SheSociety recently chatted with emerging playwright – Anna Loren at Queensland Theatre. Anna is one of only three finalists in the Queensland Premier’s Drama Awards. These awards have been running for seventeen years now and help to encourage the development of new works from emerging playwrights. Anna’s proposal was chosen from a field of a record – breaking 221 entries.
Along with fellow finalists, Maddie Nixon and Steve Pirie, Anna has been developing her play, Comfort, with mentoring from industry experts. The three finalists are now in the running for the drama award, where the winner receives a professional production of their entry in Queensland Theatre’s 2021 Season. Anna who is also an actor, theatre maker and Mum to an eighteen year old son, has been studying her craft for many years overseas. Her new play is based on her family history and is an important story to tell.
When I meet Anna Loren she is dressed in the actor’s uniform of head to toe black. As she gracefully stands you notice she is tall with lovely, dark wavy hair. I wonder if she has also been a ballet dancer in a former life. Anna has a natural grace and a ready smile and as we head upstairs for our interview, it is clear that this world traveller is still very excited about her project. It is close to her heart.
Anna Loren was born on the Sunshine Coast after her Perth born father and free spirited Mum met whilst they were both hitchhiking around Australia. She grew up in Nambour and was schooled at Nambour Christian College. After living away from the Sunshine Coast for twenty years; in London, Finland and Brisbane, home beckoned and Anna returned to the Coast in 2018.
Anna had written a small piece about her Grandmother which she performed in London. It was there she realised there was so much more to explore. In 2019 Anna was chosen as one of eight emerging playwrights to participate in Playlab’s 2019 Incubator Program where Comfort, the play, was born. Developing her script with the help of Queensland Theatre seems the next logical step for this talented Queenslander.
About the Play
Anna says that it wasn’t until her Grandfather wrote a memoir about Burma that she had an inkling that her Grandmother may have been a comfort woman. She says, “ There had always been whispers but living an idyllic life in a suburban Perth backyard, playing around the hills hoist, holidays sweating in a musty sand filled caravan and heading to Expo, all of my memories of my Grandmother exist in a 1980’s Australian childhood.”
There was however an unwritten rule not to talk about the past. In Comfort, Anna moves between past and present , personal and political to unravel her Grandmother’s story. She is the Granddaughter wading through official military records, rumour and euphemism searching for her Grandmother’s truth.
I confess to not knowing much about Comfort women or the war in Burma.
Anna says, “ I remember my parent’s saying that my Grandmother might have been a Comfort woman and in my Grandfather’s book he says that my grandmother and her sisters were interned in a Prisoner of War camp and were hostesses in a Japanese club. There are still protests outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, Korea every Wednesday to find redress for these women. It is sometimes seen as a Korean issue but it happened everywhere. Women were coerced into doing it, often women from poor families, as well as prisoners. But rape is still used as a weapon of war. Documents that have come to light show that everyone knew about it but it wasn’t considered a war crime because it involved women.”
Comfort weaves this compelling story through a 1940’s Burma torn apart by war. Battling armies open lasting wounds across the land, leaving scars not only on the earth, but also on the bodies of the women they seek to colonise. Anna Loren says she is “ pulling these threads from history and with creative development involving physically acting out scenes with her mentors and researching the era, the play has been developing in stages.”
As with all writers I like to pick their brains about the writing process.
Anna says. “There is no typical writing day. I do have a studio on the Coast where I can work, but as a parent, you know, you grab those magical moments during the day. It is getting easier now my son is older and I don’t have to do that school run. I do procrastinate, like most writers, but I’m trying to take it one step at a time. I’m just grateful to be here. It’s nice to be back home and working. It used to be that Australian artists had to leave (and I did for a while) but it’s great to see all these opportunities where you can stay at home and work. Queensland Theatre have been very supportive and flexible.”
The story about Comfort Women in World War Two is a fascinating one, made even more compelling by the fact that it is semi autobiographical for playwright, Anna Loren. My own grandfather who fought for England in the first and second World Wars survived a stint in a German POW camp, so I know the secrecy which surrounds these times. It just wasn’t talked about. They wanted to give their families a new life here in Australia. Hopefully this play will shed some light on a time that has been hidden away and will enlighten us all.
Last year’s winner David Megarrity will premiere his play, The Holidays, in July 2020 and in total these awards have developed 31 new Australian plays. Congratulations to Queenslander Anna Loren for developing a piece of work filled with authenticity and power. It’s stories, like Anna’s play, written from the heart, that teach us, make us feel and embrace the diversity of our rich cultural heritage and that is why #SheInspires.
You can attend a reading of Anna’s play on the 9th of April, details are here – http://www.queenslandtheatre.com.au/qpdareadings
Freelance writer, wife and mother of three sons, occasional supply teacher and aspiring romance author, Michelle Beesley can be most often found in a coffee shop chatting with friends or beside a rugby field cheering on her favourite teams.
Michelle is a prolific—albeit reluctant—traveller, keen walker, bookworm and yoga enthusiast who loves anything pink or sparkly (including champagne!).