emily sheehan: fucked up white girls

Emily Sheehan was our fifth (where has that time gone?) dinner and a show writer and she shared some of her thoughts on her new work Fucked Up White Girls.

  1. What writing have you brought to dinner and a show?

I’ve brought a new play I’ve been tapping away at between two commissions I have on this year. In many ways, this has been my ‘down time writing’, and I’ve been enjoying getting to know the characters slowly, the way I might get to know a best friend. What’s been coming out and onto the page is themes of friendship and feminism. This is probably due to the fact that in my down time I’ve also been consuming a lot of female driven content, listening to some of my favourite podcasts like Mouth Time, Girl Friday, and Two Dope Queens. I love the way these works present friendship, humour and intellectual discussion between young women writers and content creators. I think those dodgy 90s rom-coms where its all about chasing the cool dude that will fix everything, has been replaced with idolising a group of cool female BFFs (…that hopefully once I find them will fix everything.) So yeah, I’m bringing a play about a group of young women, and how they define loyalty outside of their romantic partnerships.

  1. Why is it important to you?

Being a writer is really important to me. For me, it means something to write things that depict a range of human emotion, a range of human wants and desires, a range of emotional reactions to challenging situations, and writing work that challenges traditional concepts of meaningful human relationships such as family, romantic partnerships and friendship.

As younger people are waiting longer to form long-term romantic partnerships, they’re spending more and more years turning to platonic relationships for emotional fulfillment. We can see superficial examples of this trend within the millennial zeitgeist as celebrity feminists like as Taylor Swift and Tavi Gavinson have popularized the ‘group of besties’ phenomenon with hashtags like #squadgoals, positioning female friendship in popular culture as equally as important as romantic attachment. But is this translating to the depiction of meaningful platonic friendships in women’s stories? Unfortunately, no. Many female friendships depicted in popular content is still male-centric.

The title of the play, Fucked Up White Girls, is a nod to the media’s criticism of creative work made by millennial women. Often criticized for being a product of white washed, millennial privilege, HBO’s television show Girls for example, is so often slammed by critics for depicting narcissistic, selfish, young women in their mid-twenties. So often, attempts at commercially successful, populist content made by young women is quickly dismissed as narcissistic, entitled, naval-gazing. The same criticisms is not made of other similar self-reflective naval gazing of men’s comedy such as Louis C.K’s Louis, or Larry David’s Seinfeld. Or perhaps more comparable in style, Josh Thomas’s Please Like Me, a beautiful television show created by a young man in his twenties, which covers very similar subject matter, and is quite often compared to Girls, but Josh Thomas’s writing is described by critics as nuanced, sensitive and melancholic.

To the show’s credit, Lena Dunham’s writing in Girls subtly critiques generational privilege, while still honoring the humanity of its characters. And I think this quality is key, that to move forward in representation, it’s important to admit our humanity over our superiority, even if this means risking that our characters fall short of portraying the perfect feminist role model (if there even is such a thing)

  1. If you could have dinner with any artist (living or dead), who would it be and what would you ask them?

Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer – obviously feminist heroes.

Or Tim Burton… I remember watching a documentary aggggges ago, maybe 10 years ago, where he said, and I’m probably paraphrasing wrong, that Edward Scissor Hands (my absolute favourite movie as a kid alongside ET, Mermaids and Drop Dead Fred) was a way to write about intimacy. He had an idea of a character that was an outsider who was afraid of intimacy, though longed to be close, and longed for touch and human connection, but because of the sharpness to his physicality he wasn’t able. And that really stayed with me. Probably because it was the first time I’d really deeply considered metaphor within work that wasn’t overly moralistic or didactic.

His work always has that darker, magical element to it, which really speaks to me. I like the idea that we can make magical our insecurities and shortcomings. The quest for perfection is ridiculous. I like that he’s able to breathe joy and life into seemingly troubled and flawed people.

Emily Sheehan is a playwright and dramaturg. Emily completed her Masters in Playwriting at the Victoria College of Arts (VCA) in 2015 where and her Bachelor of Arts (Acting) in 2011. Her first play Hell’s Canyon won the Rodney Seaborn Award, was shortlisted for the Patrick White Award, and was a showcased play in Playwriting Australia’s 2016 National Play Festival at The Malthouse Theatre. Emily is currently under commission with two companies, writing a new play “Daisy Moon Was Born This Way” for Q Theatre, and “Versions of Us”, a co-created play with Katie Cawthorne for Canberra Youth Theatre.

As a dramaturg, Emily undertook the Playwriting Australia Dramaturgy Internships in 2014, a six-month traineeship in script assessment and new play development. She has worked as a reader and script assessor for Playwriting Australia, and as a dramaturgy intern on MTC Cybec Electric, and the National Script Workshops.

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