By Mikayla van Loon
The Lilydale Athenaeum Theatre Company will be launching its 2024 season with the comedic prowess of Warrandyte-based playwright Emma Wood.
Bringing to the stage the first Australian showing of Piece of Mind, the dramedy follows the story of two near retirement age nurses who drum up a bizarre business plan to fund their exit from the workforce.
“They can come up with a mad business plan to open up a funeral parlour for people to hire by the hour. The concept is that someone will lie down in the coffin and shut up while the other person says everything they’ve always wanted to say,” Wood said.
“But it’s really the story of the women and the friendship they have and the way the business challenges their friendship, and I guess in a way how they’re planning their path forward from retirement.”
Having been an actress for much of her life, Wood made the transition to playwriting one day in her 30s, when she woke up with a burning idea.
This will be her fifth staged play, looking at the real challenges women face when they reach retirement age but can’t afford to retire.
“It’s quite an issue for a lot of women. Older women are now the largest cohort of homeless people and these women are not on the edge of homelessness but they are financially insecure,” she said.
“They have had long careers in nursing, which is something that we all need, but obviously not having earned enough to comfortably retire is a bit of an issue.
“I have toyed with the idea of just writing a complete comedy but the real life complexities always end up emerging so I sit pretty happily with a little bit of both. This is primarily comedy, but there’s certainly some drama.”
When setting out on starting her playwriting journey, Wood said it was always a desire of hers to create strong female lead roles, especially for ageing women.
“It’s really been a bit of a conscious desire right from the start when I wrote my first play, which is called me Water Child, to write better roles for women.
“Not because there are none. There are some good roles but in general terms especially with the classics, the cast is heavily based male roles. Women often end up as the wife or girlfriend or the daughter and so I do like to put women front and centre in all my plays.”
Despite doing this so actors have more opportunities to act as they get older, Wood said it comes from a need to present shows to primarily female audiences.
“Female actors deserve more substantive roles, but also, audiences are primarily made up of middle aged women,” Wood said.
“They invite their husbands or they invite their female friends and they sit there and often watch stories that don’t really directly impact or maybe things that don’t occur in their own lives.”
Having workshopped this production before it was first staged in Los Angeles early last year, Wood said all the kinks were exposed and fixed.
“It was a great process for helping me. It was a good first draft, but the production helped it become better.”
Opening night on Thursday 8 February will be the first time Wood sees the Lilydale production herself but said she has full faith in director Susan Rundle.
“It’s my first Australian premiere that wasn’t at the Newcastle Theatre Company so it’s lovely to have it here in Melbourne and Melbourne has got such a wonderful and large community theatre network.
“Lilydale Theatre’s production values are obviously very good. It’s such a beautiful space and they put the work in with the set and the design and I know that our actors are good. So I’m just really excited.”
Piece of Mind will run from 8 February to 24 February. Go to lilydaleatc.com/season-2024 to find out more or to book.