In March, New Perspectives – a national touring company – announced the winners and runners up of their Long Playwriting Competition and on 27 May there were readings of the plays as part of this year’s Neat Festival. In the lead up to these readings, I spoke to the competition winner, Tim Elgood, about his inspirations, how he got into playwriting and his thoughts on writing for competitions.
Tim Elgood’s play, Unforgettable, is a play about a brother and sister’s relationship as they and their parents grow older.
When you found out you had won New Perspectives’ Long Playwriting Competition, what was your reaction?
I’ve submitted a lot of scripts to competitions before and quite often before the closing date passes you’ve convinced yourself that there isn’t a chance that your play has got picked. It was absolutely brilliant to receive an email, towards the end of March, from New Perspectives to say that they’d like to talk to me about the competition and then to find out I had won.
There can be a lot of bad moments and rejections in playwriting, so I think it’s really important cherish the good ones!
How do you feel about the process of working up to the readings?
There’s always compromise taking something from page to performance and in some ways it’s hard to hand a play over, as the best reading is the one in your mind. But I wanted to attend the reading as it’s really useful to go away and make changes after seeing a work live, and the New Perspectives team have done an excellent job with choosing the cast for the reading and bringing the play to life.
Your play, Unforgettable, deals with very emotionally-charged subject matter. What was your inspiration for this play?
My career in social work has without a doubt been an influencing factor of this play. Added to that, you can only write about what you know, and this play is dedicated to my mother-in-law, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Despite all the work I had done with elderly people, the situation is different when it is suddenly on your doorstep. Having personal experience gives you a subjective insight, while in social work a lot of the advice you’re giving is objective and theoretical. As we had a big family, we could provide care 24/7, but this process of organising care led me to think, what would happen if there were only two people dealing with this situation? And it’s this incredible stress the play covers.
I tried to not let Unforgettable become oversentimental, I always try to look at the humorous side of situations, as the subject matter could easily lead to something that’s too dark and there’s a lot of humour in this play -I think the subject matter will strike a chord with a lot of people.
How did you get into playwriting from social work?
Although I’d always loved writing and English literature, I didn’t take up scriptwriting until I was 41. I would often hear my teenage children and their friends talking about how they’d like to get involved with acting, so I decided to write something for them. This coincided with a campaign to raise money to build a community centre for the elderly that I wanted to contribute to. In the play I wrote, the teenage cast played elderly versions of themselves, in their 70s and 80s. At first I didn’t think it’d go down very well with the young actors, but they really took to it and it was really poignant considering the cause it was raising money for.
After the performances, I was approached by a member of Derby Playhouse, who said he’d like to produce the play on a larger scale for a youth theatre company to perform and everything went from there. Of course, once I’d written one play, I was eager to write another, and started writing for Derby Playhouse every year for about six years.
What’s your opinion on writing for competitions like the New Perspectives Long Playwriting competition?
I didn’t write Unforgettable with the sole aim of entering it into the competition, it was subject driven. I don’t feel that you can tailor-make a play for a competition without it feeling manufactured: you have to write by your own instincts and produce a work based on subject matter and then find the right home for it.
It’s important to write about something that really interests you, producing a work takes a long time and it’s all too easy to fall out of love with your story or lose motivation when working on a project. I think everyone has at least one story in them.
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