Interview with Vena Cava Productions – The ScratchThat Scoop

Ailie McLeod

What is Vena Cava and its purpose?

Malini Hooper (Vena Cava Productions 2023 Freshblood Festival Coordinator): Vena Cava is QUT’s student theatre club/company. Its purpose is to give uni students an opportunity to have semi-professional experience in theatre. We have opportunities for actors, directors, and tech people, and more manager side of things.

Josh Richardson (Vena Cava Productions 2023 Social Media Executive): Our role is really to be able to motivate students, get their work out there in front of industry professionals, and really offer a platform to those who aren’t always offered the best platforms just because we are students.

What is Freshblood Festival?

Malini: [It] is Vena Cava’s theatre festival. It’s a display of students and young people’s theatre and other arts.

Josh R.: It’s our annual event. We have visual artists, musicians, photographers, actors and many more people that come together in their own works to perform in front of the public.

What is your play about?

Joshua Price (Writer and Director of Sugar Mountain): Sugar Mountain is about success and how different people have different outlooks on what that is in terms of life, career, family – all the sorts of things that we as a society label as being success.

Charlie Johansen (Writer and Director of Stargazing): My play is an exploration of the complexities of platonic love. It follows a girl who falls from the sky and a girl who finds her. It follows their bonds and their very interwoven insecurities.

Cullyn Beckton (Writer and Producer of The Flower Does Not Exist): It’s a story about four housemates who learn about grief and life.

Harrison Mills (Writer of It’s Your Fault): It’s Your Fault is a short ten-minute work-in-progress about a father and their politically extremist daughter attempting to reconcile on the last day on Earth right before a nuclear bomb goes off.

Joel Burgess (Writer and Director of Wait For It): Wait For It is a clown play that’s absurdist, about three clowns and a broom waiting for the show to begin… but will it?

Malithi Weragama (Writer and Director of Intertwined): My play is about the homoerotic relationship and ensuing queer heartbreak that every single queer person, but especially queer women, seems to have experienced.

Why should people come and see Freshblood shows?

Malini: There are some really diverse kinds of stories being told, style-wise. And we’re able to have that because that is genuinely what the young people want to and have to say. I think they’re really good shows. I’m really proud of everyone.

Josh R.: Through attending, you’re helping develop Brisbane’s local art scene, making sure you give them an audience. Whilst they are students, they can still produce really high-quality works of art. [It provides] a great opportunity for anyone considering starting a career in the arts or coming to study at QUT.

Why should people come and see ?

Joshua P.: [Sugar Mountain] is a show aimed at people that are transitioning into different parts of life. [It] will put you at peace if you’re nervous about starting a career, about finishing school or university, about the prospect of growing up.

Charlie: A lot of the media that we consume is very rooted in ideas of romantic and sexual love. It’s a very prevalent concept that I think, while it’s not overdone, it overshadows platonic love which in my opinion can be just as rich and complex as any other kind of love.

Cullyn: Because [The Flower Does Not Exist] is ridiculous, really funny, really weird. It’s a bit dark, and I don’t think a lot of people would have seen anything like this before.

Harrison: One, [It’s Your Fault] is ten minutes so it won’t take up much of your time. And two, it’s exploring a generational conflict and divide that we have in our world in a very small personal lens. Very intimate, very immediate.

Joel: [Wait For It] is just a fun time. There’s some silly clowning. Hopefully, there is a little bit of empowerment there, some self-actualisation.

Malithi: First of all, for queer women [Intertwined] will be very relatable, probably for queer men as well because they do have similar experiences. And any cis/het ally should come and see the play to learn more about this slightly weird and unique queer experience. Overall, I would say it’s heartwarming.

What was your creative writing process for this show?

Joshua P.: So, [Sugar Mountain] has been an idea that’s been in my head since I finished school. In an hour before applications closed, I decided, ‘You know what? I’m gonna actually do something with this thought,’ and then over the next six days I vomited out a script. This one is a little less fine-tuned. It makes this one a little bit more raw and, ‘I don’t have the answers – I’m just posing the questions’.

Charlie: So, I had written down a bunch of stuff from my inspirations and I used that to springboard a bunch of dialogue. A lot of that dialogue isn’t actually in the final product [of Stargazing], but all that writing is what helped me finalise and devise those scenes.

Cullyn: I actually came up with [The Flower Does Not Exist] after I had a nightmare around Freshblood time last year. A lot of my work is inspired by my dreams. This one was very visceral, and I just had to start working on it because I just could not stop thinking about it.

Harrison: The creative writing process for It’s Your Fault surprisingly developed at uni. I had a playwriting subject and I weaved this short idea together to really mine the tension of a short play.

Joel: Well I’ve gone through multiple iterations of the script [for Wait For It]. We’re up to draft eleven now. I go see my fellow colleagues and ask them, ‘Is this any good?’ and they come back and give me feedback. Always looking for that feedback.

Malithi: My creative writing process stems from a lot of real experiences that I and friends have had, so the main overarching plotline [for Intertwined] follows very closely to main overarching events essentially transcribed word for word into the script. Then I did take creative liberties in order to ensure that a) the story flowed smoothly, b) that it was adaptable to the stage.

What are your inspirations for writing?

Josh P.: Usually, for me, music is a massive inspiration. This play, particularly, is based on the song ‘Sugar Mountain’ by Neil Young and two different interpretations I’ve had on that song as I’ve grown up and changed perspective on life.

Charlie: I get a lot of inspiration from just going out and watching theatre and even going to class and studying theatre. I think that’s one of the best ways to get inspiration for your own theatrical projects is watch theatre.

Cullyn: Because I’m just such a ‘not serious’ person, I love a bit of unseriousness in work. Around the same time I had this nightmare is when the TV series for Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared started, and those two things could not escape my mind: ‘That’s it. This is what I want to make.’

Harrison: I am heavily inspired by my contemporaries, not only the local emerging theatre companies but also QUT, UQ, and even some Griffith or APAC people. Here at Freshblood, it’s very much a melting pot. There’s no prejudice and everyone’s able to inspire each other and harmonise.

Joel: I’ve done a little bit of research and clowns seem to really like the idea of waiting around and doing nothing because I think it leaves a lot of room to play. That’s what interests me – concepts like waiting, or perhaps how society is meant to run.

Malithi: As a member of many different marginalised communities – I’m brown, I’m female, I’m queer – I like focusing on my own life experience combined with factors that are important to my identity. There’s always more to explore about the human experience.

What do you like about Freshblood Festival? 

Malini: I think the benefit of Freshblood is the opportunity to get involved in productions with a low-stakes situation.

Joshua P.: Freshblood is a great chance for students to just put stuff out there and go, ‘Hey, this is something that is me. This is what I do as an artist’.

Harrison: It’s a launchpad. It’s a training ground. It’s a social experiment of sorts. You have a bunch of creatives in a room and they’re able to mix and match and come together in a way that isn’t so bound by, ‘Oh, I have to go to a university, a class’. Freshblood is one of the remaining areas where you can be confident enough that you can fail, and people will be like, ‘No, there’s a reason why this worked and such’.


Joel: Freshblood Festival is great because it allows artists a chance to really test their work. It’s rather fabulous that you can just go out and access a very cool theatre space to put your show in, and a bunch of wonderful actors as well.


Malithi: It is a very saturated and very competitive industry. Freshblood is about giving opportunities to as many people as possible and there is so much cross-promotion between the shows. I really like the atmosphere and the collaboration.

Why should people get involved in Freshblood Festival?

Malini: I just think it’s really fun to be honest, I really have enjoyed working with everyone from a variety of perspectives as well.

Josh R.: We will work alongside you throughout the experience to bring your work to the main stage, and at the end we have had many productions go on tour and be noticed by industry partners. Some even win awards based here in Brisbane.

Joshua P.: If you have any sort of inkling of an idea that you want to work on and that you want to put out into the universe, it’s a great way to force yourself to have a deadline.

Charlie: It is such a good way of finding and developing new creative works, new creative minds. There are shows that have been at Freshblood that have been [at] Anywhere Festival or other outlets.

Cullyn: Especially if you are new to the city or new to uni, it’s where you meet people, it’s where you get perspectives and it’s where you find out about more things.

Joel: I think it’s a really good space for especially drama students or acting students, or even writing students, to measure their work throughout the years and really build on their craft.

Malithi: It gives you a chance to really make a difference and communicate whatever you to people who want to hear it.

Do you have any advice for people who want to get involved in Freshblood Festival?

Joshua P.: Be confident. Value your own ideas. No idea is a bad idea. Just get involved and get other people involved. The more people that you get involved in your work, the better it’ll be, the more eyes it’ll have on it, and the more exposure it has.

Charlie: Definitely get a team of people together because as a director it’s very hard to do everything yourself, find people who can get some props for you, get some marketing done up. Theatre should not be a one-person thing.

Cullyn: You got to be committed to it, but at the same time if you’re super honed-in, not paying attention to the world around you, you miss all the fun of it. So, finding the balance between great work ethic and having a fun time.

Joel: You’re definitely going to want to be scheduling and making sure you have the availability of all your performers. My top tip is having two rehearsals per week, that’s going to save you a lot in the creative process.

Malithi: My advice is: just go for it. It’s about taking that scary first step when it comes to being an artist.

Malini Hooper (@venacavaproductions @malinihooper), Josh Richardson (@joshi_richo), Joshua Price (@sugar_mountain_play @_joshprice), Charlie Johansen (@stargazing.freshblood.2023 @charlie_does music), Cullyn Beckton (@crea_arena @cullynb), Harrison Mills (@har1san), Joel Burgess (@wait_for_it_freshblood_show @mrburger95), Malithi Weragama (@intertwined_show @malithiiiii_)

Interviewer: Ailie McLeod is a transdisciplinary performer, an emerging writer, dancer and stage manager. She is currently in her third year studying a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Drama) at QUT. Last year Ailie’s play Manage, was her playwriting debut. Her performance credits include being an ensemble member in IMRSE’s CAKE, Hairspray the Arena Spectacular, and Queensland Contemporary Youth Ballet. Other credits include stage managing for 2am: The Extended Cut, Pengelly Productions and Brisbane Performing Arts Challenge. Upcoming projects for Ailie include assistant directing Sugar Mountain which will be a part of Vena Cava’s 2023 Freshblood Festival. 

Accessibility Reader: Jamie Stevens

Editors: Euri Glenn and Suzy Darlington