People and Places
30/01/2020
A visceral and voracious mind

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Joanna Murray-Smith is bright and voraciously creative. She thinks in dialogue. Her characters speak through her hands to land on the keyboard, where they press and chatter, chatter and press up against this thing called life where love, hate, laughter and tears collide. Her passion for learning was instilled at a young age by socially conscious parents who were committed to discussion about literature, the arts and ‘big ideas’. They were both members of the Communist Party and were absorbed in ideology until becoming cynical about the people who remained behind after taking leave. They settled in Mount Eliza in the 1950s.

Growing up on the Peninsula with her two siblings, Joanna has fond memories of her time living by the bay and going to Mount Eliza Primary School and Toorak College, where her Polish-born mother Nita taught English and history. Her Australian-born writer, educator and editor father Stephen Murray-Smith founded the literary magazine Overland from the tree-lined avenues of Mount Eliza too. Language and those who use it are in this playwright’s bones, which are white with insight and alight with humour. The list of her plays currently being performed globally is too long to write, but American Song is coming to the Frankston Arts Centre next month.

Joanna explains: “I’m based in Melbourne now with my husband Raymond and my children Lucy, Sam and Charlie and have a number of plays in production, which often means a lot of travelling. I’m lucky to have lots of fingers in lots of pies. But if you want it enough, you do it. I always knew I wanted to be a writer and a mother, which has helped me with writing. It isn’t easy writing with children, but I learnt that if I could fit it in, I would fit it in. Self-discipline is the difference between making it happen or not.”  

She continues: “My plays are performed in provincial places as well as in big cities and I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in a lot of screen projects based in London. I also made my directing debut with the Queensland Theatre’s production of my comedy L’Appartement last year. I was in horror when they asked me to direct, but I learnt so much. It’s strange which countries buy my plays. Germany has bought all of them and France has bought none. Berlin, which is about two people falling in love in Berlin and how World War II shapes their meeting, will be performed in April at the MTC. There’s lots of projects for film and television coming up in 2020 too.”

This award-winning writer whose plays have been performed in Melbourne, the West End and Broadway runs, walks or swims every day to combat desk and laptop fatigue and ventures down to the Peninsula when she can. Shoreham and Merricks are favourite spots where memories of lying on the beach waiting for boyfriends to come in from the surf still ebb and flow — as is Red Hill, where she and her husband used to own a small cottage. She concludes: “One of my closest friends still lives on the Peninsula. There’s nowhere quite like Point Leo, Gunnamatta, the hot springs. Growing up there was fantastic. Visiting still is.”

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