“Good stories have teeth.”
Elizabeth O’Connor, 1956-2014
Elizabeth O’Connor was a teacher of writing, a dramaturge, and the Literary Manager of the Court Theatre (among much else).
It was in the latter capacity that I met her, doing a week’s internship in her little office at the top of the Christchurch Arts Centre (now, alas, no more). My task was to make a dent in the two-foot-high stack of scripts on her desk that had been submitted for consideration. As a budding playwright myself (budding? I was barely a sprout) I found both the job and her company very instructive.
The above quote is something Elizabeth used when teaching writing to children. It’s a sort of visual rendition of the fortunately-unfortunately pattern of storytelling, with the ‘teeth’ becoming longer and pointier as the stakes rise and the reversals hurl the character from the heights to the depths and back again. (Children tend to enjoy things that involve big pointy teeth, as do those of us who spend much time in the company of our inner child.)
In 2010 Elizabeth invited me to be part of the Court’s Young Playwrights Initiative, where I developed Dead Man Talking – again, a hugely instructive time. Encouraging as she was, Elizabeth was not one to let you get away with doing less than your best – and she knew if she hadn’t got it.
She was also instrumental in bringing about DMT‘s subsequent performance as part of the Elmwood Players’ 3 Piece, Sweet!
In short, I owe her a lot. She was not only rich in knowledge and understanding of storytelling, theatre, and the theatrical world, but she shared that wealth. She not only welcomed newcomers to that world but elicited the best from them while helping them find their feet. The New Zealand theatre world is a good deal the poorer for her untimely loss, and she will be sorely missed.
The last communication I had from Elizabeth was an assessment of a play I had submitted for the Olga E Harding New New Zealand Playwriting Award. She wrote “should write more”.
I have. And I will.