Showing Somebody Else Is Like Showing Yourself All Over Again

I’ll be in the audience in the Linenhall Arts Centre this evening. One of my favourite places in the world and seat to a solid handful of my happiest memories. This evening, the Fighting Words and Linenhall Arts Centre Young Playwright’s Showcase project is coming to fruition with rehearsed reading performances of five new plays by five new young playwrights. The performances will involve professional actors and will be directed by professional directors, all of the highest calibre.

It's quite something.

I feel very lucky that I got to be one of the writing mentors on this endeavour. Over the last number of months we’ve been meeting for long sessions on Saturdays, looking at the mechanics and the art of writing for theatre and then doing quite a bit of writing for theatre too. It’s been an absolute blast and the five young people are, without exception, some of the most committed, imaginative, and talented people I’ve met.

So this evening should be a bit special. The five writers will see their new plays performed in rehearsed reading, with full tech support, before a lovely audience. Hopefully, some of the seeds of encouragement that will have been planted by this process will germinate into a continuing writing habit for at least some (if not all) of the participants. And we all know where that can lead.

Because, in my small opinion, a little encouragement can be the difference between being a continuing writer and not. It’s an often-lonely endeavour, with nobody to lean on but yourself. If somebody comes forward at some point, and leans over your shoulder, and says, “Hey, that’s pretty good,” well, that can sometimes count for a lot. More than you might imagine.

In my own case, and I know I’ve written about it before somewhere in these pages, I received writing encouragement from my English teacher Patricia O’Higgins. She would slip me the more challenging books to read and talk to me in terms of my ‘writing’ before I ever even considered I had any writing in me. She started me thinking that maybe I could scribble something along the way.

These seeds sometimes take time, though, to germinate. Through my early twenties, I did some writing but never showed anything to anybody. I wrote sketches and little comedy routines and I kept a diary of my time bussing my way around Australia. In the reading room of Melbourne Library, I wrote my first full length screenplay in longhand. I was writing but, in another sense, I wasn’t. 

Then IRDP and LBC held a ten-minute play writing competition in London, not unlike what this evening’s cohort have been working on. I was newly-returned from the world trip, unexpectedly unemployed, and a little adrift. I entered and I was one of the winners. As a result, I spent a magical, unforgettable, Saturday in a studio with professional actors and a wonderful director, who teased out my fledgling script and made it into something. That was me. Done. From that moment on I was sold. I wanted to write, not just for myself, but for people. I wanted my little plays to be seen and heard. And I went off and managed to do that. I’ll never be rich, I’ll never be famous but, in my own small way, I am a writer and that brings me joy and some peace.

And this process, the dealing with these wonderful young writers and showing them the bits and pieces I have picked up along that way, it’s a mutual-beneficial process. At least, I hope it is. I know for sure that it benefits me. To tell somebody these things that you know, these things that you believe to be important, it’s like telling them to yourself all over again. It’s like reciting a sort of a Creed. And doing that reinforces for me what is important in my writing and what is not. It refreshes the techniques and the technicalities and makes them relevant and new again. More importantly, much more importantly, it refreshes the creative corner of the mind. To see the young people conceive and develop their writing, unencumbered with fear or trepidation, it can’t help but rejuvenate your own process and send you back to your desk with brighter and better ideas.

It’s the old, old story. Whenever you do something a bit good for someone, you also do something a bit good for yourself. The benefits of committing a little time and energy come back to you twofold, if not in time then certainly in energy.

So I’m looking forward to this evening. There’ll be a little edge in the air, as there always is with theatre. I wish the participants a good experience and I hope there is encouragement in it for them.

I’ve got mine already but, who knows, maybe tonight I’ll get a little bit more.


Fles said...

I've found something like this too: in explaining and sharing the process and technique, you rekindle the excitement and passion in yourself, because you remind yourself of what it was like to come to it fresh and experience it for the first time.

Fin Kgn said...

Whever I write, Ken, I think of your advice that a "drop of your being" shoud be on every page (I hope I am not misquoting!). One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever came across.

Ken Armstrong said...

Fles - That's it exactly. And thank you for all your help.

Finn - The Little Drop of Blood. I keep telling people that. Glad it's useful. :)

Paul Soye said...

I sat in the audience of The Linenhall Arts Centre, one of my favourite places too, and seat to a solid handful of my happiest moments. You see I am a writer and playwright too. I sat several seats below Ken in the theatre, and he is right, there was something, a frisson in the atmosphere, that tension before performance. Neither of us had written anything for this evening, but it was as if we had. Ken, Laura, Ernestine and I were mentors to these five young playwrights, and I was as nervous as on an opening night. I needn't, Ken needn't, and the young playwrights needn't have worried, we were in safe hands — a group of consumate theatre professionals.

In 2018 I phoned Ken out of the blue one morning from Dublin before I had committed to coordinating the Young Playwrights Project. Had he said 'no' it might have been dead in the water. That he said 'yes' didn't guarantee it's success, but it gave it every chance, and it gave me the confidence to commit to it. Ken is a rock. He is a font of wisdom and experience; he wears it lightly, and inparts it freely. What he knows he shares. These young people benefitted hugely from his participation, and so did I.

By the end of the evening, I was blown away.

Ken Armstrong said...

Thanks Paul, that's very kind. I think, between us all, we did pretty good. I'm glad I said yes. k

Jim Murdoch said...

To be honest I could’ve done with a bit more encouragement over the years. Especially at the start. I was the only person I knew who wrote and felt like the only one of my peers to read anything more than they’d been assigned and absolutely had to. It was lonely at the start. I wasn’t exactly discouraged but that’s a world away from being encouraged. And the thing is it never really got any better. I’ve always kinda felt like the only gay in the village. Oddly though I was never teased about it and that is odd considering the nature of the kids I grew up with but they found other things and maybe there’s some unwritten rule that you can only tease someone over x number of eccentricities. I wrote a poem about it eventually:

        Coming Out

         “So you are a
        practicing poet?”
        she asked,
        and I felt unclean
        and wanted my closet back.

So, I’m pleased for the five young playwrights, that they have a mentor, a venue and that they have each other. I was a grown man before I saw my first play and who knows what might’ve happened had a similar scheme been around back in the seventies in the west of Scotland. I’ve always wondered what Yehudi Menuhin would’ve done had his parents had a spare oboe lying around the house. (Interestingly his sisters are both pianists.)

Ken Armstrong said...

No matter how much encouragement one might get, it's still a rather solitary business. If we can handle that part and keep making stuff, we might do okay.