Former Bathurst High student Disapol Savetsila finds success as a playwright

NEXT STAGE: Former Bathurst High student Disapol Savetsila is making a name for himself as a playwright. Photo: DOMINIC LORRIMER
NEXT STAGE: Former Bathurst High student Disapol Savetsila is making a name for himself as a playwright. Photo: DOMINIC LORRIMER

FORMER Bathurst boy Disapol Savetsila has a fair idea how he’ll mark the end of the run for his play Australian Graffiti today.

“I think there will be a bit of moping because I don't know when I’ll next have a play at STC [the Sydney Theatre Company],” he said.

The 23-year-old started to get interested in drama when he was at Bathurst High, but he could never have imagined that, just a handful of years later, he would become the youngest playwright to have their work commissioned by STC as part of its main stage program.

Not that he’s letting it get to his head after doing a string of interviews in the past few months talking about the big themes from his play: cultural identity, cultural isolation and holding on to a sense of home.

Mr Savetsila was born in Sydney to a family of Thai restaurateurs and lived in the metropolis until he was in late primary school, when his mother took the family to Parkes and then, a year later, to Bathurst.

He was at Bathurst High from years seven to 12 – where his interest was fostered in writing as a career, “as something that could be more than a hobby” – before he left town for the University of Wollongong.

It was in his second year of uni that the seeds for Australian Graffiti were sown.

For his very last minute application to the Lotus Playwriting Project, an initiative run by Contemporary Asian Australian Performance and Playwriting Australia to encourage Asian-Australians to write Asian-Australian stories, he had to come up with a piece of work.

He’d been working on a comedy set in a Thai restaurant that “did not really work”, but he liked some of the characters and explored the idea of them living in a town where they couldn’t speak to anyone else except family.

“With the deadline coming up, I just smashed together this story,” he said.

Australian Graffiti – about a Thai family who run a restaurant in a small country community – came to the attention of STC's literary manager, Polly Rowe.

It was subsequently commissioned and today will finish its five-week run.

Asked how he felt when he found out the play was going to be performed, Mr Savetsila said he had been surprised by every step of the process.

“At each stage, I would be shocked,” he said.

And, naturally, there were nerves from the young playwright as audiences saw the finished product.

“I had a bit of a panic attack just before the first preview when I went out and realised the audience was coming in. I was hiding under the desk for about an hour.”

He said it had been a joy to see the actors take his words and change and bend them as the production went on, depending on the audience reaction and how the performers bounced off each other.

His mother and brother, who still live in Bathurst, came to see the play in the second week, which he said reignited his nerves.

And their verdict?

“They seemed to like it,” he said. “My brother said he would see it again if he could.”

Things were a bit trickier with his mum, who had noted the conflict in the play between the mother and son characters, though she felt better when Mr Savetsila explained afterwards that conflict between the characters is necessary in a play.

The young writer wants to continue working on plays, but doesn’t want to fall into the temptation of trying to produce an Australian Graffiti II.

Having grown used to scrambling in the last moments to meet a deadline while at uni – and using this process to come up with Australian Graffiti – he knows he can’t continue being creative that way for too long.

“I can write fast, but it's extremely stressful and not at all sustainable as a process,” he said.

In the last year, he has only been back to Bathurst to see his family once every three to four months, but he says he plans to increase that frequency to once every two weeks.

And of the praise and interest he has received for the play, he says the feedback that has meant the most to him has come from the Thai community.

“The best part of this experience has been when someone has said that it was their story [up on stage],” he said.