In 1995, Alana Valentine was faced with a frustrating dilemma.
She had just written her play Singing The Lonely Heart, about American writer Carson McCullers, and the work was met with a positive reaction by all theatre companies that read it.
The problem was, however, that while everyone loved the play, no one wanted to produce it. Even winning the ANPC/ New Dramatists Award in New York did not get the work any closer to a stage.
While the quality of Singing The Lonely Heart gained Valentine widespread recognition and led to numerous writing commissions, the play has since sat on a shelf, waiting to be staged.
Eleven years on, Singing The Lonely Heart will finally have its world premiere on 20 July at Newtown’s New Theatre.
I feel good and so relieved, Valentine says during the rehearsal period. This has been a very long time coming.
I had so many letters from artistic directors telling me they loved the play, but wanted to commission me to write another one. So, it became a great calling card, but no one wanted to touch it. Until now.
Valentine is unsure why that has been, but does believe that being an Australian playwright writing about racism and alienation in the US South did not help her cause, as most theatre companies were looking to present Australian stories.
In this case, though, I was writing about what was happening in Australia, but it was set in the US. The themes I was exploring, however, were exactly the same, she says.
Singing The Lonely Heart is a biographical tale of Carson McCullers, the writer of such works as The Member Of The Wedding and TheHeart Is A Lonely Hunter.
It deals with her journey from small-town alienation to international literary celebrity, as well as the realities of her own bisexuality and that of her husband, James Reeves.
The central relationship of the play is between Carson and one of her characters -“ Frankie from The Member Of The Wedding.
As Carson deliberates over whether she can really leave the South and where her future lies, Frankie acts as a conscience both to encourage and berate her for the decisions she makes.
The South becomes a metaphor for any place which is backward and conservative and doesn’t embrace people who are different, Valentine explains.
I have used Carson’s life as a launching pad for this universal story of being different and the people who don’t belong. All Carson’s writing was about people who don’t belong.
But I do also think that feeling like an outcast is as much about what you have inside you as what society does to you.
Valentine, who has also written such plays as Savage Grace, Love Potions and Titania’s Boy, has had a long fascination with McCullers, who died in 1967. So determined was Valentine to better understand McCullers that, in 1990, she undertook a bus tour through the US South to visit the places McCullers lived in and wrote of.
I got a sense of what she was writing about by the end of it, Valentine says. Some of the characters on the page can seem freakish but, when you are there, they are just regular people.
I also guess when you do have a fascination with someone, you are fascinated with their life and then your version of how they tackled their life.
Carson’s writings were about the kind of questions that are always resonating in life, because you are always seeing where you are in relationships.
I agree with her and disagree with her, and it has been like an ongoing conversation of what is the nature of love.
Singing The Lonely Heart has its world premiere on 20 July at the New Theatre, 542 King St, Newtown. Bookings on 9519 8958.