project’s further creative development (between November 1, 2021 and January 15, 2022); and its showcase at FringeWorld 2022, subject to DLGSC funding.
My time at KSP has, of course, also rightly been devoted to hearing member writers work and offering feedback. I held my own ‘So You Want to Turn a Life Story into Performance’ workshop with a small, but enthusiastic group on the first Saturday I was in residence. I attended both the Thursday Night Group (great fun); and the Saturday morning non-fiction group (calm and collaborative); and the Sunday morning Fantasy group sessions (where I talked about Mary Shelley and Frankenstein, read from my play, gave participants an exercise to do and gave feedback). These groups and the camaraderie they inspire is, of course, what makes the KSP writing community so mutually supportive, inclusive and special. I was also able to host an afternoon tea for members of the Curtin Autism Research Group plus family members, to introduce them to the Centre, its history and its heritage garden. I sincerely look forward to continuing my association with this fine Writers’ Centre moving into the future.
Thank you to Shannon, Elizabeth, Sheree, Fern and all the wonderful volunteers and supporters who help make Katharine’s Place the vibrant, welcoming community it is; and thank you for this wonderful opportunity as the 2021 Established Writer-in-Residence to advance my new play 2 Marys.
See you at the Theatre!