Measuring the contribution that Carl Caulfield has made to Newcastle theatre is a challenge that could inspire its own piece of performance art.
If it did, it might evolve into a kind of metafictional farce, where the best sources for the Caulfield story are too busy to be interviewed because they are performing in his latest play.
Or where the journalist who should be at home writing about the playwright is instead enthralled in his audience, at a play that is based on the writer Franz Kafka but is actually about Caulfield himself.
It would be a story about a writer who writes about writers. A performance about a performer.
It would be as convoluted as it would be true, an absurdist reality opening at a theatre near you. Caulfield might even have had the time to play himself, were he not too busy penning other provocative dramas.
Perhaps a simpler way to encapsulate Carl Caulfield would be to say that his impact extends beyond the stage, in a way that has inspired those who you would least expect.
As an actor, playwright, screenwriter, dramaturg, director and co-founder (alongside his wife Felicity Biggins) of the Stray Dogs Theatre Company in 1995, it is one thing to say that his influence upon performing artists in Newcastle has been enormous. It is another thing altogether to recognise that in all of these roles, Caulfield has remained a respected teacher to so many more - a source not solely of academic information but something arguably more useful - a set of ideas about how and what the theatre can teach you.
I suppose I see myself as a bit of a maverick figure and I embrace that.Carl Caulfield
A friend of mine, a teacher and successful sports coach, remembers having Caulfield as his lecturer at the University of Newcastle. He recently said something to me about his old teacher that resonated in its simplicity, in an unadorned and perhaps unwittingly profound way. After the semester was over with Caulfield, he told me, he immediately realised that he wanted to become a teacher. In a since repurposed drama studio, adjacent to a campus theatre that the university later demolished, he had been taught by Caulfield how effective a classroom could be.
Away from the sporting field and closer to the stage, prominent Newcastle theatre practitioners like Jay Wood and Carl Young count Caulfield as a lasting influence upon their own philosophies as actors and directors.
"It's important for a drama teacher to practice what they teach," Wood says. "Carl taught as a means to create and he created as a means to teach. I was really inspired by that idea and that approach."
In addition to that technique, or perhaps because of it, Wood also believes that it is the creative ethic of his past lecturer that has influenced his own work.
"Carl never gets complacent. To always be creating and be engaged in new productions is an attitude that he personifies," Wood says. "It is one that has had a great influence over me ever since. "
Carl never gets complacent. To always be creating and be engaged in new productions is an attitude that he personifies. It is one that has had a great influence over me ever since.Former student Jay Wood
Yet to talk to Carl Caulfield himself, about his work and the source and direction of his artistic motivations, it is difficult to imagine that an influence over others has often been in his imagination.
For past students to follow his methods might to him seem too didactic, a formal and subordinant construct that his own work has aimed to subvert.
Whilst his academic qualifications have earnt him teaching appointments at NIDA, the Australian Film Television & Radio School and UNSW, he is more the merry prankster than the musty professor.
"Harried academics" is how he once described his fellow lecturers at Newcastle, as he watched them rush across campus with their armfuls of papers.
In a way that does not discount that commitment or professionalism, Caulfield happily acknowledges that in the classroom, as in the rehearsal space, there is an inherent value in cracking open the mould and reshaping the expectations within.
As a playwright, Caulfield has not just modified expectations but consistently upended them.
What to more conventional authors would seem arbitrary, commercial concerns have often been dispensed with, as plays centred on relatively obscure historical figures have found themselves smaller, if not more adventurous, local audiences.
From biographical pieces like Being Sellers (1998) to a study of Dante Gabriel Rossetti in Dante's Dream (2007), Caulfield has sourced material from his own passions rather than those that flow closer to the theatrical mainstream.
But to categorise the works of Caul Caulfield as obscure or unconventional would be far too simplistic. It would ignore the fact that so many of his works, on the stage and the page, have delivered him that elusive combination of critical and commercial success.
It is emblematic of his local reputation that one of his seven CONDA Awards, the one for his outstanding contribution to Newcastle theatre, was presented to him almost 18 years ago. And there has certainly been a wealth of successes since then.
"I suppose I see myself as a bit of a maverick figure and I embrace that," Caulfield says. "I've always tried to challenge people. Rather than being expected to write the same play over and over, simply because it would sell tickets, I'm more interested in discovering what I can experiment with and provoke in different ways. Basically I don't want to be pinned down."
If ever a single calendar year of Newcastle theatre has symbolised his desire to examine and celebrate a breadth of subjects, it is undoubtedly 2019. Postcards from Kafka, written and directed by Caulfield and currently being performed at NTC in Lambton is only a chapter in his much wider collection, a varied array of plays being produced across small and large theatres throughout Newcastle in 2019.
In the recent Micro Theatre festival, Caulfield was one of only two local playwrights to have more than one play performed.
In August at the Royal Exchange comes Behind the Wire, a short and visceral critique of our immigration detention regime and those tasked with enforcing it.
In November, as part of the Civic Theatre subscription season and showing at the Playhouse, will be Dali: Hallucinogenic Toreador. Caulfield will also be playing, in all of his surrealistic flamboyance, the genius that was Salvador Dali.
In these various, intricately designed guises of the unhinged, the obsessed, the mercurial and the detained, will come insights into Carl Caulfield - the actor, the director and the playwright.
And like many before it, it will be a year of wholly original and, as the writer himself will admit, partly autobiographical theatre. Although he concedes that it is never his initial intention to write a play about his own life, it is has been an enduring curiosity to him that his fictions consistently become inhabited by his own, personal facts.
"It is something that seems to happen long after I have begun to write a play," he says.
"It dawns on me that I am actually writing about myself. One of the first dramas that I wrote was about the Irish playwright Brendan Behan, but it became my own warning to myself. As a play it had something truthful within it about my own life."
"I started writing plays in Newcastle at a time when there was a distinctively independent, punk rock ethos here," Caulfield says. "My attitude was much the same and still is in a way. Instead of relying on bigger theatre companies outside of the city, I was interested in a D-I-Y approach to producing theatre. I was lucky to come across a lot of like-minded people here."
Another way of measuring his contribution might be to say that these same people were lucky to encounter him. Respected Newcastle actors like Barry Shepherd and Timothy Blundell, are amongst many more local artists who are quick to note the incomparable impact the playwright has had upon the Newcastle scene.
"His imagination and how it finds its way into his plays is really quite unique," Blundell says. "And the professional respect that he extends to his actors is something that I have always appreciated. For Carl it is the play itself that is the most important thing and it's subject is always something that he is passionate about."
"Carl is always pushing the boundaries" Shepherd says.
"He can be cheeky in an intellectual way because he has always done his research on the characters that he writes about. The comments that he makes on society always end up being interesting ones.
"When I think back and realise that his plays and his theatre company are still around, it's such a significant thing. To survive that long is a really an achievement in itself."