The Big Time 

Legendary Australian playwright, David Williamson, brings yet another new work to the Sydney stages - The Big Time. Opening at The Ensemble theatre in Sydney next month, Carly spoke with David about his process, advice for young playwrights, and his career. Read more below: 

Playwright David Williamson's The Big Time opens at Sydney's Ensemble Theatre

I’d love to start by asking a bit about the process of new work – how do your plays evolve from ideas to our stages, what is your writing and then editing process like, and where do you find your inspiration for new stories? Like many of our readers, I’d love to know…how long does each work take and what is your current total of plays written throughout your life – both produced and unknown?

It’s a mystery where the plays come from sometimes.  Something I’ve read or heard that gets me intrigued, angry, amused, or some story I’ve heard that grabs me or some person who is interesting and I can see as a character, albeit fictionalized.  A play takes up to six months as I do a lot of drafts.  As it’s often said writing is rewriting. With plays its particularly important to get the dramatic structure right and not waste words.  I think this is something like my fifty fourth staged play.

What is it about this story – The Big Time – that jumped at you as a concept and that made you decide it needed to be told?

I’ve spent a lifetime in the business of theatre and known dozens of writers and even more actors and all of them want to desperately make The Big Time as they get treated pretty miserably if they aren’t.  Dozens of auditions with no feedback.  The phone never rings.  In short they are never in control of their own destiny unless they’re at the top.

The Ensemble’s upcoming production marks the world premier of this piece. What are you hoping will be the audiences’ reaction and main take away from the theatre? What should audiences anticipate as they head into this new Williamson play?

Firstly I hope the audience will be involved and entertained.  I know they’re going to see terrific actors at work and I hope the dilemmas and ordeals my characters face will draw them into a world that is at once different, but then again not too different from their own.  All of us face the demand to make something of our lives and the fear that we wont.

As a writer, what is your involvement in the production of your works? Do you like to be involved at all through the rehearsal process or work with the director, in this case Mark Kilmurry? What are the pros and cons of being part of the creative process of production for you – does it allow you to feel as though your vision is coming to fruition or does it stifle your ability to move to the next story if you continue to see the past one through? Where do you feel most comfortable in your involvement with the piece?

Mark is a terrific director.  I leave it to him. If he has any problems with script he gets in touch.  He’s never done a bad production of mine and I’m sure this will be terrific.

In your writing, how much comes from what you know? Much like the age old adage of writing about what you know, have any of the characters in this show been inspired by anyone you know? How close is this particular storyline given your family’s involvement in theatre?


​Yes I do like to write what I know and after fifty years in the business this is one area I do know. You can’t help basing your stories on things you’ve experienced but at the same time the piece is fictional and not an attempt to put a real character on stage.  All the characters are amalgams of people I’ve known plus a bit of myself and some imagination.

For emerging playwrights, what is the single most important piece of advice you have been given throughout your career? Any wisdom to share with those whom dream of seeing their writing come to life?


​Persistence.  And don’t be afraid to push your work.  Scripts lie around dozens deep on theatre companies’ desks, most of them unread.  Everyone in the world it seems wants to be a writer.  It’s a crowded field and you need to get an agent or knock on doors and pitch your work to artistic directors or literary managers who won’t ever get time to read it.



Favourite production you have ever seen?

Michael Blakemore’s THE FRONT PAGE -  National Theatre of Great Britain.


You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?

Home to Sunshine Beach.

Plays or musicals?

Both can be great.

What’s next for you after this show?

A quiet life.  I’ve been in the business fifty years and that’s enough.

The Big Time, directed by Mark Kilmurry, opens at The Ensemble Theatre on January 18th. For more information and tickets, click here

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