Backstage

Artist Profile – Paris Balla (She Writes)

Introduce yourself!

I’m a non binary playwright and wannabe clown with a passion for accessible theatre for young audiences. I am an avid tea-maker, occasional tea-finisher currently back at uni for an Honours year in queering theatre for young people and creating queer futures.

Tell us about your artistic origins

I guess I’m still in my theatrical origin story. I’m only 22 and mustering up the conviction to own the label of “Playwright” is still pretty terrifying to me. I got into theatre as a kid because I was incredibly shy and then couldn’t leave. There’s something intoxicating about being able to create new worlds and take on different identities, especially when you’re a queer kid trying to navigate the world around you. When your universe doesn’t quite seem to fit, falling into an imagined one seems easier somehow.

In the Before Times, my passion outside of writing was in physical theatre. I’ve been so fortunate to be able to study with the brilliant minds of John Bolton and Giovanni Fusetti. Whenever I’m writing, a twinkle of clown exists just behind my playwright eyes, incredibly curious about the whole thing.

Tell us about your practice

I tend to throw around words like ‘puppetry,’ ‘applied theatre,’ and ‘magical realism,’ but at the core, my practice is in making the theatre I wish I could have seen when I was younger. My work calls for us to build a future that can be better than the present, while encouraging us to build and cherish the relationships and moments that we have in front of us.

The words “children’s theatre” often come with a tone of condescension from artists who don’t work within the field, but there is some absolutely incredible theatre being created for young audiences in Australia and I am so constantly inspired by the work that has been made before me and the artists who are leading this industry.

What has been a highlight of your career so far?

This is a tie. Firstly, in my final year of undergrad studying theatre at Monash University I was so incredibly fortunate to be involved in a production called Figment.This was created in collaboration with Vision Australia and led by guest artists Jolyon James and Simone French and was my first exposure to applied theatre and absolutely transformed me, not just as an artist but as a human.

The second was a project I created and directed in collaboration with Monash Uni Student Theatre with support from Arena Theatre Co. Project Pollinate was inspired by a week of workshops with primary school students at Winters Flat Primary School in Castlemaine resulting in the creation of a play about the future, mysterious cryptids and the importance of magical, underground talking trees. We went up to Castlemaine with ideas about what we wanted to share with the students, but could not have imagined how much they would have taught us about how to exist compassionately in the world we live in. I think I am right on the cusp of another highlight with my current project.

Who are your main artistic inspirations?

I have been so lucky to be able to work with so many of the artists who inspire me. Fleur Kilpatrick, Jolyon James and Christian Leavesley from Arena and Sarah Branton (who happens to be my dramaturg/co-director and inspires me every goddamn day by being the coolest person I have ever met in my life).

A lot of my inspiration at the moment is coming from academics. I’m currently reading José Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia and Gender Futurity, Intersectional Autoethnography: Embodied Theorizing from the Margins from Benny LeMaster and Amber Johnson (which is proving
INCREDIBLY exciting). After all of them I think it’d be trees. Shout out to trees.

What are you working on right now?

I’m currently developing the script for Owl and the Albatross with Theatre Works. It’s a story for early secondary school students about figuring out your place in the world while it is literally on fire around you. Owl and the Albatross follows a non binary teenager named Owl as they try to save the planet, despite everything seeming to be against them. This is a story for anyone who has ever felt lost, for those who haven’t been heard, the adults who don’t listen and for anyone waiting for a light to guide them home.

What have you been up to during lockdown? 
I’ve accidentally become surprisingly good at embroidery and maybe I’m going to quit theatre and just spend my life embroidering instead… probably not though… I’ve also made quite a bit of jam and lemon curd. I tried to start making ginger beer and sourdough bread, and learn german but I got bored. Mostly, I’ve been watching Canadian and Thai Drag Race with my housemates and trying to muster up the courage to write my thesis.

What are you aspiring towards? 
Writing a thesis. Finishing this cup of tea. Maybe (but probably not) going for a walk this afternoon. Changing the world?? Building strong communities around me. Creating queer work that speaks across generational divides. Listening more. Reading more. Writing more. Sleeping more. Having a play on the VCE Playlist within the next 2-10 years. Finishing my current embroidery project. Building the future that I want to live in. Talking to more trees. An open expanse of possibility, fresh air and lots and lots of stars.

Photo by Jaimi Houston (@picsbyjaimi)

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