Well, today has been a ridiculously busy day as we have been rigging in preparation for StageWrite this week and in the midst of all that I have been at The Quarry Theatre as part of the second workshop for the playwrighting course with Papatango Theatre Company. Before we get on to introducing our writer for today, I have to take a minute to say what an outstanding opportunity it has been to work with Chris and George from Papatango on this course. We are halfway through and I have learned so much already – all that remains before the next workshop is to actually write a play! Nothing major in that at all! So, rigging is done and I’m now enjoying a well earned glass of rouge as I write this so apologies if it doesn’t entirely make sense!
So today I am excited to introduce our penultimate writer, Clare Knights whose play The Chat is our second play performed on Wednesday 9th March.
So, Clare, let’s kick off with you telling us a little bit about yourself?
I’m originally from Gloucestershire, but like a lot of other people moved to London (where I now live) in my late teens for work and excitement! I eventually got into the admin and management side of theatre, working with a number of touring companies and small venues like the Bush Theatre, and also briefly at the Arts Council. However I now work for a trade union and although my current job is often interesting, fulfilling and challenging, what has really excited me most has always been the theatre. I try and get to see as much as possible, particularly new writing. Wanting to get back into being more actively creative, I finally took the plunge and returned to study part-time for an MA in Text and Performance Studies at RADA and Kings College back in 2010 when I was 47 – less of a mid-life crisis, more of a mid-life adventure!
Haha – well there’s hope for me yet then!! How long have you been writing plays for and what started you off writing?
After completing the course I started to take my writing more seriously and have been writing plays for about 4 or so years. I’m a very late emerging playwright! I had always dabbled in writing short stories, but the course included a playwriting module, led by the inspiring and patient playwright, Paul Sirett. This spurred me on to concentrate more seriously on playwriting, and I have continued to learn and develop my work since – as time allows! It’s hugely exciting now to get selected for StageWrite as it’s such an amazing opportunity.
Well thank you for that, Claire. I hope we do it justice! So what prompted you to write the play that you submitted?
In essence my play is a bit of a ghost story. And I also wanted to write about an ordinary middle-aged woman’s not so ordinary experience. I started with this image of a woman sitting at a table in conversation with some people, but the people she is talking to all happen to be dead! I wanted to explore that strange state following a bereavement when you half expect to continue to encounter the person you’ve lost. Often there can be unsettling moments that take your breath away when you’re absolutely certain that a glimpsed figure out of the corner of your eye is the dead person resurrected. But of course it is only ever wishful thinking. However in this story, for this woman at least, there is a possibility she can really encounter the dead amongst the living.
I also particularly enjoyed creating the character of the old Irish mother, May, always ready for a bit of a gossip with her daughter. May is of a generation (like my own mother) who were children in the 1930s and came over to England during or not long after the Second World War looking for employment and excitement. Meanwhile Susan, her daughter, like so many ‘invisible’ middle-aged women, wants to make herself seem more significant in the world. Strangely in this story, Susan can only achieve this by opting out of the corporeal and encountering the supernatural.
Can you tell us a little bit about your process of writing?
Long train journeys and weekends are my main writing times. If I can, I will tend to be a complete and utter slob when I’m writing and just stay in bed and write on a laptop, often improvising the words of the characters out loud. I’m rubbish at planning my writing – in fact if I plan too much it tends to inhibit me. The characters are always the starting point, situated within a particular incident that could be inspired by a news item or from someone I meet or from a personal experience – but the characters have control and can take me almost anywhere in my writing. This does mean that I tend to write lots, stopping and starting, back-tracking and introducing new characters, deleting others, and experiencing their higgledy-piggledy journey through the story of the play until finally after a lot of agony and rumination and improvisation and many, many wasted words, I have a rough first draft. It’s crucial for my writing and re-drafting to involve improvisation of sorts, (a process that can be difficult when working in a public space!) I can’t just keep the voices in my head. They have to be vocalised so the different characters can fully express themselves, accents and all!
Then comes the really interesting bit for me of re-drafting and honing and cutting – that’s what I particularly enjoy. And a really valuable part of developing my work is to get a group of friends together to read it out loud, to lift it from the page and out of my mind (and mouth!) to be interpreted afresh by others, to discover if it really manages to communicate the story, and if it is truly dramatic.
Interesting – I can really relate to that but I’m learning a lot about the structure and the background work through the Papatango course so I’m trying that out at the moment! Is there anything else that you think reader’s of the blog will find interesting?
Well, if you’re interested in ghosts, check out Bedfordshire libraries’ virtual booklet on your local ghosts http://virtual-library.culturalservices.net/webingres/bedfordshire/vlib/0.digitised_resources/bedfordshire_ghosts.doc I especially like the tale about Fairfield Hospital (now long-gone) where a particularly cheeky ghost asked a nurse for a cup of tea with 2 sugars!
Brilliant – of course I used to be a nurse before LifeBox came about but I’m too young to remember Fairfield Hospital, although I was around in the days of Brougham Hospital. Thanks so much for sharing with us, Claire and if you enjoyed reading this make sure you get along to The Place Theatre on Wednesday to see The Chat, by Claire on Wednesday 9th March. Tickets available from The Place Theatre online here.