Interview: Finegan Kruckemeyer

Fresh from the success of State Theatre Company’s production of Hibernation, Adelaide playwright Finegan Kruckemayer’s newest work, The World Is Looking For You, will make its world premiere this week.

Fresh from the success of State Theatre Company’s production of Hibernation, Adelaide playwright Finegan Kruckemayer’s newest work, The World Is Looking For You, will make its world premiere this week.

Finegan has written over 100 plays, which have been performed across six continents, translated into eight languages and amassed a collection of awards (including seven Australian Writers Guild Awards, The David Williamson Prize for Excellence in Australian Playwrighting, and an inaugural Sidney Myer Fellowship). I was very keen to hear about where it all began for him.

“It started right here in Adelaide. My life has done this funny thing of circling back around, and I’m currently sitting in my house in Unley, only a few streets away from where I grew up and attended Urban Myth Theatre Company. Growing up, I was introduced to these wonderful artists who were making works and inviting me into their processes. So, from my early teenage years I was working with amazing artists like Chris Drummond, Daisy Brown and just a whole bunch of very generous artists who opened up these rehearsal rooms and let me be a fly on the wall and be a small role in a far larger undertaking. I really lapped it all up. I could feel that alongside academia and going to school and socialising and evolving as a human, that there was this theatrical love and impulse in me and so I was just trying to soak everything up. All the way through this was my love of words, and that love of being a reader and taking in words.”

Finegan now has such a long string of accolades, but did he ever envisage that he would be so recognised around the world?

“Oh, not at all! Of course not! I often argue that I’m not really, which is nice. I have tried to fly under the radar. I think because I focused on Youth and Children’s theatre for quite a few years, and geographically my wife and I based ourselves in Tasmania for quite a few years, that I’ve had the pleasure of making the art without having to consider all the aspects of personality of being an artist. I let the word speak for the work, which has been enjoyable for me. That’s what I focus on, telling a story the best that I can and worrying about the perceptions of me the writer as an afterthought.”

Recently Hills Youth Theatre, under the direction of Hayley Horton, tackled his play The Girl Who Was A Hundred Girls. The cast was fortunate enough to have Finegan visit their rehearsals and do some work with them on the play. Is this something Finegan does often?

“I often prefer the sense of removal from my work and I won’t go in and workshop. When an ensemble, whether it be young or old, are tackling the work themselves, sometimes a writer’s presence can feel like a gatekeeper role and people can be a bit too gentle with the words. So, I enjoy the rigour of people being able to pull apart a text and rebuild it in their minds and embellish the motivations as they think the character would. I think those emotions are more exciting than my own. So no, I’m more than happy to send away a work and see what unfolds. That being said, with Hayley Horton’s excellent ensemble at Hills Youth, they were such a wonderful bunch. I did go in and chatted with them for a couple of hours about writing and what they were embarking on and it was great. They asked really robust questions. I’m always happy to read a script and have a chat with a young ensemble like that.”

Finegan’s newest work, The World Is Looking For You, will premiere as part of Adelaide Festival Centre’s inSPACE Program and Control Party, in association with Country Arts SA with Brink Productions. It is a play of stories. There is the story of a woman who joined a search party, only to realise she was looking for herself. There is the story of an actress reading that exact story and realizing the stranger she too has become.

With such a fascinating concept behind this play, what was Finegan’s creative process in writing it?

“Each project I’ve undertaken has had a different creative process or sense of invitation entering into a work. The World is Looking For You started in a really lovely way with a conversation with a very talented friend, Sarah Brokensha, who plays the main role. I’ve worked with Sarah across half a lifetime; she was in my first commission when I was around 21 years old. She is just a great enduring artist who I love to work with. Sarah has gone through this point mid-way through her life of moving back home, as I have; she went back to Mount Gambier. She had taken over the family farm as a way of finding balance with her artistic life as a practicing artist, and she also at the same time had read a story about a woman who had lost herself on a bus trip and then was not able to recognise herself when described. Sarah was hit by the significance of the metaphor for what it is like meeting yourself in the middle of a life, to move back to the place you grew up, to decide the identity that best describes you, to be a parent. So, she was talking about these really rich ideas and invited me in to be the writer of that work. Where a less brave artist would step away from that self reflection, she turned it into a commission. Sarah really wanted me to interrogate that idea and invited Daisy Brown, an amazing director we’ve both worked with over the years, and who really asked the big questions and wanted to dive deep into these processes. So, this exercise of unpacking Sarah’s life has also unpacked our lives. It’s been over a number of years we’ve been interrogating that concept. It’s been very deep and empowering.”

In this production there is also live music that’s been composed to accompany the work. Music adds such an emotional layer to a work, almost becoming another character itself. Being a musician myself, I wanted to know how he, as the writer, gets involved in other creative areas of a production. 

“That’s a very good observation of yours. When I hand a first draft of a work to a company, I always check in dramaturgically with everybody, not just the director, and one thing that I always do is check in with the composer because you’re right – they understand the emotional side of a work and they always give great clues because music always gives that. It gives what an audience is watching or listening to its feeling. Mario Spate, who is also Daisy’s partner, so they work together quite often, and the four of us have worked on shows together over the past years. So, I know that what Mario brings musically to a process is so lovely. Music has the amazing abstract ability, it can answer a question in a less literal or narrative way. Mario is so well equipped at that. He is an award winning producer as well as being a performer and creates amazing works.”

With opening night fast approaching, does Finegan still get nervous when new plays are being premiered? 

“Yes! Every time, every time! When Hibernation opened recently, my wife knew the nerves were coming and so she took me to a float bath place. So, for the first time ever I did this floating thing and it was the first opening night where I felt pretty Zen about it all. I think if it isn’t for the variable of a float tank, I get nervous every time. You kind of have to because you know so much of a work in terms of the building of it, but in terms of that moment where it manifests live, where it becomes a conversation between the performer on stage and the audience sitting in front of it, there is an entirely new dynamic and you can think you’ve covered all the bases, but you never truly know what that feeling is or what that connection is until you are witnessing it live. That level of risk, for me, is palpable; it’s lovely. I feel the nerves, but in a very appreciative way.”

The World Is Looking For You is running at the Space Theatre, from Wednesday 1 September – Saturday 4 September. Tickets through 

Interview by Ben Stefanoff

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