At the final session of our Playwriting Festival in March, Festival Director Hilary Bell sat down with seven of our finest playwrights, actors and writers to ask them all the same question: ‘What three things did you wish you’d known when you started out?’
The answers and discussions that followed were full of inspiration, knowledge and insight into the world of playwrights. (A couple of participants had so much to share that they couldn’t stop at three things – all the better for us.)
Stephen Sewell wishes he’d known…
- How much fun it was going to be to be a writer and to be part of theatre.
- That suicide is not necessary.
- That when you’re most blocked, you’re nearly there: ‘In other words, when it hurts the most, that’s when you’re closest to the goal – like a mother giving birth.’
Jada Alberts wishes she’d known…
- That the most important thing to have was a private dramaturge – someone who knows the industry and has significant acting experience.
- What she was signing up for with her first commission: ‘I should have interrogated the fine details of the contract, and should have made sure that the decision I was making was well-informed.’
- That you should lean into the hard part of the work, and take yourself away from distractions at that time.
Matthew Whittet wishes he’d known…
- How hard it is to sit through your own work: ‘There’s so much self-torturing that can tend to happen. Even worse if you’re a performer and you’re performing your own work. And even worse if it’s a solo show.’
- That you’ll probably never write the thing you set out to write – and that’s great.
- How to tell when one idea runs out and when to start a new one: ‘Surprise yourself every day with your work.’
- To be careful of the play that writes itself: ‘Be able to analyse what you’re putting down on the page. You should always question yourself in a healthy productive way, and keep an eye on how what you’re doing speaks to people outside of yourself.’
Alli Sebastian Wolf wishes she’d known…
- That you should make work that you’re invested in.
- That you have a responsibility to bring your politics to the stage: ‘You are part of making the theatre world you want to see. And you’re justified in that.’
- That you should be paying attention to your creative process and what’s not working for it; you should do everything you can to protect that little spark. ‘Mine is a like a wild creature that will come visit occasionally, and you can’t force it to come, but you can leave little things out for it to entice it to come – and when it does, you have to pay attention to it; you can’t say, “That’s cool, I’m just going to answer these emails first and then I’ll get to it”, because it won’t be there. It will get bored and walk away.’
Kylie Coolwell wishes she’d known…
- That you should read as much about the world as you can: ‘As a writer, you’ve got to push yourself into the burning coals of society.’
- How to let herself be vulnerable in the process of writing.
- Not to be fearful.
Michele Lee wishes she’d known…
- That sometimes, the most magical stuff you write is in the first draft.
- How valuable it is to make friends with other playwrights.
- That everyone else gets rejected too.
Noëlle Janaczewska wishes she’d known…
- Not to risk more than you can afford to lose: ‘I don’t only mean financial risk, but also creative risk. Is it the right time, the right context to risk that creatively, emotionally?’
- That you don’t have to make aspects of your life public that you don’t wish to share.
- That it’s never too late to begin again: ‘Find your people, your colleagues who you are simpatico with.’
- Not to waste time banging on doors that are forever shut to you: ‘I wasted too much time focusing on people who were not in the least bit interested in what I wanted to write.’
- That it’s okay to bail out, hit the reset button, or abandon a project you’ve lost interest in.
- To write ‘what only you can write’.