Why Life Always Needs a Good Third Act

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The Island House author Posie Graeme EvansBy Posie Graeme-Evans
Author of The Island House

This is the story of the third act. Not a story from a screenplay or one of my books—because finding the third act for a book is way easier, I think, than the second. (To be fair, I had to write, rewrite, and rewrite the end of The Island House before I got it right.) This is my life I’m talking about here.

I’m not counting my time as a child (I lived in three war zones and went to 14 schools… 12 if you listen to my mother), that was my prelude. No, this is about what happened after I turned 20, when the curtain went up. My first act was university (what we call college here in Australia). And motherhood. And marriage. They pretty much all arrived together. I married at 20. My daughter, Emma, was born when I was 21. It seems insane now, but that’s the way it was.

“Wait to have children until you’re somewhere close to sensible.” I’m sure that’s sane advice, but there were so many things about being a young mother that I enjoyed. We were a pretty flexible unit, us three. After we graduated, we traveled, we spent one summer in a tent (a very nice one) beside an idyllic beach in New Zealand, and then my husband became a potter. After a couple of years we returned to Australia and bought this ruinous old house (no, really, it was) but that was before television crashed into my life.

As a profession I loved it, and it loved me back. If my first adult act was wife and mother, my second act definitely was editor/director/writer/producer–and wife and mother, too. At 8, my daughter said, “Mummy, you have to choose. At the end of your life do you want a shelf with all these shows you’ve made, or do you want a family?” Dark, but honest and very true. She was right. For me, 14-hour days and family life are absolutely not compatible. I’ve wrestled with that ever since. Finding balance? Ha!

The first time I walked into a big, working studio, I came home. Flailing around, desperate to make the two sides of my life chime, I still made a lot of stuff and, along the way, started my own production business in Sydney. It was touch and go at first, then we had 12 purple years (failure, by the way, has always been productive for me.)

But I’ll be honest. TV cost me my first marriage. At least that’s what I think. Well, that and my obsession for my work. I’m not proud of that at all.

So what do you do? You find your third act. Or it finds you.

Television drama is a group activity. If you produce a show, you’ve got so many people around you all the time, and everyone wants answers or wants you to solve problems. That’s the job. I loved the game. But in time, after I’d won awards, blitzed ratings, had my series shown all around the world, it just was not enough.

As if I wasn’t crazy already, I began to write. I was trying to solve a budget problem on a drama pilot. One Sunday, when I knew it would be quiet, I sat in the production office with a copy of the budget, desperate to crack the puzzle. Nope, no way. But an odd thing happened. A sentence floated past my eyes (pretty much literally). “That winter had bitten down hard and early, the ground almost ringing as the horses stumbled against the frozen clods on the track leading to the forest.” Now this had absolutely nothing to do with my pilot–we were shooting in high summer –but that sentence reeled me in. I wrote it down. Two or three hours later, I “woke up” (that’s what it felt like) with 20 pages of a story about a place and people I knew nothing about.

That sentence became the beginning of my first book The Innocent, published in 2003. Those words never changed. And that was it. My third act had arrived and took me by the hand to places real and imagined that I had never expected to see. A Viking museum in Denmark. The Orkneys. The great standing stones at Callanish. New York City (where my publisher Simon & Schuster is. So, so love NY).

Two or so years ago, my second husband Andrew—who’s also a producer—and I sold everything we owned in Sydney (except for a small apartment) moved to a small farm on an island in the south of the world, Tasmania. We get back to the city at least once a month to see our family and friends, but the rest of the time we’re here. I’ve learned to garden and grow quite a bit of our food: We have chickens (or chooks, as we say here) and I write full time. The third act.

Five books in with a sixth on the way, I can see myself doing this for a while. At some point I suspect there’ll be a fourth act–perhaps organic farming, growing truffles–but I’m hoping these two acts will overlap better than the first two did. I ain’t a perfect woman, nor a perfect mother. I wasn’t a perfect producer and I’m certainly not a perfect writer, but there’s so much that’s been rich and glorious and dreadful and strange in my life, in all its acts.

Would I do it all again? Yes, and in a heartbeat—but I have this wish. To have the knowledge I have now and to be able to live backward. To be able to do better with so much that I didn’t get right back then. To repair the wrongs, the pain, to say the things I should have said, to just see better. I know that’s not possible, but perhaps the desire to fix things has been the subtext of each one of my acts; to move towards the future, understanding the past better. To not make the same mistakes. Maybe that’s the subtext of The Island House, too. It’s my way of going back. I can truly fix things in my stories.

How many acts does your life have?

Named by Variety as “One of 20 significant women in worldwide film and TV” and as the Inaugural Independent Producer of the Year, Posie has created and produced thousands of hours of television drama for international audiences. She is the author of five novels and is co-principal of Millennium Pictures with her husband and creative partner, producer Andrew Blaxland. She lives between Tasmania and Sydney, Australia.

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