EP’16: Cuckoos and Madmen

12933116_10154128376150746_8314256211463293566_nThis year, EP Company’s production, written by Cathy Grindrod and further devised by the company, looks at themes of teen pregnancy and motherhood, exploring the motif of the cuckoo’s nest. EP members Lytisha and Tony did some site visits to old Mother and Baby homes in Nottinghamshire, and the village of Gotham.

On 10th April Tony and I set out to look at the location of some of the former Mother and Baby homes in and around Nottingham. They have all changed use now, and the majority had been knocked down and rebuilt. One of the remaining buildings, The Croft, was covered in scaffold as it is under redevelopment. This was the one on Mapperley Road. Co-incidentally I knew someone that had recently lived there in its latest incarnation as rented flats. She shared some of the images of the inside of her flat to give us an idea of what the spaces were like.

Tony discovered this link about The Croft, via a friend who studies local history. We also drove out to Gotham to follow up the Cuckoo theme and investigate the local myths. There is a pub called The Cuckoo in the village and the sign illustrates the myth we were looking for. Speaking with locals, we discovered more details.

944007_10153421444032595_1910866062557549978_nWe learnt about The Mad Men of Gotham, known locally as The Wise Men of Gotham. There is a tale of the locals discussing the arrival of the cuckoo denoting the arrival of spring. Hoping to capture the benefits of the abundance of spring, the Mad Men of Gotham had the idea of trapping the bird in Gotham, so the crops would remain plentiful.To this end they built a wall around the tree that the cuckoo lived in. Unsurprisingly the cuckoo simply flew over the top and continued its’ annual migration to southern Africa. The response of the Mad Men of Gotham? Next year, we’ll build it higher! That’s the tale of the Mad Men of Gotham. However, the alternative version shows how this very same action proved the wisdom of these very same fellows. At this time it was believed madness was contagious. SO, to deter the King’s Men from calling at the village to collect taxes, the locals spread rumours that madness was rife, and illustrated it with tales such as this. The King’s men never came and the village escaped paying their taxes. The Wise Men of Gotham.

12998484_10153421378687595_5090871040234524054_nTo learn more about EP Company, visit our website.

 

Introduction to Directing – with Unanima

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Each year New Perspectives offers tailored mentoring to an East Midlands theatre company – this year we are working with Unanima Theatre. They are an inclusive Community Interest Company based in Mansfield working with people with and without a learning disability and/or Autism Spectrum Disorder. New Perspectives have been supported by the Regional Theatre Young Directors Scheme to run a five-week ‘Introduction to Directing’ course led by their Artistic Director Jack McNamara with Unanima’s participants. Over the next five weeks he will keep a short blog on their work together. 


Love. Life. No Sat Nav
My first encounter with Unanima’s work was seeing their production of Love. Life. No Sat Nav; an impressive mixed media show built out of the participants own experiences of disability. During one scene a young performer, who had remained noticeably silent throughout the show, started communicating with the audience through words written on cards. Through this simple device she was suddenly able to talk to us, giving a strong sense of the personality that lay behind her silent demeanor. I was reminded of how actors fundamentally need clarity from a director, and how many of them might relish being directed through a selection of carefully chosen words on cards. I became keen to explore how this group might be able to harness their individual modes of communication in a directing context.

As a result I was pleased to get a grant from the Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme to run a  five week ‘Intro to Directing’ course with ten of Unanima’s participants. The scheme is the one I trained on some years ago, and it has now been expanded to include entry-level programmes for directors less represented in the wider industry. While there is a lot of conversation and activity at the moment surrounding the creative case for diversity, what is specifically exciting about this opportunity is its focus on leadership. This is not simply about making people feel included or adding a sprinkle of diversity to mono-cultural institutions, but about investing in future decision makers, be that in a rehearsal room or leading an organisation. It’s exciting to think that, if enough people support and embrace it, the scheme could genuinely change what theatre directing in the future looks like.

Session 1: Scenes

IMG_0019 Session 1 We started with  a basic question: What, as directors, are we working with? A cluster of words came together: actions, words, actors, characters, changes, music, light, story etc. We put them on the floor as a reminder of what our business is and ultimately what scenes are made of. We then played a few games that each said something about the nature of scenes. The first involved standing in a circle with each person taking turns to walk to the opposite side. As they crossed the centre something discernible had to ‘happen.’  The event or moment of change could be as minimal as they liked, as long as we could somehow read it. While some could not resist the urge to break into a dance when they crossed the centre others decided on smaller gestures that left all of us debating our various readings of them. It opened up a conversation about physical language; is it easier or harder to express something physically and how do we talk to each other about achieving physical clarity? I like this game as a small version of what most narrative scenes are: a journey from A to B interrupted by a change (or a dance).

The next game was the usual crowd-pleaser ‘Bomb and Shield’, in which you secretly select someone as your ‘bomb’ to keep away from and another as your ‘shield’ to keep between you. This created a bit of noise against the more studied earlier game, but it was also a crude demonstration of the balance of relationships that can make up a scene. We then did an Augusto Boal exercise in which we arranged chairs in the space in order of the least to the most important. The participants then entered one by one and attempted to position themselves as the most prominent figure in the space. While the first few adopted high status positions, the others attempted to undermine them with increasingly disinterested and low status poses. The last person entered the space and simply stood in front of the others with her back to the audience, instantly becoming the most prominent.

This led us to thinking about stage composition. On a large screen we projected the same scene from Hamlet over four different contemporary productions and discussed how the elements were managed differently by each director. The participants each came into their own, relishing the complexity of the tableaus and the differing choices across them. We analysed eyelines and body language, we talked about who was in the most and least prominent position, we discussed how individuals were lit and dressed. We talked about the feeling we get from a scene, and the society reflected in a staging. We then discussed the more subliminal features of a scene, the design decisions that brought less logical ideas to the surface; how shiny walls were being used to cast ghost-like reflections or how soil on the floor brought death and burial into our thoughts. Some of the participants became passionate about how ‘wrong’ certain stagings were. “That is not my Hamlet!” someone called out at an image of a French production. “What is your Hamlet?” I asked her. She launched into a passionate tirade about the anger of the characters, the ghostly atmosphere, the pain of having parents who disappoint you. Hers was a Hamlet I definitely wanted to see.

I encouraged the participants to make their own short scenes, drawing from their background as devisers. The content of the scenes, prepared quickly with little thought, were less important than their staging. Group by group they presented their scenes and the remaining participants gave notes to each one; our aim was to gain greater narrative clarity, rather than embellish what was there. Which key moment of change do we have to mark to make this story clearer? What happens if we alter the characters formation or whether they are still or moving? What object or environment can we add to the scene to open it up? Soon these fragments began to take shape into focused mini-scenes, each participant making clear contributions to improve what was in front of them. It was a safe environment where each voice mattered and none of the suggestions offered were taken personally.IMG_0020 Session 1

Given the company’s devising background, I had initially feared that the processes of directing might be too low energy for group members over a sustained period. Yet it seemed the more focused and studied the exercises the more active their contributions became. There was a real appreciation for having the space and time to look, think and talk as a group, and a basic joy in being able to constructively influence what is in front of you and make stories clearer and more engaging. It struck me that directing simply calls for a sharper focus on the imaginative and communication skills that we all use daily. There is no foreign language being learnt here, just a bit of room to put our heads together and explore what’s possible.

Next week: Working with actors

Learning the Ropes with New Perspectives

This week, we have been joined by Lauren, who was with us for some work experience in the world of theatre. As this has been the week of the EP Company tour of This Place, she has done a spectacular job of helping out at each venue and during rehearsals, and learned a lot along the way! We asked her to write a blog about her experiences:

My name is Lauren, and this week I have been doing my work experience at New Perspectives. It has been an amazing week and I have learnt a lot about the theatre industry that will help me in the future.

Day One was spent at the office in Basford, where I was introduced to all the staff. I had the opportunity to watch the final technical rehearsal for this year’s Emerging Perspectives Company’s production of This Place. The show contained three original short plays, written and performed by emerging East Midlands talent. I found it really interesting to observe the rehearsal, and witness the technical aspect of putting together a production, and the decisions that have to be made.

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On Tuesday, I travelled with the company to the Bonington Theatre in Arnold. I helped to dress the set with Theresa, the Director, and was taught how to rig the stage lights by Alisia, one of the actors in This Place. It was fascinating to see the amount of work that went into setting up the stage and all of the equipment. As part of Emerging Perspectives, the actors were being taught about the technical side of theatre by Mandy, the Production Manager, so I learnt a lot about the whole process. I’ve always been interested in what happens backstage before the shows, and this gave me an insight into what working in theatre is really like.

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Wednesday took the company to The Old Library in Mansfield where, once again, I helped to set up the rails and props for the performance. Darrell, the Stage Manager, taught me a lot about the stage lights. I learnt about the three different types of lights (profile, Fresnel and par can) and how to focus them by altering the angle and direction, soft focus and hard focus, and then using the shutters (on a profile light) or by opening and closing the box (on a Fresnel light). However, on profile lights, you have to use the opposite shutter to whatever direction you want the lights adjusted. It was slightly tricky at first, mainly because I thought I was going to fall off the ladder, but once I knew what I was doing, I found it quite easy. In addition, I watched the full performance, which I thought was brilliant and thoroughly enjoyed! I liked how all the props were hanging from rails onstage, and I thought the use of space was really creative. The acting was also amazing. Seeing the entire process of arriving, setting up, technical checks and then the actual performance was a completely new experience for me, as normally when I go to the theatre, I never think about what has happened before the show starts.

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We went to St Peter’s Church in Thurgarton on Thursday, which provided the company with several challenges. The stage space inside the church was very small, so the set and lights had to be stripped back. The moving platform remained in the van, along with one of the rails and several stage lights. Theresa, Hope and the actors had to run through every scene change and make adjustments to the set and their entrances and exits, so that nobody clashed in the small stage area. I took part in the actor’s warm-up, which was very funny and bizarre, although nobody else batted an eyelid. Ryan’s warm-up was especially “interesting”. The church itself and surrounding landscape were beautiful, and provided a really nice atmosphere for the performance.

This was my favourite performance, as I have never witnessed a show in such a unique setting before. Watching the cast and crew adapt to such a space was also really interesting, and gave me an insight into the challenges involved with touring theatre. For instance, an unexpected performer made several surprise appearances in the form of the neighbour’s cat, who had managed to sneak into the building, and made several comical attempts to take centre stage. The actors continued despite the distraction, and showed no visible reaction to the incident, which I would have found very difficult.

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Overall, I have had a really fun, exciting experience. I’ve always been a huge fan of the theatre, and this experience has definitely made me want to pursue my passion in college and perhaps as a career. I have learnt so much and I feel like I’ve gained an understanding into a world I previously knew nothing about. All of the people I met were very lovely and welcoming, and I am very thankful to them for taking time out from their jobs to teach me about theatre. I’ve really enjoyed meeting everyone.

Thank you New Perspectives for the best work experience ever!

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Lauren Aitken, Year 10, Kirk Hallam Community Academy

EP Session 3 – Hope Ward-Brown

The first element of New Perspectives’ ‘Emerging Perspectives’ company that excited me was the opportunity to draw on the experience of industry professionals and other emerging artists to challenge and further my own learning. Our last EP session exactly fulfilled this.script work

We began with a session with Jack McNamara, Artistic Director of New Perspectives. Despite this being the third EP Company session, being thrown into exercises and workshops has meant we know very little about each others backgrounds, only having time to ask “so what do you actually do?” gabbled between cups of tea and Tupperware lunches. Our session with Jack began with finding out about each other in the company; 6 performers, a producer, a musician and myself labelled ‘director’ (although that label must be applied very loosely at such an early stage in my own journey). We sound as if we’re about to board the ark. Jack also spoke to us about about a method he had learned early in his directing career from Katie Mitchell, and the 7 steps to take when approaching a scene. These 7 steps help to ground the piece in place, circumstance, change and characters before a company begins working more deeply in the text. Jack then spoke about the journey that New Perspectives has taken; emerging (no pun intended) from humble beginnings as a powerfully political and controversial theatre in education company in 1972, back in a generation when theatre in education had a political outcry, and spoke more of humanity than road safety. In recent times, as Jack took the helm of the company, he steered New Perspectives to produce “exciting challenging and engaging” work. And that’s what they were doing, literally under our feet.

Whilst we had been discussing the whistle-stop tour of New Perspectives over the last few decades, their latest production of Unforgettable by Tim Elgood was in rehearsal downstairs. Unforgettable tells the story of a brother and sister over their lifetimes, as they battle with the demands of caring for an ageing parent with dementia. We all piled into the rehearsal room to watch a working rehearsal with actors Lennox Greaves, Anna Lindup, Hayley Doherty and Adam Donaldson, directed by Theresa

Director Theresa Keogh works with Lennox Greaves and Anna Lindup in the rehearsal room.

Director Theresa Keogh works with Lennox Greaves and Anna Lindup in the rehearsal room.

Keogh. Aside from a handful of comments and questions from Theresa and the company, you could hardly tell they were mid-rehearsal. It was evident to us that the cast had clear foundations in character and circumstance to enable ownership of the text. This is all aided by Tim Elgood’s wonderfully fluid and conversational dialogue. As an aspiring director, I’m adapting and learning how to watch theatre with an eye of criticism and creativity. With this in mind, I considered how this could be a challenging piece in terms of structure within the scenes, being very dialogue-heavy and within the same setting. But Lennox and Anna moved effortlessly around the stage with natural ease and pace. I’m excited to see the finished production at Derby Guildhall and see its progression in our week of absence. After the open rehearsal we had a Q&A with writer Tim Elgood. It became evident that the ease of language I spoke of was a result of Tim basing Unforgettable on his own experience caring for his mother-in-law. He spoke about not wanting to make it an issue-based piece of theatre, despite its inherent topic being a highly topical issue. Rather, he wanted the piece to be fundamentally about the relationships between the siblings and the effects the ‘issue’ had upon them. This reminded me of the time we’d spent with Jack earlier in the day, discussing New Perspectives’ roots in theatre in education. I considered whether theatre is always issue-based, by its very nature? And is it purely the way in which we tell the story that differentiates the style? We finished the day taking an extract of Unforgettable and working out how we would approach the scene. I was astounded as to how quickly the piecHopee leapt off the page; thus is the strength of the text. Even on first reading the text feels human. We made quick decisions using the system that Jack had explained to us earlier, to put it into practice. The more action choices and decisions made by myself alongside the actors, the more strength and power the piece had. Making choices made the scene easier to read from the eyes of the audience. I look forward to being the eager-eyed audience when the plays goes into production.

To keep up to date with the Emerging Company you can follow me on Twitter @hopewardbrown.

Hope Ward-Brown

The Snowball Effect – Week 2 of EP Company

Week Two of our Emerging Perspectives journey, and where the 1st session set the bar, packed with inspirational wonder, the 2nd refused to fall short of this standard.

We started our day with an array of activities, making sure we were stimulated both intellectually and physically (boy, were some parts physical!).

Question:

If a stage is empty, is anything happening in that scene?

If a stage is empty and you add a chair, what is that chair saying?

If a stage is empty and numerous chairs are added, all in different positions, angles, and groupings, what is happening in that scene?

Answer…Everything!

EmptyChair

In what some may assume to be a very simple task, placing chairs one by one in to the space, in no particular order, we realised that a story can be told even through inanimate objects. Similarly, we questioned whether power, or the lack of, can be displayed without movement or sound, simply by where or how someone is standing on stage. For me these activities were very interesting; having previously done work which involved the use of silence and stillness, I have come to love these ‘techniques’ and feel that in some cases these moments can be the most powerful. Like most actors, I have always been taught that for as long as you are on stage, you are in character. Whether you are centre stage, reciting a monologue or sitting on a sofa, reading the TV guide whilst someone else is reciting a monologue, you are in character. Despite being the person with no lines sitting on a sofa and reading the TV guide you could still capture the audience, by being that character. As well as a new appreciation of the staging of a scene, this fundamental rule of acting was echoed for me during these activities.

For someone who has a near addiction to all the wrong things to eat and who has forsaken the gym on more than one occasion due to impatience and frustration, it came as no surprise that I worked up a bit of a sweat during our more physical activities. One in particular stood out for me, rivalling one of my all-time favourites. The only equipment: a handful of creative souls, each armed with a two pence coin… The aim of the game was simple, keep your 2p on the top of your hand – do not allow anyone else to do the same! Slowly but surely, our numbers diminished until only two combatants remained. One of my fellow Emerging Perspectives compared this stand off to fencing and although I have never had the good fortune to try it, drawing from only Hollywood-esque images, I can see the resemblance. Again, this was a simple activity that could be considered as just a ‘warm up’, something to get everyone moving. Nevertheless, I can’t help but see something more in this: yes I was moving, yes I was indeed very warm and yes I may have felt a tightness of chest afterwards but regardless of all this, to watch this display, in its own way, is performance. The movement itself was a type of physical theatre or dance. The unified effect achieved by all members of the group working together, a version of ensemble. The almost rehearsed interaction between the final two, in close quarters, back and forth, the attack, the defence, the riposte (fencing terminology, thank you Google). How do I define this movement? It is the epic fight scene, the moment the hero/heroine seems to be against unbeatable odds, the point where she is about to realise she loves him, the moment just before they win the championship, the peak of tension, still, unmistakably performative.

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The second half of our day brought to the forefront of our minds a crucial part of our time together (cue shocking sound effect): the scripts. Admittedly this filled me with a slight sense of dread, not because I was worried about the scripts or what the stories were going to be, nor the quality of them, but because I am very poor at reading something for the first time, especially in a group! Alas, onwards, we read the first, discussed slightly, read the second, more light discussion, then the third and final piece. Given I had no preconceptions of what they would turn out to be, or whether I would even enjoy them, I found myself enjoying all of the stories immensely, but especially certain aspects of each one, each for a different reason.

The first I enjoyed very much, feeling a great sense of connection to it. Certain lines within it I could hear being said by people in my own life, past and present, as if sitting amongst us, leaving me unable to avoid slightly smirking to myself.

The second I couldn’t help but enjoy, due to my sheer excitement of seeing this production off the page, plus a marvellous and rather ‘foxy’ reading by one of my comrades! The imagery this piece creates is so rich; the performer inside of me was salivating.

The third gave me so many images, colours, tastes. Images of rows of houses I had once seen, but had long since forgotten. Images of tea time at my Grandmother’s house, a place I loved visiting as a child, looking forward to this time of day, cold cuts, cheese, homemade scones, with a pot of fresh loose leaf tea.

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Safe to say I am growing increasingly excited about what each session will bring: the anticipation of the rollercoaster to come. Much like the snowball effect, I feel we will progress, gaining momentum, tackling any obstacle with ease, reaching the end of this journey, fully Emerged.

Kyle Futers

Emerging Perspectives Company | Rehersals for Behind Closed Doors | John Tissiman

This week’s session involved both the writers and actors again, as we move closer to getting the texts from page to stage.


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We started by working with Rob Tunrock’s Ravens. It was initially quite a daunting task getting up and performing something without any idea how we wanted it to look. I think this was also due to the fact that due to time restraints, we didn’t have a chance to warm up or talk prior to reading the scripts through. Its always difficult trying to act with a script in your hand, so the acting wasn’t necessarily the best it could have been, however it gave those who were spectators to the action an eye for what might look good when it comes to staging it properly.

I’m glad that we had the writers at the session, as it was helpful to understand what they wanted from certain scenes, and how we could convey those intentions. For Ravens we focused on the relationship between the two female characters, trying to gauge an understanding of how they would say certain lines. As I was playing the character that was the recipient of the majority of the conversation between the characters, I was able to convey how I felt in the situation and whether or not those feelings reflected those that the writer intended the character to feel.

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We next looked at Snap. The stage directions were initially quite clear in this text with five individuals sat around a table in a factory canteen. Things became slightly more difficult however when we realised that characters had certain physical interactions with one another. These interactions, for example knocking someone’s bag off the table, meant that we had to play a bit of musical chairs to make the staging fit the text. The other thing that we struggled with was the pace of this text, this was partly due to the fact that we were holding scripts again, but also the lines seemed to flow quite quickly and it seemed as though we were rushing through them, so I am looking forward to further sessions to work on these issues.

Ours/Yours, I think, was one of the easiest texts to get on its feet. I think the main reason for this was the fact that the stage directions were both clear and simple. I also think the pace was quite easy to get to grips with, due to the intended naturalism of the text. Despite the initial staging being seemingly simple, we did find that we became quite static on the stage. Because of this, going forward I think we need to work on characters intentions on each line and also intentions behind any movements.

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The last play we looked at was Real Person Fiction we didn’t have a huge amount of time to look at this play in this particular session, so had to skip through a few bits of the text. Much like Ours/Yours, as actors we did find that we were quite static on stage, and although told to move when it felt right, we still found it a bit forced to move around the stage. Again I think over the coming rehearsals the focus will be to establish the intentions behind movements and make sure that the action is interesting to watch. Overall it was a really constructive session and has allowed the actors to familiarise themselves the texts more and I cant speak for everyone but I believe we are all really looking forward to working on the texts more.

John Tissiman, performer, Emerging Perspectives Company 2014

Behind Closed Doors will play 5 East Midlands venues from 1 – 5 July; Manton Village Hall, Rutland on Tuesday 1 July, Guildhall Theatre, Derby on Wednesday 2 July, Create Theatre Mansfield on Thursday 3 July, Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham on Friday 4 July and Thurgarton Village Hall on Saturday 5 July. For further details about the show and booking information visit our website.

neat14 blogger, Beth Dawson, interviews Long Play competition winner Tim Elgood

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Tim Elgood, with his dog Harry

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.

Find out more about New Perspectives

Find out more about Emerging Perspectives and the Long Play Competition