He’s the Banksy of the international theatre scene – daring, anonymous, renowned. So when playwright ‘Draven’ bequeaths his latest play to the rural Rivervue Theatre, the stage is set for drama.
Three stellar authors offer three stories packed full of romance, secrets and lies…
Tread the Boards by Nikki Logan: Rivervue Theatre’s props maven Mackenzie Russell is drawn to enigmatic loner Dylan North. But both Kenzie and Dylan have secrets to keep. Secrets that if revealed could tear the town, the theatre – and Dylan and Kenzie – apart.
Set the Stage by Daniel de Lorne: A phone call from an unrequited past love sends architect Gabriel Mora running back to his artsy home town of Brachen. There, he is forced to hide his involvement in the redevelopment of the town’s beloved theatre to protect his mother’s frail health. It’s just one more secret to keep hidden, along with his feelings for Bruce Clifton, the theatre’s kind stage manager.
Take a Bow by Fiona Greene: Creative director Lexi Spencer is fighting to save the iconic Rivervue Community Theatre and Draven’s play is the weapon she needs. She’s already lost so much in her life, losing the theatre isn’t an option. But with past love Mark Conroy on the scene, old feelings resurface. The controversial play is set to test the loyalty of the town, as well as the strength of their relationship.
When the play’s dark truths come out, the ripples will affect everyone’s lives. Can the show still go on?
The antique timber suspension bridge flexed only slightly as Kenzie Russell hurried back across Brachen River, an oversized eco cup in hand. Guilt-free coffee worked for her on so many levels. The Colombian blend was free trade, the cup was fully compostable and infused with seeds that would sprout into Australian wildflowers after being trowelled into the earth. If that wasn’t eco enough to assuage any buyer’s remorse, the cassava-based lid had cinnamon flecks baked into it so that the java picked up just a hint of spice as it tipped over its pouty lip.
Hopefully, the individual coffee beans were sun-dried on the migration path of some obscure rainforest iguana, ground to dust by its obscure little iguana feet. That way Kenzie could continue self-medicating with cups of the excellent brew Dasha Murumbul whipped up at her Milk’n’Honey cafe with zero self-consciousness.
It was her good luck that Brachen was still technically a dairy town so the milk rounding off all that bitter was actual milk. Not watered down in the interest of profits, not heavily processed and filled with preservatives to survive being shipped across this vast brown land. Just creamy, rich, foamy, straight-from-the-cow goodness. Pasteurised but not bastardised as her nan said, pretty much any time she had the milk jug out of the fridge.
Kenzie paused midway over the well-trod footbridge and took a long swallow of her liquid life support. If she’d been a city girl she’d have had to learn how to multitask by now but here in sleepy, artsy little Brachen she was free to be as unco as she liked. No-one from this town was going to judge a person who couldn’t synchronise their steps and their sips. Just one more reason to appreciate the day Brachen exchanged cowpats for man-buns andfilled itself to overflowing with artisan types. They were way too liberal and way too conscious of their privilege to let themselves be offended by anything.
God love you, hipsters.
Kenzie shifted her focus to the opposite bank and the architecturally conflicted Rivervue Community Theatre. The footbridge was a godsend for Dasha’s profit margin, since Rivervue’s stage crew and performers could see the cafe from pretty much any of the theatre’s east-facing win-dows, and it was a lifesaver for the time-poor volunteers who consumed their weight in coffee in any given week. Mist chuffed out behind her as she crossed to the theatre’s side of the bridge and stepped down onto Rivervue’s footpath. Her usual shortcut was a duck-in through the load-ing dock—the closest and easiest route to the dark little understage space she called Props HQ—but, this morning, the dock was full of ute and an equally massive man.
She crept around the front of Bruce’s shiny utility and gave him her best Attenborough.
‘A rare encounter with the critically endangered Ginger Hinger as it shores up the entrance to its burrow …’
Blue eyes came up and locked on her, hard. ‘Yeah, that never gets old, Russell.’
‘Then you should have been a brunette. Or a doctor instead of a builder. It’s harder to rhyme with.’ She raised and lowered her coffee meaningfully. ‘Sorry. If I’d known you were here, I would have brought two.’
‘No worries, Kenz,’ Bruce rumbled as he hiked some lengths of timber off the tray. ‘I’m good.’
‘Just as well. Because if you’d tried to take mine, I would have had to kill you.’
All six-foot-five, rugby-forward of him.
‘I believe it.’
She watched him work for a few sips. ‘How is it that no matter how early I get here, you always look like you’re just leaving?’
‘Just dropping some stuff off before heading out for the day.’
She carefully sidestepped his piled-up timber. She’d worked with Bruce often enough to recognise that focused look. He had somewhere to be and her chit-chat wasn’t getting him there any quicker. The man had a unique solution to burning candles at both ends: he just got more candles. He had more projects on the go at once than anyone else she knew. Yet he still man-aged to fulfil about three roles at Rivervue—lights, sets and deputy stage manager—which made him, technically, the boss of her since she was a lowly assistant stage manager.
And Props Executive!
As she stepped over the dock’s threshold, Kenzie noticed a parcel tucked away at the side. It was brick solid, wrapped in brown paper and criss-crossed with thick rubber bands. ‘This part of your “stuff”?’
Bruce lifted his focus for a nanosecond. ‘Nup. It was sitting on the dock when I arrived.’
Kenzie took another sip then leaned over to take a closer look at the par-cel. ‘It’s addressed to “The Theatre Manager”.’
‘Junk mail.’ Bruce dismissed it. ‘Not a person in Brachen who doesn’t know that Lexi Spencer is Rivervue’s creative director.’
She frowned. It seemed too big for the average junk-mail parcel. And it looked weighty. Theatre flyers, most likely.
‘Those city couriers always struggle with the concept of a front door.’ She lifted the package into her spare hand. Definitely felt like a brick of paper. ‘I’m here all day today. I’ll give it to Lexi when she rocks up.’
She only got a grunt in reply, but as Kenzie rounded the dock corner, she heard Bruce call out behind her.
Ah, the man was good. She saluted him with her coffee and shouted back towards the light.
If there was the slightest dollar to be earned from doing it, Kenzie would hand in her notice at the vet clinic, come and sit here among all her hoard-ings in the half-dark and never look back. Pawing over her favourite finds was almost as rewarding as discovering them in the first place, and she sat among them like a dragon on a mountain of gold—gold-painted polysty-rene foam in her case—or perhaps a slightly more attractive Gollum in a subterranean lair.
Kenzie worked the paint-sodden sponge over the frame of her papier- mâché Tree of Life, rolling and squeezing, dabbing and insinuating until the paint started to build up into the texture she was after. It was easy to lose hours—days—down here and, more than once, she’d pulled out the prop bed and the prop kettle and thrown one of her prop blankies over herself for the night, and was ready to start again as the birds were waking. Today, though, she had an entire day off from the clinic, which meant she could get a heap done before the theatre started getting after-work peak-period busy.
No sleepovers required.
Thinking about work made her look at her watch and looking at her watch made her realise it was nearly eleven which, in turn, made her realise how many hours it had been since she’d visited Milk’n’Honey. It wasn’t hard to talk herself into taking a break: the glue needed to harden a little before she added the next mâché layer and, besides, she needed to finish the job that some courier had completely failed to—getting the flyers up to Lexi’s office. She jogged past the green room, up the handful of steps to Rivervue’s backstage area then crossed the dormant, half-constructed stage and went up the centre aisle of the seating section to the front-of-house entrance doors.
But Lexi wasn’t in her office. She was sitting—sagging really—on one of the stools in the foyer bar, staring at the yellow envelope in her hands.
Well, that was a time saver!
In one smooth movement, the creative director’s head snapped up and her fingers curled the envelope into her lap. The letter crackled horribly, only making her efforts to hide it more obvious.
‘Kenzie, hi. I didn’t know you were in.’ That wasn’t a yes, and the hedge didn’t provide any reassurance at all.
‘Here, this was delivered to the dock by mistake.’ She thunked the parcel down on the foyer bar. ‘Waiting for Godot flyers, I think.’
She could see Lexi packing something away in her mind, forcing it down deep and refocusing on the here and now. The woman had the worst poker face ever, but she got points for effort.
‘Flyers …’ Lexi parroted absently.
‘I’m heading to Dasha’s. Want a latte?’
It seemed half the director’s mind was on the parcel but the other half was clearly still wherever she’d shoved the envelope away. Leaving no room for coffee. Lexi tugged on one of the bazillion bands criss-crossing the parcel. Watching her as she began stripping them off, something flitted into Kenzie’s mind and back out again. A distant knowing. Something about rubber bands …
Lexi’s frown deepened as she wrestled off the last one only to find a sec-ond layer of security beneath it. Brown paper wrapping. Waxy.
‘Jeez,’ Kenzie muttered. ‘It’s theatre flyers, not anthrax.’
Lexi grunted agreement as she tugged on the inner binding.
Whatever Kenzie’s mind was trying to alert her to about those rubber bands was going to have to wait. ‘As much as the suspense is killing me, I have glue drying and a beverage to consume. Not too late to say yes to a latte, Lexi.’
She’d walked two steps towards Rivervue’s grand entrance before she heard the exclamation.
‘Oh, holy crap!’
The creative director’s uncharacteristic curse brought Kenzie’s attention back around. ‘Is everything okay?’
When Lexi raised her head, her face was the same colour as the parch-ment in her hands. She held up the ream of printed sheets. Upside down, the only legible word was the massive title.
L A R R I K I N.
Stupidly, Kenzie’s first thought was that an overeager someone had sub-mitted a book manuscript for theatrical adaptation. But the longer she stared, the paler Lexi got, the more her mind made sense of all those rubber bands. The feature piece from The Fourth Wall magazine a couple of years before came rushing back to her.
‘They always come bound by rubber, like some turn-of-the-century relic. Old school. Original. One copy only. Equal parts metamorphic and devastating for the Company on the receiving end.’
Lexi’s dark eyes widened. But she still struggled for voice and failed. Kenzie gasped. ‘—is it?’
Lexi spun the top page around, wordlessly.
There they were. Right below the title and right above the date. Those six little letters that had the power to change everything.
D R A V E N.
The twenty-first-century equivalent of literature’s Anonymé. The Banksy of performance arts. Theatre’s version of a freaking golden ticket, except instead of gifting a whole chocolate factory to some desperate, needy kid, Draven gifted freshly authored plays to down-on-their-luck theatre companies.
‘We’re not needy!’ Was it wrong that Kenzie’s first reaction was to feel insulted? To come out in defence of the theatre she loved?
Lexi managed to give her the look even through all the shock.
‘Well … We’re not desperate,’ she clarified. ‘We get by. Why would Draven pick us? Some tiny theatre in a tiny backwater in Australia?’
But an equally tiny part of Kenzie already knew. It was as clear as the polished wine glasses stacked up behind Lexi in Rivervue’s interval bar. Ron de Vue. Town patron. Post-war Hollywood star. All-Aussie larrikin. The man this theatre was named for. The man adored by the whole town. The whole world.
The part that didn’t know him, anyway.
Ugh. Could she not keep away from his memory for just five minutes?
‘Why does Draven pick anyone?’ Lexi managed. She started flipping through the stack of pages as though the answer might be printed within. The black USB drive that came with it nearly slid off onto the floor. ‘It’s part of his mystique.’
‘Maybe this is the council?’ Kenzie hedged, hoping to be right. ‘Could they have done this as part of their plans for the bicentennial? A commission or something? An opportunity to help raise the profile of Brachen?’
Bitterness stained Lexi’s voice. ‘I don’t think Brachen Shire has the imag-ination for this. Or the pull.’
‘Besides. If this is a Draven, then it’s probably not going to end well for Brachen. He’s about the last person you’d commission to celebrate something.’ Yeah. The playwright didn’t exactly pull punches. He’d made a career from stripping things painfully bare.
Assuming Draven was even a ‘he’. Could be a ‘she’, could be a ‘they’—no-one knew. That was the whole point.
Lexi separated the wad of script midway like a magician cutting cards and read for a moment.
‘It’s gotta be a forgery, though,’ Kenzie mused. ‘Or a publicity stunt?’ Lexi kept reading. ‘I don’t think so.’
‘Why? Because it came correctly parcelled up?’ The internet abhorred a vacuum. When so little was known about someone it was easy to fill it with trivialities. Like rubber bands and wax paper. ‘That’s all public information; anyone could know that. It’s a hoax.’
‘I … I can’t explain it. It just feels right.’ Lexi gathered it all to her chest and stood. ‘I’m going to read it. Now. It’s the only way to know for sure.’
‘Are you familiar enough with Draven’s work to be able to tell?’
The look made an encore. ‘I’ve read them all Mackenzie. All of them. Show me a theatre director who hasn’t.’ Then she sagged against the closest bar stool, out of breath. ‘This is like winning the lottery. I don’t know how to be.’
If this was about Ron de Vue … If this was going to stir everything up again just as things were starting to settle down, then it was no lottery win. Not for her.
It was a curse.
Equal parts devastating and metamorphic …
‘I’ll be at my desk.’ Lexi stumbled towards the stairs that led up to the control room, office space and upstairs lounge. The level that afforded the best views of the river and the prettiest valley streets in all of Brachen. Where the beautiful people liked to sip their wine and be seen.
Give me the sub-stage basement, any day. Down there where it was so easy to lose time, to forget where she was and who the building was named for.
‘Give me a couple of hours,’ Lexi called from halfway up. ‘And, Kenzie …?’ She turned her gaze up.
‘Say absolutely nothing about Draven—to anyone—until I decide what we’re going to do. Okay?’
She’d seen all the Lexis in the years they’d worked together—sad, happy, stressed, frustrated, excited—but she’d never seen this one. Deadly, com-pletely, chillingly serious Lexi. It certainly got a person’s attention.
She owed Lexi. The woman who automatically let her work on every single show produced here. Who let her just do her thing down below the stage, well and truly out of the limelight, who made sure she always had a bit extra in her props budget, and who never made demands beyond expecting a professional product even from a community volunteer.
Obliging her was the least she could do. ‘Draven who?’
One From the Heart will be available from the 5th of August 2020.
The books will also be released individually as e-books from the 20th of July.