The secret to writing a play is tuna pasta bake. There’s something about chopping the vegetables and stirring the sauce that allows my mind to wander. I wonder what’s happening on Facebook? How much of my real life should I share on social media? What happens when real life and online life collide? Once the pasta is in the oven I grab a notebook and started scribbling down ideas and scraps of dialogue that will form the basis of my short play Alice Springs.
As a writer I’m really good not writing a thing. It’s now the thinking stage and over the next few days I start to plan the story structure and I have conversations in my head in the voice of each character. I eventually jot down key scenes in my notebook and write questions that need addressing. I then start to put the play together by breaking it down into parts: inner conflict, inciting incident, putting the characters under pressure, climax and resolution and so on. I mull over unanswered questions until they emerge- sometimes while cooking or watching tv but annoyingly often at 3am or while I’m supposed to be focussing on a work problem. I carry a notebook everywhere just in case and have even been known to jot down ideas in the middle of a rock gig. Finding the notebook and pen in the dark while dancing around and singing along is quite a skill. Shame it’s not marketable.
I then go to a Blackshaw New Writing Night to see if my play might fit. I reckon it might so I polish it up and lurch from thinking it might be ok to imagining everyone at Blackshaw laughing their socks off at how rubbish it is. Once I’ve downloaded the submission form I spend several days doing a bit more panicking and worrying and then press send on the email. I get a quick response thanking me for applying and saying that the submission closure date is over a month away. Bugger, I’ve peaked too soon but life goes on with work, writing the next play and booking a last minute holiday.
And so it was that I was lying by a pool in Italy wondering whether it was time to crack open the vino yet when my phone pinged. I was in! Not only had my play been shortlisted, a director had been appointed and it had been cast. Brilliant.
I met Jo Greaves, my exceptionally talented director, the following week. She had a really clear vision for the play and understood the characters really well. I’ve been writing plays for less than a year and am still astounded at the director’s ability to crawl inside my head and examine the motives of characters that until recently were only shadowy ideas. It’s uncanny but it’s also addictive.
By the time of the rehearsals I’m happy to hand over and let Jo and the cast (Stephanie Green, Eleanor Burke and Benedict Waring) show their expertise. Due to not being able to find a rehearsal space we end up in my dining room. My husband is banished upstairs and the team- all of whom have had long days at work- get cracking. They’re a talented bunch and well-cast (thank you, Blackshaw) so they get the energy going quickly. Within a couple of hours they’re barely looking at their scripts having memorised much of the dialogue already. My job now is to watch, enjoy, make the tea and give guidance if asked. I love this bit.
Jo has booked us a tech slot at the Horse and Stables for the new writing night so we arrive armed with onesies, throws and leopard print dresses. I nip across the road to buy kettle chips and after tech we’re ready to roll. The cast stay downstairs rehearsing during the first half and I’m free to catch up with my friends and enjoy the first set of plays. My friends ask if I’m nervous but the adrenalin and that large white wine spritzer have done their thing and I’m just excited. The actors are faultless and people seem to be laughing in the right places. The Blackshaw crew make sure everything goes smoothly and it’s a really fun night. All I have to worry about now is the feedback and what to write next. Now where’s that tuna pasta bake mix?
– Siân Rowland