2011 has been very good to me so far, and after ten years of hard slog working jobs in bars and restaurants, I have managed to give up the day job to concentrate on making theatre full-time: mainly writing and acting, occasionally teaching and directing.
The year started with the publication of Bonnie & Clyde by Oberon coinciding with Fairground’s production of the play at Theatre503. Subsequently I have acted in Bristol Old Vic and Company of Angels’ co-production of Tim Crouch’s I, Banquo (as part of the fairymonsterghost trilogy and the I, Shakepeare quadrilogy); written two plays – The Unremarkable and Life Savings – both for Bath’s Ustinov Theatre; and performed Only at Bristol Old Vic in the Studio for four performances – an autobiographical monologue I wrote late last year. I have also just been contracted by Tobacco Factory Theatre and Travelling Light to work as dramaturg/writer on their Christmas show, Cinderella: A Fairytale. A successful year so far, some might say, and I do say, except…
Right now I am sat in my living room wondering where the money earned from the first six months of the year has gone and what I’m going to do between now and November (when I start work on Cinderella). I’m teaching next week, I’ve got a week of Research and Development for Cinderella at the end of July, and I’m running a summer school for a week in August, but apart from that I’m unemployed for three months. Oh dear.
I thought I was being brave and forward-thinking quitting my job. I’ve got so much on I thought, I couldn’t possibly continue to work part-time too – especially doing something with low job satisfaction. That was true for ten weeks, but now I find myself as a 'full-time writer and performer' not in full-time work, or indeed, in much work at all (employed three weeks out of thirteen), and I’m wondering what to do.
I’ll write a play I think. I’ve got the time. But that’s not going to put food on the table is it? … not for sure, and certainly not in the short-term. Getting a part-time bar job on the other hand will definitely feed my stomach, but not my head or heart. Where is the balance? And that is the crux of the matter – finding balance between making work and feeling financially secure (so you’re not spending valuable time worrying about keeping the roof over your head) is the key to being a fulfilled artist.
I am yet to make a decision about what I am actually going to do about the money, but I am going to start writing a new play, which brings me onto why I actually started writing this blog – when and how do you start writing a new play…?
Every writer will have different views on this, and this is mine – not meant to be dogmatic, but just as an insight into how I work.
I finished my last play six weeks ago, and this has been ample time away from the keyboard to give my fingers and brain a rest, and ample thinking space to allow my new idea time to settle and begin to grow in my head. I had the idea at the end of last year, but had other things to work on and so have parked this one until now. I have discussed the idea with some friends and some trusted fellow professional writers and they think it’s got legs. So what now?
Well, it as an adaptation of a short story about a stranger who visits a family house and ends up dead - there is already a structure inherent in the original. However, I feel that I will need to decide what my attitude towards the piece is, before I go any further. And I think, in this case, this might best be decided by deciding on a genre or style – unusual for me. It could be a black comedy, or a tragedy with heightened realism, or a psychological drama. In order to decide how to treat the content I will need to decide on the reasons behind a key aspect of the story – namely, why the stranger ends up dead. This is very much open to interpretation in the original, but something that I feel needs unpicking in order to write the play. Some questions I will use to help: Does the stranger die because he deserves to die or because others think he deserves to die. Is it due to an accident? Is it pre-meditated murder on the part of the family, and if it is, does the whole family know or just some of them? How does he die; horrifically or quietly, on-stage or off? I feel that by answering these quite specific questions I will find myself with a style for the piece. I.e. by deciding on content, a style or genre will present itself which in turn can then feedback into and inform further decisions regarding content. I do not always work in this way, but for this project feel that this method is appropriate.
Other considerations: there are five characters and I feel sure that I need all five to create the right relationships between individuals – between and amongst the permutative pairings. I have not written anything for more than two characters for three years and think that is one of the reasons I am attracted to this project now. Economic factors govern to a great extent what is and isn’t produced by theatres these days and ‘large’ casts (of what… five or more, eight or more?) tend to be overlooked in favour of plays with leaner cast sizes and therefore leaner wage bills. I was recently challenged by a theatre producer to come up with a big idea. ‘What’s the point in coming up with a big idea,’ I said, ‘no theatre will want to look at it, never mind produce it. I have trouble enough getting producers to read my “small” plays’. ‘That shouldn’t stop you having big ideas.’ ‘Well it does,’ I said. ‘Why would I waste my time writing a play which requires a large cast when small cast plays are hard enough to get produced?’ And this isn’t a new argument. The Monsterists were campaigning on this very issue half a decade ago or so, and to some extent were listened to and encouraged to produce a handful of larger plays.
So, is a cast of five actors large? Perhaps. But it’s not going to stop me writing it. After all, it’s not a job. I’m not under commission. I haven’t been asked to write it. I’ve just got some free time, and I’m choosing to write something I want to write, regardless of the needs, musts and wants of the industry. At some point during the process I might have to go out and get that bar job, or more optimistically be offered some paid theatre work, but in the meantime I’ll start writing, and hope the play is good enough to get produced at some point in the future, despite its scale. In short, if you’ve got some spare time and the will, start writing the play, but remember you’re going to have to go out and earn some money at some point – and the play might not be the way.
Adam Peck's Bonnie & Clyde is available here http://oberonbooks.com/bonnie-clyde.html
Tim Crouch's I, Shakespeare, in which Adam played Banquo, is also available here http://oberonbooks.com/i-shakespeare.html