Five minutes with...playwright Maxine Mellor

16 October, 2023

Maxine Mellor is an award-winning playwright and teaching artist. In 2022, she received the David Williamson Prize for Playwriting and the AWGIE Award for Best Original Stage Play for 'Horizon' with Playlab Theatre. Her work has been performed nationally and internationally and is published by Playlab Press and Australian Plays Transform.

When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
In Grade 2, sitting ant-bit on the school oval amongst fallen jacaranda flowers for assembly, my name was called out as winner of a writing competition. I hadn’t realised our stories were even being considered for a competition, I had just enjoyed writing and illustrating some tale about ants searching for food (a little too heavily inspired by some Mem Fox book, I think). That early encouragement made me want to keep at it.

Later, after many years thinking I wanted to be an actor, I discovered playwriting, and realised that creating the world was far more satisfying for me than playing a part in it.

What inspires you?
I’m drawn to creating oddball characters and detailed visual worlds, and explore issues where I find myself fence-sitting. Nature has been a big inspiration, and looking back at the works I have created I realised I have a whole forest, snow, and mountain series.

Why did you join the Guild?
As an unrepresented playwright, I joined the Guild to feel supported in my career and more aware of the industry as a whole. It’s helped me understand what’s fair in contracting, and how to value my work when it’s also my passion.

Best moment of your writing career?
It was a great highlight winning the David Williamson Prize in a room full of peers, knowing the work is judged on its written merit alone.

But I also never get tired of that very specific feeling of relief any time I write ‘the end’ on a draft after a bone-aching, feverish writing session moments before a deadline.

Best advice you’ve received about writing?
Early in my career, when I was trying to honour any and all feedback that I received about my draft (people pleaser!), someone said something like: don’t worry about how that moment will be staged – that’s the director’s job. Just write what you see, however ambitious. A good director will relish the challenge and find a way to make it happen. I can’t remember who said it, but the advice stuck.

What is your best tip for writers?
Tricky! For those just starting out, I’d say lean into your quirks! And don’t let the work hide in a bottom drawer.

For those exploring complex issues: give all your characters the best possible argument.

What are you working on now?
It’s actually been a year of many firsts for me. I’ve been writing my first feature film with director Stef Smith – an adaptation of a very early play of mine, Anna Robi & the House of Dogs. I’ve also just finished the first draft of a libretto about Brisbane’s history as it finds its identity in the lead up to the Olympics in 2032. And I’ve just wrapped up editing and rewriting parts of a live-streamed performance I co-wrote with Counterpilot called Breaking that opens as part of Melbourne Fringe this week! It’s an experimental, digital-based work where unrehearsed guest performers become news anchors from their living rooms, exploring empathy and our obsession with the 24hr news cycle.

What are you currently reading?
I’ve been in the thick of research land for the libretto project, so lots of articles, stats, and stories of Brisbane/Meanjin. And around that, I’ve been attempting to finish a play I was gifted for my birthday, The Welkin by Lucy Kirkwood – it’s got a great sense of place!

What are you currently watching?
My viewing habits make no sense. I recently finished the Aussie-made Colin from Accounts, then started Battlestar Galactica, and when I’m working with one eye on the laptop and one on the screen it’ll be comfort shows like Taskmaster. When I’m neck-deep in a project I find it difficult to commit to a long-form show unless it’s relevant in tone or topic.

Find out more about Maxine and her work here.