way back when
Dylan Van Den Berg

“I’m gonna tell it straight. The ugly bits and the soft bits and the bits that make ya heart sing.”

A post-colonial Tasmania set the scene for the meeting of an unlikely trio of three women. The settlers have lost. Scurried home. The women re-imagine the colonisation of Tasmania as a Gothic revenge drama. There’s comedy, a play-within-a-play and, as their connection to each other strengthens, revelations of personal traumas which steadily undermine the fervour of their collective revisionism.

Dylan van den Berg is a Palawa writer originally from the northeast of lutruwita/Tasmania and an emerging artist-in-residence with the Sydney Theatre Company. For his work, Dylan has received the NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Playwriting, the Victorian Premier’s Award for Drama, the Griffin Award for New Australian Writing, the Rodney Seaborn Playwrights Award, and has twice been shortlisted for the Patrick White Playwrights Award.

Plays include: WHITEFELLA YELLA TREE (Griffin Theatre Company), MILK (The Street Theatre), NGADJUNG (Belco Arts), THE CAMEL (Motley Bauhaus), STRUTHERS (NIDA), THE FLOOD (National Theatre of Parramatta), THE CHOSEN VESSEL (The Street Theatre). Dylan studied theatre at the Australian National University and the State University of New York, Stony Brook.

Introducing playwright Dylan van den Berg

What inspired you to write this play?

I wrote way back when as a response to the ongoing discussion around ‘healing’ and ‘reconciliation’ for First Nations peoples in Australia. As these discussions tend to foreground settler/white experiences, what does ‘healing’ look like for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples? The answer is far more complex than the coloniser would like it to be – than any of us would like it to be. Healing, I decided, should be framed by those who have lost so much. way back when is a story of survivors, people who fought back, and who now have the chance to heal through reimagining the past by telling a story that has defined their present on their own terms.

Can you tell us a bit about your journey as a playwright?

I started out as an actor (didn’t we all?) and realised after a while that there really weren’t many stories around that resonated with my experience. So, fairly flippantly, I picked up a pen and wrote my first play. Since then, I’ve relished in the thrill of creating new worlds, and writing way too many lines that I’ll never have to learn.

What or who inspires you as a writer and why do you want to write for the stage?

The liveness and closeness with an audience is irresistible, and so is the collaboration that comes with the territory of theatre: I can write a story, but a bunch of bigger brains than mine help get it up on stage, mine it for meaning, iron out the wrinkles, and take it further than I could have ever imagined.

What do you think about the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting and, more specifically, the anonymity at the heart of the Prize?

The Bruntwood Prize process allows the plays to speak for themselves, offering space for true impressions—stories that have a gravitational pull, beyond the vortex of notoriety or ‘credentials’ or previous work, are given a chance.

How do you feel about being shortlisted?

Surprised, delighted, staggered, thrilled – and various other synonyms that fall into these baskets. It’s a real vote of confidence in my work to be recognised in this way, and I’m very grateful.