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The drama of law

The drama of law

By Karin Derkley

Occupations Students Young Persons 

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Law student Verity Norbury’s second play reflects her passions for the arts and law.

Like one of the characters in her play, Mocha is Not Coffee!, Verity Norbury was initially torn between following her passion for the performing arts and doing the “sensible thing” by studying law. “All I really wanted to do was be an actor and write plays, but then the reality hit that I might need another profession if I didn’t want to work in the service industry for the rest of my life.”

So far, Ms Norbury has managed to straddle both worlds, and has almost finished a double degree at Monash University in performing arts and law. Like one of her characters, she has also spent more time than she cares to think about working in menial jobs to support herself during her studies – barista, supermarket deli assistant, waitress and as a department store salesperson.

Her first play Global Citizen drew on those experiences in the service industry. “It was a comedy, but it was also a comment on the exploitation of retail workers, based on my own experiences.”

Her second play, which is being performed as part of Law Week, is also partially based on her work experiences. One of her characters is a barista who finds her friends' choices of beverage – soy lattes, mocha, dirty chai – infuriating. "I'm a big coffee fan," she says.

The four young female law students banter about their studies, their boyfriends, and their adventures on Twitter, in a script initially reminiscent of Sex and the City. "I wanted to write a contemporary play with strong roles for young women – people who have lived in Melbourne all their lives, the kind of role I would like to play myself," Ms Norbury says.

But what starts as a seemingly light-hearted tale soon descends into a deeper, darker story that reveals the young women’s struggles with the stresses of life: juggling studies with working menial jobs, grappling with the pressure to land a position in a top tier firm, dealing with the vicarious trauma that emerges when textbook cases shockingly turn into real life. And all the while, the burden of maintaining a façade of effortless perfection.

Ms Norbury says she is all too aware of the sobering statistics showing lawyers experience disproportionately high rates of depression, anxiety and suicide. “Each of the girls in the play is impacted in some way by mental health issues. The play shows the different ways people approach those issues for themselves and for others.

“Ultimately the play is saying it is okay to be stressed and anxious, and to talk about it. But it’s also about the difference between those who offer support and those who push away someone who is struggling.”

The play was performed at the Fringe Festival, with an audience response component feeding into Ms Norbury's honours thesis for her performing arts degree. "People really engaged with the issues brought up by the play. Other people can relate because they’ve had those experiences.”

With two successful plays under her belt, Ms Norbury is tossing up her next move after she completes the last two units of her law degree. She has set up her own production company, Norbury Productions, but says that despite her initial misgivings about the law, a string of placements with Springvale Monash Legal Service, two sexual assault clinics, and JobWatch has kindled her enthusiasm for a career in the law. She now works casually as a victim support officer at the Department of Justice and Community Safety.

“Doing placements was when I got a better perspective on what it means to be a lawyer and what you can do with the law. That’s when I realised the practical skills were very different from the lecture environment to working with real people.”

She realises now the value of a career in the law, not just financially but also for giving her all important material to use in her parallel career as a playwright. “The thing about the law is that it’s very dramatic. So many ideas have come from people I've met or worked with, people at law school, cases I've read at law school, and from my legal placements. “It’s good to do something else because you always need inspiration with playwriting.”

Mocha is not Coffee! is playing at Studio Theatre, at Gasworks Arts Park, 15 -18 May. For tickets go to www.gasworks.org.au/event/mocha-is-not-coffee/ ph 6606 4200.

Law Week (13-19 May) has more than 200 mainly free events on offer all over Victoria. For more information, go to lawweek.net.au.


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