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Autumn Royal

Autumn Royal: a note on The Drama Student

Melbourne-based poet Autumn Royal reflects on her new collection, The Drama Student, in which she explores the staging of the emotional life. The book was released in March 2023.

I’ve got going a twenty-act drama
the theatre of the active
the critics are surely there
— Barbara Guest

It’s difficult to locate the exact scene where the performance first began. We wagged the afternoon of school each Wednesday and walked into town for acting classes. Our ritual was mary janes scuffing along the footpath and kilts flapping against our ankles as we marched with eyes mascara-lined toward the School of Drama and Expression.

We lost touch after our audition tapes were circulated and we were committed to conflicting roles. I had just started reading Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others when the news was announced. I broke all the televisions and was apprehended by my manager before I could tear up all the newspapers. This is where the questioning began. The hypothetical scenarios. There’s always time for mourning in poetry.

And so, I put my career on hold and devoted myself to studying elegy. I needed to ascertain exactly why love and loss generate such an ecstatic awareness and the uncanny sensation of being both inside and outside of the body. I must admit with a heavy heart that my scholarship was in vain. I found no answers.

Inside the mist of living without death there is the accumulation of living with death. With few options left, I returned to mastering drama. I am forever in this act – embalmed in a mourning dress, I pull the veil over my face and swagger centre stage. One must become perverse when adapting to this genre and I am beside myself.

— Autumn Royal

Photo: Leah Jing McIntosh