Who brought The Tiniest Thing to the big city? Playwright and Theatre academic Dr Richard Jordan of course.
In early 2020 Dr Richard Jordan, UNE lecturer in Theatre and Performance, was awarded the New Play Award for his play The Tiniest Thing which would see him travel to the Australian Theatre Festival in New York City.
While the festival was originally slated for 2020, the global pandemic pushed it back to December 10-12, 2021. Richard recently landed in New York where he and 6 Australian actors based in NYC held a staged reading of The Tiniest Thing on the last day of the festival. In addition to the reading of Richard’s fantastic play, the festival’s line-up also included two other Australian playwrights, Michelle Law and Dylan van den Berg – the latter of whom Richard supervised as a Master’s student two years ago at UNE.
The Festival ran for three days and included a series of play readings, a cabaret showcase, and an industry forum that celebrated new Australian theatre and the amazing talents of the New York-based Australian theatre community.
While Richard was in New York City preparing for the festival we had the chance to remotely speak to him about the experiences.
Naturally being awarded the New Play Award was a personal and creative achievement, but it cannot be understated how significant this has been for Richard. He describes winning the award and being given the chance to travel to the festival, especially after an 18-month delay, as “the highlight of my entire playwriting career – I still can’t believe it’s happening.”
To provide a bit of background on the play itself, The Tiniest Things is a work that engages with various themes including climate change, the nature of reality and perception – Richard also intentionally addresses these themes with grace and nuance throughout the play.
Further summarising its themes, Richard explains the play’s content mirrors contemporary topics related to perception:
“How can individuals look at the same phenomena and interpret the world so radically differently? And is it possible to change another person’s mind, or do we only ever choose what we want to believe based on how facts make us feel (Obviously we’re seeing similar clashes in perception within the context of the pandemic as well)? For me, these questions are more interesting than a lecture about the issue.”
“I don’t view theatre as a vehicle for ‘spreading awareness’, but rather to help us question and consider our already strong feelings and positions on an issue, and how we relate to the positions of others.”
With the accolades the play has received thus far it seems Richard has successfully conveyed these notions through The Tiniest Thing. Its success and appearance at the festival begs the question – what comes next?
“My ultimate goal is to secure a full professional production of the play in Australia (although I wouldn’t say no to an overseas production either!). What I most hope to gain from the festival reading is a draft of the play that ‘works’ in front of an audience, which I can then pitch to professional companies back home.”
Focusing back on New York City and the festival, Richard described that it has been a truly invigorating experience being in a city that has so much theatrical history and culture at its heart.
“It’s so inspiring being here – this city is electric,” said Richard. “Broadway attracts the very best theatre makers in the world. I’ve certainly been seeing as much as I can while I’ve been here (mask at the ready!), and can feel my writing growing sharper and more confident as a result. It’s a magical place, especially at this time of year, and I’ve loved every second. New Yorkers are also very sensible about COVID – I’ve actually felt quite safe while I’ve been here.”
Another highlight of the festival is that Richard’s former student, Dylan Van Den Berg and his play Milk, were also presented. While discussing this Richard noted that he is “so proud to be representing Australian theatre at this festival, and to have both my work and a former student’s work representing UNE as well.”
The chance to showcase a piece of theatrical work in New York City is an incredible privilege and signals greater creative endeavours to come. This is something that Richard understands and is deeply thankful – in his own words:
“I’m incredibly grateful to be here at all, and am keenly aware that this is all due to the phenomenal feats of modern science and vaccine research. But I’m also proud to be an artist, too, making sense of this strange and perilous time. Sometimes art and science are pitted against each other, but we are of course two sides of the same coin: searching for truth into the experience of being alive. We need each other. All of us. And great theatre can help to remind us of that.”