Playwright, Maura Pierlot in rehearsal… "I feel like we’re living in a world of smoke and mirrors." Photo: Jessica Conway

Arts editor HELEN MUSA previews a new play of eight monologues called "Fragments".

“MY view is that philosophy should be a required course for primary school students,” says philosopher, ethicist, medical journalist, editor, former real estate agent, developer mum and nowadays playwright, Maura Pierlot.

On the other hand, she also says of her new life as a writer: “I’m intuitive in my writing. I follow an imperative. I don’t plan, I don’t research and I’m not mystical – I’m very much grounded.”

A long-time resident of Canberra, the American-born writer with a Ph.D. in philosophy from Georgetown University is just back from a residency at the Arthur Boyd estate Bundanon on the Shoalhaven, where she’s been "tweaking" the results of her greatest literary brainstorm – a series of eight monologues soon to be staged by Shelly Higgs at The Street Theatre. 

Focusing on the inner lives of eight young people, “Fragments” will look at the feelings, apprehensions and hopes of people grappling with mental health issues. Paradoxically, Pierlot believes the healthiest way to tackle inner problems is to look outwards, and that’s what you do in live theatre. 

The life of the Bronx native has been an adventurous one. Aussie husband Kieran, a former shearer, met her here and pursued her to New York City where they momentarily became a real-life "Crocodile Dundee" celebrity couple. They settled in Canberra, had three children and worked in many professions.

Grappling with her own illness and that of her ageing mother, she began to write, in 2016 winning a monologue competition at Hothouse Theatre in Wodonga for her play “Tapping Out”, in 2017 the CBCA Aspiring Writers Mentorship Program and the Charlotte Waring Barton Award for her young adult manuscript, “Free Falling” and in 2018 the ACT Writing and Publishing Award (Children’s Category) for her book “The Trouble in Tune Town”. 

Also in 2016, she heard about the Capital Arts Patrons Organisation grants and scribbled out an application to write a script based on youth mental health issues. 

"People are reluctant to open up, but mental health can be a positive journey,” she says.

She got the CAPO grant and eventually found lots more support, including a "Boost" grant from the Australian Cultural Fund, ArtsACT funding for a stint with director Gin Savage in Gorman Arts Centre’s Ralph Indie program and a limited airing with the Pioneer Theatre in Castle Hill.

“Once I was at the desk, it poured out of me,” Pierlot says. 

“It’s based on different characters at the high school and I wanted to use the monologue form to show young people struggling with different issues in an inward-looking way.”

One of her characters is the school captain, revered, good looking and smart but suffering depression. He puts on a mask at school.

Another is a 13-year-old obsessed with social media who creates a fake Instagram account – she’ll be played by Pierlot’s daughter Erin.

Then there’s a transgender character whose monologue is a form of realisation of her female self.

“I’m not touching on more severe problems, I’m really looking at issues that are commonly talked about,” she says.

“But I feel like we’re living in a world of smoke and mirrors… and there is so much bullshit in the online world.”

Dramatically, each monologue is discrete, but her "fragments" needed a transition between the monologues, as well as an opening and closing, as she found during a “First Seen” session with director Higgs at The Street. The Bundanon residency was aimed at sorting that out. 

 

“Fragments”, The Street Theatre, October 23-27. Book at thestreet.org.au or 6247 1223.

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Ian Meikle, editor