Interview with Lliane Clarke

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Interviewer: Samuel Elliott

What is Voices of Women?

HeadVoices of Women is a not for profit organisation to support new work by Australian women writers. This flash fiction/performance program began in 2018 to showcase new work by Australian women writers and collaborate with writers and artists across Australia. It brings together literature, performance art and the writing and acting community.

The annual program begins with a writing competition open to all Australian women writers and develops into a performance piece in immersed and unusual audience spaces. The events often also include exhibitions of women visual artists.

 Who is Lliane Clarke?

Lliane is a writer, editor, publisher, director/producer and communications professional. She created and directed Voices of Women in 2018 and 2019. She is a senior journalist and published author with over 25 years in the publishing and communications industry, currently at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA). She was Publisher at New Holland Publishers and continues mentoring workshops for writers developing manuscripts for Writing NSW. She writes regular music reviews, has written chapters of several published works, has edited, ghost-written and written non-fiction books including biographies. She has produced major events for national arts organisations in Sydney and Melbourne including the national New Music Network for experimental art music, and Studio ARTES for people living with disability. She has extensive experience in community engagement as President of community-based Leichhardt Espresso Chorus 2004 – 2019. Lliane is the President of Voices of Women Incorporated.

INTERVIEWER:

Your theme for this year was CLEARWAY, what does that encompass and how has it differed from the themes of previous years?

 LLIANE

This is the third year for the competition and we’re really excited to encourage writers to broaden their horizons in 2020. After two years of what I would call an emotional framework to the competition, that asked the writers to write or submit their work to a particular theme, like Longing, Secrets and Triumphs and then Stormy Seas and Safe Havens, the 2020 Adventure is called CLEARWAY: create the space. It has an open theme – all topics are considered. CLEARWAY refers to – ‘no stopping’ – ‘clear the way for creativity’. Clearway refers also to the Parramatta Road where in 2020 the Adventure begins and then travels westward along the ancient path that was walked on and travelled by Indigenous people long before it claimed to be the oldest road in Australia.

The theme encourages writers to create to the voice – to choose a tonal quality to their piece. They can choose from three scenarios and interpret them as wildly and playfully as they like. It also means that as we go on tour, we can also shape the pieces to the space. It’s bringing the work closer to a site-specific framework. This is the ‘create the space’ aspect.

The voices are: Voice 1: Write for a balcony or large verandah or from the middle of a large room: a voice that could be festive, hilarious or declamatory, loud, brutal, unafraid or ecstatic. Voice 2: Write for a stairway or corridor or doorway: a voice that is travelling, rhythmic, filled with the joy of expectation or doubt, of foreboding, uncertainty or light of heart. Voice 3: Write for a small space underneath the stairs or a small circle, a private voice that is loving or lonely, secretive or afraid, whispered or kissed.

 

INTERVIEW

 You have included many disparate writers and writing to appear within this CLEARWAY event – how did you go about selecting those that appeared? Was there a single aspect that appeared throughout all the works? What was the great unifier?

 

LLIANE

That is a great question. The only single aspect is that which is found in any creative work – does it move you or make you think twice – it has to be soaked in integrity, authenticity and a genuine need to tell a story. From there the craft of the writers is apparent – and sometimes there is an awareness of technique and sometimes there is a naivity. But when a writer is genuine about what they want to say, they will find the technique to do that. And as it is a short piece, under 1000 words, they have to be economical. Which makes for self-editing. Sometimes the story might benefit from more work, and I might suggest to the writer that they could develop it.  The important aspect of this project is that the voices are diverse and different, from women of different ages and backgrounds and also writing skills. In this way we discover that we are often experiencing the same challenges and moments of beauty but from different perspectives.

 

 INTERVIEWER:

Did you have a particular highlight from the event? Was it one reading that stood out?

 

LLIANE

There are so many amazing stories it’s difficult to single any of them out. But a strong moment from me was definitely when I was emailing with Kerry Reed-Gilbert from First Nations Australia Writers Network about her moving and beautiful stolen generations story, written in the first person about her own experience, and she allowed it to be read. Her philosophy about sharing was overwhelmingly heartfelt and I felt a real honour to be a small part of the before she sadly passed away earlier this year.

INTERVIEWER:

Rehearsed readings are rapidly coming back into vogue, the site posits that ‘rehearsed readings sit at the base camp of storytelling’ – what does this mean exactly and how has it served to bring your/the Voices of Women vision to life?

 

LLIANE

It’s so funny that you say they are in vogue because I never thought of that! I loved it when my father would read to us after dinner – particularly the Wind in the Willows. I also LOVE it when anyone tells me a story, either reading it to me, or telling me in the flesh, a funny story or a moving story. I loved helping my children when they were at school and had to rehearse monologues, and I love slam poetry events. I love contemporary Australian classical music which often has a good libretto or story attached, and I also have a love of opera – doesn’t everyone? I’ve recently learnt about Readers Theatre or Theatre of the Mind which Irene Coger championed in the US in the 1960s. So this project has developed from all those influences – as a way to parachute an audience and a reader quickly into the depth of a writer’s mind and their story – which is also why the stories are all in the first person, with a professional story teller bringing the words to life. You are bathed in the story, in the words themselves. This is what I mean by the base camp – it’s the beginning of the journey of a story. After that it can be a play or a book or another reading. The climb can go in lots of different directions – maybe to the summit! Maybe deciding to stay where you are – maybe plummeting through a glacier – and then picking your way out with an ice pick and surviving! But it has to begin there, with the words. Well the Bible has that one famous line doesn’t it – in the beginning was the word.

 

 INTERVIEWER

How does the process work with the actors? Do the actors themselves select the pieces in which they want to perform? Or are they selected by you/the Voices of Women team? Are they given much direction?

 

LLIANE

The pieces are curated into a short list with input from Editorial Consultants. The final decision of the pieces is mine as the Director or Artistic Director at that point. Then the actors and myself rehearse for 4 days on the pieces and we shape the event. I have a sense of the order of them but we might change that. And we might cut some pieces as well.

Rarely the actors are uncomfortable with a piece but if they are then we talk about that. They are all professionals and trained actors and bring a huge and enormous amount of experience and performance knowledge to the rehearsal room. All the actors are experienced in improvisation, and for example the actor Bellatrix Scott specialises in that, or some work or create small works in unusual spaces, like Julia Christensen has done, or work in what you could call art theatre like Sage Godrei has done. The actors I have worked with so far all love the environment of immersed audiences and rehearsed readings and relish the opportunities it brings.

 

INTERVIEWER

What sort of challenges does that present?

LLIANE

I think for the actors it’s a challenge as they are immersed in a raw way into the audience. There’s no costume and no ‘fourth wall’ as they say in the traditional theatre setting. But they also love to play around with that, and we have a lot of fun doing that, so often we engage directly with the audience member sitting beside you or ask them to pretend to hold something.

At this point in the program, when we are calling out for writers to submit their work, it’s so exciting just thinking of what will come down the line, like leaves fluttering off a tree. The project is shaped by the women themselves – by what women are thinking about and writing about. I love that it opens up the possibility of anything being read.

 

INTERVIEWER

Many of the stories featured contain subject matter and earnestly explore themes that can be confronting – how do you go about creating a safe and inclusive environment and forum for all with balancing and showcasing these works that can be confronting?

 

LLIANE

Yes that’s right – and it is confronting that subjects like abuse, domestic violence, childhood neglect and crime are so common in so many of our lives –  still! In terms of safety for the audience we issue trigger warnings on the program and at the start of the night if there is a topic like rape or suicide particularly. For the actors they are professionals and experienced in working with topics such as this. We also work closely as a group, I like to work collaboratively as much as possible. We have the wonderful generosity of experienced performers like Clare Grant sharing their knowledge as well within the ensemble.

 

INTERVIEWER

This is the latest Voices of Womenevent – did you encounter any new challenges or adversities that you hadn’t hitherto encountered in previous years? Or has it become relatively easier and streamlined since the first year you put it on?

 

LLIANE

For Clearway: Create the Space we are going on tour out of the city. Just presenting the works in Sydney is a bit limiting. So we are going to start at Articulate Project Space in Leichhardt, then move to Lithgow Tin Sheds, then we go to Mudgee Writers and Readers Festival and then we are hoping to go to the Westwords Festival run by Outback Writers. So yes that is a whole new ball game in terms of seeking funding and organising logistics. This year we have become incorporated as a not for profit association which is a challenge. The advantage is that now we have a board of people that we can share advice around and give ideas. All the board members are incredible women who are so enthusiastic to share their knowledge and support the project. It’s so life affirming to be around that.

 

INTERVIEWER

Are there any particular fellow organisations, or institutions that have proven instrumental in enabling Voices of Women to reach the level that it has?

 

LLIANE

Yes there are! Lots! Well you asked! I never wanted to do this on my own. I love collaboration and bouncing ideas around. After years in publishing and working in communications, in the small arts sector, and in community engagement, you thrive on that. Running a national competition for the writers is really important so we can hear from all Australian women so it’s vital that we reach out and share.

The first year I was really boosted by the support from a friend who is the Artistic Director of a creative arts program for children called Moorambilla Voices, Michelle Leonard, who let us experiment in the first year in their creative space called Studio MV on the Parramatta Road in Petersham. Michelle is renowned for inspiring people and telling them ‘you’re good at that – just do it’ and they go off and do things. And so I did. The ongoing support of Writing NSW has been crucial – the team there are amazing in what they do! First Nations Australia Writers Network is a wonderful partner as well and their new chair Yvette Holt is incredible. There is a huge number of Indigenous women writers, Anita Heiss and Melissa Lucashenko with this year’s Miles Franklin winner Too Much Lip – and heaps more – that we would love to be able to support and include. We’ve been backed by a small grant from the Inner West Council and will be again in 2020 which is awesome. They have a strong arts program. Also supporting the project is Verity La Creative Journal as publishing partner, who publish a selection of works and we are looking at exploring limited printed editions of an anthology of the stories in 2020 with Verity La. Sydney Poetry Lounge is such a cool place and are wonderful supporters, as is Girls on Key. Outback Writers operating out of Dubbo are also partnering with us this year. Recently I had the amazing support of Kate Gaul and Arts on Tour and presented Clearway at their Salon in Tamworth – part of the ArtState Conference – which was a wonderful experience – and so inspiring to meet fellow touring artists. That was a great honour to be part of.  I hope to extend all our networks in 2020.

 

 

INTERVIEWER

What are your hopes for the future with both this event specifically and the Voices of Women organisation in its entirety?

 

LLIANE

Gosh I hope you are not going to ask me about a five-year plan! We certainly haven’t written one yet! Well of course it would be phenomenal if we could achieve the tour next year, have printed anthologies available and also gain financial support for the future competitions and tours. This is why we need to charge an entry fee to help us cover the costs of running the competition and the performances.

In the future in 2021 I am planning to run a Voices of Young Women for school-age girls and young women – they have a lot to say! And they are also incredibly talented!  There are all sort of possibility to partner with an educational organisation to do that. Maybe we could explore a Voices of Young Men as well.

 

 

INTERVIEWER

For those reading this that would like to submit their works for your consideration in appearing in future events, what advice could you give? What is it that you look for regardless of each year’s differing theme?

 

LLIANE

The submissions for CLEARWAY 2020 are open now, and close on 2 February 2020 – 2.2.2020 – easy to remember. We’re looking for first person narrative – monologue, or soliloquy or descriptive narrative – non fiction or fiction up to 1000 words or 3 minutes.  All the details are online.  We’d love to hear from any women writer – everyone is welcome. We would love to hear from diverse communities, and women who may not have written something before.

 

 INTERVIEWER

Or if someone didn’t have something they wanted to submit, but would still like to get involved with Voices of Women how can they do so?

 

LLIANE

Yes! That would be phenomenal! If anyone would like to volunteer at this point to help with the competition or the performances just email me and let me know what you would like to do. Email is [email protected]

 

INTERVIEWER

Thanks for all your answers Lliane!

 

LLIANE

Thank you! It’s been fun answering them all!

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