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Author interview: Playwright-Actor Peter Jamieson on theatre, veterans and getting lost with your protagonist

Below is an interview with New York based actor-playwright-director Peter-William Jamieson on his play, inspiration and writing about war.


About Peter

Peter is an Australian NYC-based actor-playwright-director. He is the founder of the production company Street Kid Collective. His most recent work is the critically acclaimed Borderless, an official selection for the 2024 United Solo Theater Festival at Off-Broadway's Theater Row; the show placed third at the International Script and Storyboard Showcase for Best New Stage Play and was shortlisted for the prestigious Rodney Seaborn Playwrighting Award.  His short film Evening Caller won best screenplay at the Los Angeles International Film Festival and was a semi-finalist at the New York International New York Screenplay Awards. He has also been nominated by AACTA / AFI Awards for Best Supporting Actor for his work in the Australian Indie feature Bloodshot Heart.




Man looking off into the distance

Hi Pete,


Thanks so much for taking the time. It’s been a long minute! Thanks for taking the time to catch up with me about everything. Borderless follows the journey of two step brothers, Blake and Hussan (an Afghani refugee) as they journey from their small coastal town as teenagers to the desolate battlegrounds of the Afghanistan war as soldiers.


The play

Writing Grove (GM): First, congratulations on Borderless! Tell me about the play, its genesis, its journey and what’s happening with it now.


Peter: Thank you so much! It’s been a long journey. The first seeds of the story were sown around ten years ago during a chat with a coworker. I knew he was an Afghanistan war veteran. He wore a silver bracelet with the name, rank and date of a fellow soldier killed in combat. 


He only ever spoke about his experience once. One day in the gym,  I noticed he was watching a TV news report broadcasting a large-scale riot in a Middle Eastern country. I asked him, what was going on? 


He turned to me, shook his head and replied, “They’re all fucking animals over there”. 


I was shocked. I remember at that moment feeling so split. Half of me was so shocked by the obvious cold, brutal and intolerant nature of his reply, but the other half of me, the actor/storyteller/daydreamer side of me, wanted to know: What the hell happened to you to make you say such a thing?


Cut to 6 years later. I was enjoying my morning coffee when I saw an article on the front page of a newspaper reporting a statistic that said: 47 Australian soldiers died inIraq and Afghanistan during the conflict, but over 800 veterans have committed suicide since returning home. It rattled me. It also sparked my curiosity. I wanted to know more, so I contacted my old co-worker/friend and told him that I was interested in writing a show about veterans from the Afghanistan War. I wanted to explore their struggles on the battlefield and what they and their families faced when they arrived back home. 


He was on board straight away! We met up in a pub in Sydney, and he began to tell me his story. A couple of rounds of beers and 4 hours later, I had the outline of a show.



man sitting in theatre

Writing process

WG: Playwrights are the best writers because they think in three dimensions and five senses. And their work is ultimately meant to be performed by an audience. Talk about your writing process and how you go about creating a memorable character, especially one that will need to come to life in front of people. 


Peter: I usually find myself inspired by hearing a first-person account of a story. Sometimes an image will land in my head from god-knows-here. I usually follow it, imaginatively, down the rabbit hole and start loosely structuring that into a 4-act structure where there’s a clear beginning, middle, climax and resolution. 


I start as loose as possible and then get more and more defined by what you're trying to say and what your protagonist's objective is. There has to be a journey. Things have to happen to your character, and the most interesting thing for the audience, is how your character truthfully reacts to it. Theatre: getting lost with your protagonist


Two great, somewhat cliche sayings that hold a huge amount of value for screenwriting and playwriting are: 1) The truth will always be stranger than fiction & 2) Actions will always speak louder than words.


WG: Talk about writing a piece that you yourself will perform. Often, actors interpret the words of others, and playwrights or screenwriters have their words performed. What’s it like to perform your own work? Do you write directly to your strengths as an actor? 


Peter: Dear Lord, I try not to!!! Obviously you need to be somewhat aware of what your capabilities are and also what’s appropriate. I definitely do try to challenge myself as an actor with every project. But I think the second you stop creating and putting a character on the stage, then you are either lazy or you run the risk of becoming an attention-seeking whore. Which is fine! If that works and fulfils you. Go right ahead! That being said, some of the stories people tell of their lives can be hugely entertaining and captivating for audiences. But for me, I like to lose myself in stories and escape my own reality by jumping into the worlds of different characters. 


I will say, though, that writing and performing in a one-man show is a very scary and lonely experience. You truly don’t know how well it will be received, and you have to completely trust the feedback from the director and maybe the sound designer who sits in on a rehearsal or two. It’s a great acting experience, but by the end of it, you really miss having another actor to talk to, and bounce off of.     


WG: What’s been the most challenging part of the process to date?


Peter: The loneliness. Also having to put yourself through an emotional marathon every time you perform the piece. 85 minutes non-stop. I walk off stage after each performance and need a few minutes to just breathe and chill in the dressing room. On some nights I’ll even break down into tears. But at the same time, it’s a lot of fun! It’s a very weird, trippy experience.


Mean kneeling in front of pile of food

Audiences

WG: You’ve performed the play in Australia and in the US. How have the audiences reacted? Are there any similarities or differences you’ve noticed in reception?


Peter: Thankfully, it’s been received very well in both countries. Australian audiences are much more reserved, whereas Americans, especially New Yorkers, will really let you know if they enjoy something. The US places a massive importance on the armed services. Everyone knows someone who has fought in a conflict. I had performances where I would walk out the stage door and have grown men of all ages bursting into tears because they were war veterans, and everything that happened in Borderless was something they could relate to. It’s a very special and moving experience when that happens.


WG: Where can people buy tickets to the latest performance?


Peter: The next performance will be part of the United Solo Theater Festival on April 4th at 7 pm in New York’s Off-Broadway's Theater Row.


Buy tickets here.


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