VCA Master of Writing for Performance: five questions for Raimondo Cortese

Playwright and Master of Writing for Performance coordinator Dr Raimondo Cortese gives some insights on the course and tips for preparing a portfolio.

Hi Raimondo, can you tell us a little about the Master in Writing for Performance?

The course is designed as a professional performance writing course. Students are immersed in multiple forms of writing, including for conventional/ main stage or experimental theatre, live art, digital story telling, and improvisation.

Students get to focus on a major end-of-year project, which can comprise any form of performance writing, though in most cases people write for theatre presentation.

We invite numerous established theatre writers to teach into the course, such as Jane Harrison (who is now on staff), Ross Mueller, Jenny Kemp, Melissa Reeves, Richard Murphet, and film maker Jonathan auf der Heide, as well as prominent international guests, such as Mac Wellman and Sibyl Kempson.

Who would this course appeal to? 

The course appeals to both industry professionals and those who would call themselves emerging writers, or actors or directors who also want to develop writing skills, as well as those fresh out of university theatre studies or creative writing degrees. We get a mix of advanced and early-stage writers. Our alumni include Ross Mueller, Van Badham, Maude Davey, Morgan Rose, Emilie Collyer, Marie Lourey, and many others.

I’ve read that you need to show a portfolio as part of the application process? What makes a good portfolio? 

A portfolio should offer a cross-section of your writing experience. It can be either a sample of different works, or a long sample of the one work. The course is open to all forms of performance writing, so I encourage prospective students to send in writing that best reflects what their interests are. I am personally open to all kinds of  writing and am aware that people can often be eclectic in the way they express themselves.

Can you tell us a bit about your own career? How did you end up where you are now?

I began my career working in the independent scene with Ranters Theatre, and have since worked in the main stage while continuing to work in the independent sector, including productions in more than a dozen countries. I also write fiction and for film, and have written two adaptations of Brecht and one of Lorca. I continue to work professionally but designed this course six years ago as I believed there was a strong need to develop a performance wiring course in Melbourne, and that VCA Theatre was the best place to do that.

What’s your teaching style, and that of the course?

I believe it’s very important to have the craft of writing taught in a practical studio setting, which is what the Writing for Performance course offers. The teachers have a very relaxed but focused approach, which is designed around the personal vision of each writer who comes into the course.

We teach the multiples ways of structuring theatre/ performance writing, looking at dramatic action, linear and multiple narrative trajectories, post dramatic forms, improvisation techniques, while also being aware that each student will offer a unique writing style that needs to be nurtured.

Most writers tend to overwrite, and so need to develop tools to edit their own material in relation to what an actor will reveal when speaking their lines of dialogue. The other major issue is learning to structure the writing in a way that best reflects what a writer is trying to say.

The professional writers who teach into the course are very open to different forms of writing. We encourage students to explore their own individual styles and forms of writing while developing and refining their dramaturgical and editing skills.

Applications for the VCA Master of Performance close on 31 October, 2018.

– Interview by Paul Dalgarno