Helping Young People with Theatre Writing

There hasn’t been a blog post in a few weeks. I won’t beat myself up over it. I do the best I can. I thought it was all down to my touch of flu and the post viral fatigue that seemed to waylay me in the weeks between having it and shedding it. To be honest, today is the first day I’ve felt completely myself in a month or more. It’s nice to be back.

Over the past few weeks, when it came to Saturday evening and first draft blog post time, I put my lack of motivation for it down to the lurgy and hit the couch and, in truth, I’d say that was 80% of the story. The other 20%, I recently realised, was down to how I’ve been spending my Saturday mornings and early afternoons, and how much energy I’ve needed to carry that through.

So, what have you been doing then, on these Saturdays, Ken? Rather grumpily, I suggest that you RTFT or Read the Title (expletive dropped). We’ve been running this workshop/thing that we’ve also done in previous years, under the gentle overseeing eye of the lovely Paul Soye. It’s an opportunity for teenagers to come and learn a little about writing for theatre and then go off and write a play of their own which is then presented by professional actors and directed by a professional director before an audience in a full theatre setting. I could say I wish I'd had such a wonderful opportunity myself when I was a teen but that would be nothing less than churlish. If such an opportunity had existed, I would never have taken it. I was far too strange to step up for anything like that.  

Over the years, I've discovered that I love to engage with young people via the activity of writing, and particularly theatre writing. I don’t present as a know-it-all or a guru – far from it – but I know a bit and I’ve done it a few times and, most importantly, I care. I care that the writing gets done as well as it can be done and that the young writers see their visions distilled into a fine spirit and realised before them on the stage. That’s a seed planted right there. A tiny seed in rich soil. It might not grow but, by golly, it might. It just might.

I’m grateful to Marja and Tim and Richard in Independent Radio Drama Productions for being the first to suggest that I might have something helpful to say and do with writers and their writing. I’m equally grateful to The Linenhall Arts Centre for encouraging me to develop this part of my life, as well as several other parts, and I’m grateful to Fighting Words for letting me be a part of their wonderful encouragement machine, through which so many talented young people have passed. I am doubly grateful to Donna Ruane, who took on so many of my teen plays and introduced me to the phenomenon that is the Teen Actor. The Teen Actors I have got to know in this way are grown now. I meet them in pubs and in graduation gowns and we smile and remember the days when we jumped on and off theatre stages with such fearlessness and joy. We never lose it.

I've been coming out of these most-recent writing sessions a little dizzy and a little light-headed. As I said, that's been 80% flu but it’s the other 20% that is more interesting. There is an energy required in helping young people to write and create and perform. It takes it out of you. 

So, yes, where was I? I think the absence of a blog post over the last few weeks has been at least partly due to the amount of energy I expended in merely keeping up with the current cohort of teen writers. There is a level of invention and purity to the work they do that makes the gentle corralling of it an intricate and challenging job. One is reminded of Harry Chapin’s old song where ‘Flowers are Red and Green Leaves are Green’. It would be so easy and so terrible to extract the strange and quirky manoeuvres of the teenage mind from the writing work they do. “This doesn’t work” and “this isn’t how it’s done.” But what a tragedy that would be. The trick is to constantly walk the tightrope line between what works and what is beautifully and wonderfully parsed from a burgeoning and vibrant imagination. It’s no wonder I might feel giddy in the butcher’s shop afterwards.

On Sunday 5th November, in my beloved Linenhall Theatre, the new plays by the new writers will be performed, after an intense weekend with the actors and the directors. I saw this done last year and it was remarkable. I have no doubt this year will be the same. Come along if you’re nearby. It’s free but you have to book. It will heighten your faith in our young people; in how unendingly brilliant they are, no matter whether they pursue football, or writing or meeting their friends in the park on a Saturday afternoon. It will remind you of how great it is to be young, with the world at your feet and with the surety that every dream can still come true.

I’m not the best theatre-writing-helper-outer in the world. I tend to get a little over-invested and perhaps push a little too hard. I tend to tire myself out.

But I’m glad, so glad, that I get to do it, and I feel lucky, so lucky, as I arrange the tables and chairs in the lovely theatre space and the young people come in with their scripts and their dreams.

1 comment:

Jim Murdoch said...

You raise an interesting question here: Had I been offered such an opportunity when I was a teen would I have taken advantage of it? I think the answer, like you, is probably not. I saw myself as a poet and I was snobby about it even though most of the stuff I produced was utter drivel. I liked the total control I had over the words and I’m not sure I could’ve handled others getting involved. I’ve always been grateful I wasn’t an artist because I’d never have been able to part with any of my works. That is the beauty of writing; I get to keep what I’ve written and give it away. I was actually only twenty when I wrote my first play and never made the slightest effort to see it produced which is just as well because it was awful. I’m not sure at that age I could’ve handled it being picked to pieces because I was still a bit full of myself, especially since I was getting poetry published on a regular basis in magazines that died not that long after they’d published me. What did I know?