After a marathon 18 months, we’re taking a little down time while we work on other projects and get some R&R. Watch this space, and we’ll be back before you can say “Miss you already”!
Playwright John Hamilton May is the
winner of the BBC Verb New Voices Award, and was recently shortlisted for BBC
Opening Lines and the Perfect Pitch Award, marking him as One to Watch in the future of new writing. His honest
and powerful work has been performed internationally, inspiring audiences around the country and the world. His play, Love in the Past Participle marks his fourth collaboration with AFOAF.
You can read our interview with him from last year’s Blackfriars Stories project here: http://www.afriendofafriendproductions.org/blackfriars-johnhamiltonmay/
It’s time to introduce multi-talented ANOTHER DAY playwright Ben Norton Davies…
Ben, ANOTHER DAY will be the second time you have worked with A Friend of a Friend Productions can you tell us a little bit about the first time?
Yeah, well I was fortunate enough to have a play in the ‘Scripted’ event at the Southwark Playhouse last year.
Two years ago actually.
Is it really? Bloody hell, time flies. Okay so I had a play in ‘Scripted’ two years ago; a little comedic two hander about unrequited love called “A Misunderstanding” which had just been shortlisted for the Soho Theatre Westminster Prize. I enjoy playing around with staging conventions in my writing and I came up with the idea of a piece that worked as a single narrative but told by two people in
separate spaces… it seemed to go down pretty well.
It really did. So what have you been doing since then?
You know the joy of it was I actually met with a number of people in the bar after ‘Scripted’ who had enjoyed what I had done and wanted me to work with them. That was a great feeling! So that night I was commissioned to create a piece for Invertigo’s ‘Seven’ event at The George Tavern in Shadwell. Then that in turn led to me writing a longer piece for them entitled “A Marked Man” that was presented at the 2013 HighTide Festival. I have also had works performed at new writing nights across London. Oh and I’m working on a screenplay… but then isn’t everyone?
A question we are asking all our writers is predictably enough; “did you always want to be a writer?”
No, not really. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I actually went to university with ambitions of being an actor. Then while I was there I wrote a few plays for coursework that were well received, and then I started writing stand-up routines and comedy songs that I would perform at local pubs, and I guess I just found myself drifting more in that direction. Even now though I don’t really think of myself as just a writer as its only part of what I do, part of who I am I guess.
And what are the other parts?
Eurgh. I don’t know. I hate these kinds of questions. I do a bit of everything I guess; writing, illustration, comics, design… and then there’s the day job as a follow spot operator.
Can you tell us more about that?
About follow spotting? Well I point a big light at a stage…
Ha. No; about your design work.
Oh right, okay. So I created the webcomics ‘My TV is Evil’, ‘Catatonic’ and ‘Modern Life is Awesome’, and I’ve done logo designs and posters for various clients. I’ve also done artwork on iPhone apps and various websites. Most recently I designed the cover art for Jenifer Toksvig and David Perkins adaptation of ‘The Nutcracker’ for Samuel French, which we are currently developing into an interactive app book. So yeah; to go back to the question “did I always want to be a writer?” I guess I just always wanted to be creative, you know?… Damn, no; don’t put that.
Well it’s a bit of a wanky answer, isn’t it? You know what; ask me again.
Okay. Did you always want to be a writer?
Ha! Okay can you tell us a bit about your writing process? Do you sit down with a definite idea or do you just start typing and see what comes out?
I guess a bit of both. I fill notebook after notebook with ideas, and thoughts, and overheard conversations but naturally not every one of them will develop into something. I’m not one of those writers that handcuffs themselves to the computer for eight hours a day, I tend to focus on an idea with a rabid ferocity for as long as it feels exciting and then if I haven’t shaped it into something in the first week or so it tends to drop down into the “work in progress” file where it moulders, half-forgotten, until I rediscover it when I’ve lost interest in the next thing, do you know what I mean?
But still I would say I write most days; on the bus, at work, in cafes, you know? I’ve constantly got three or four projects bubbling away at any one time so I’ll flit between them constantly editing and revising. Of course sometimes you get lucky and people ask you for something specific; and I love it when that happens because in many ways it makes the process easier; having that pressure to deliver… you know that absolute threat of a deadline? It cuts out all the procrastination and forces you to, well… deliver.
We know what you mean.
That’s a relief.
Ha. ANOTHER DAY focuses on the residents of Southwark and in particular Blackfriars, can you tell us a little about your connection to the area.
Well I have been a Southwark resident for about 10 years, first in Elephant and Castle and now slightly further out in East Dulwich. I love South London, especially the genuine sense of pride that people have for the area. I also love how you are only ever a few minutes from a park, I’m not a full on tree hugger or anything but I do like to sit in the shade of a tree with my ukulele on a sunny afternoon. As for Blackfriars itself I am quite familiar with the area as I often cut through on my way to and from work but thanks to working on this project I’ve been spending more time in the area and spending more money in the many bars! This summer I happily ended many an evening staggering to the 63 bus stop on Blackfriars Road! You know, I actually set “A Marked Man” in Blackfriars? Admittedly a slightly dystopian future version of Blackfriars, but still… I was drawn to the dichotomy of the area, extreme wealth and extreme poverty rubbing against each other in such a confined space, and then you’ve got the sense of history in conflict with extreme modernisation and the fact that you can see these changes in the skyline happening daily, happening relentlessly; it makes for a strong visual metaphor for modern society. It’s actually been extremely satisfying to revisit these ideas and have them inform the piece I’ve written for ‘Another Day’.
Ben Norton Davies is the writer of ‘The Artist’s Dog’ for ANOTHER DAY.
Follow Ben on twitter : @mytvisevil
Check out his comics:
My TV is Evil - http://mytvisevil.thecomicseries.com/comics/1/
Catatonic - http://bnortondavies.wordpress.com/page/27/
Modern Life is Awesome - http://modernlifeisawesome.thecomicseries.com/comics/1/
As we continue to introduce the playwrights of ANOTHER DAY, we welcome AFOAF regular, James Robert-Moore.
James, did you always want to be a writer?
No! I’m relatively new. I’ve always wanted to be an actor. I went to a drama school (American Academy of Dramatic Arts) in New York for a year, and whilst I was out there I started blogging about my experiences. People seemed to really take to my ramblings about all things stateside, so when I returned home I decided to finally write the full-length play I’d had rattling around in my head for years. Now I’ve started writing, I just can’t stop! Acting is still my first love, although both creative outputs battle for top position quite frequently depending on my mood!
My training continues on every job I ever do.
You never stop learning. Ever.
Do you have any writing rituals? Or a favourite work space?
My bedroom. Lots and lots and lots of tea. And a really good book to read when my mind’s gone blank and it’s all getting a bit stressful. Resting, and taking yourself away from the piece is vital. A fresh set of eyes always brings a new twist or turn.
When you sit down to write, what is your process? Do you have a clear idea when you start off and simply fill in the blanks or do you simply start typing and see what comes out?
Oh my goodness, this is an impossible questions, and every single writer will tell you something different. I always have to have an idea, and usually an opening scene and an end. What happens in the middle is up to my fingers as I type. Sometimes though I have one strong idea, and by the time I’ve finished a piece has completely gone in a different direction. I love it when that happens.
So we first worked with you last year…
That’s right. I first worked with AFOAF back on The Installation. Patrick assitant-directed a show I was in up in Edinburgh last year, and one night over an over-priced beer I told him how I wanted to turn my hands to a bit of writing. He told me about your Art Gallery project and I got thinking of some ideas. A few months later, ‘What Would Andrew Lincoln Do?’ was born.
What Would Andrew Lincoln Do? actually opened THE INSTALLATION. What was your lasting impression of that experience?
It was so nice to have the support and encouragement of A Friend of A Friend, particularly as I was such a virgin in the writing stakes. Through a fun rehearsal period, the play really changed shape, and has fast become one of my most favourite shorts I’ve written.
What have you been up to since?
Since then, I’ve continued putting pen to paper, and have been working hard on my full length play ‘It’s Been Nice Knowing You’, which has received two workshops so far. I’m hoping to see it get a full scale production within the next year. I’ve also just started writing a very exciting new piece based on a best-selling book, which I can’t say too much about at the moment – yes, I hate it when people say that too!
You tease! We’ll just have to hold on and await the big reveal! What else have you got in the works?
My most recent project was taking all my clothes off in a production of Privates on Parade! I’m in a real writing frame of mind at the moment, and am currently working on three projects as well as Another Day. ‘It’s Been Nice Knowing You’, the new project I’m being coy about, and also a series of shorts all themed around dating – which I actually took inspiration from doing ‘What Would Andrew Lincoln Do?’ in The Installation project. I’ve had my fair share of terrible dates, and I know everybody else has too. So why not be entertained with some disastrous stories! Look out for the shorts around Valentine’s Day next year!
We’ve seen some sneak previews of your upcoming work – audiences are in for a treat! What is it that appeals to you about short plays?
I love writing plays the best. Usually full length, but it’s amazing what stories you can tell in short form too. Sometimes you don’t need to drag a tale out – short and punchy can get your message across even better.
So as you know, ANOTHER DAY is all about life in Blackfriars, do you have any SE1 anecdotes to share with us?
I bought my beloved bicycle ‘Ashley’ from a shop just between Elephant and Castle and Borough, so although I’m not a Southwark resident, the area does bring back fond memories!
More recently, I went to the Southwark Playhouse for the first time actually, to see Dogfight (by Danielle Tarento). I absolutely loved it, and the space was great. I love that you can turn anything into a theatrical space – there are no limits any more. We’re very lucky to live in such an exciting time, creatively.
Agreed. In fact, we feel that it’s a very exciting time for the Arts in Southwark in particular; it’s great that audiences are coming south of the river. So what other discoveres have you made?
Sometimes if I’m feeling adventurous then I walk all the way from Tooting to the River. It’s amazing the sights and sounds you come across on the way. It’s much better to see the beauty on top than be whizzed underneath it on the underground every day. It’s a little treat I highly recommend.
The little arches that run adjacent to The Cut are a gorgeous little find. Especially when all the flowers are out in bloom. It’s easy to forget you’re in London, and while away the afternoon with friends. Try the little sharing dishes in EV restaurant. They’re delicious.
You’ve admitted that you’re not a native to SE1, but you definitely seem to know your way around. What have you discovered about the area since starting work on ANOTHER DAY? Has your perception changed?
I didn’t really know anything about Blackfriars before I started working on the project but it’s amazing to discover how rich in detail one little area is. I love talking to and hearing about the people who have lived there all their lives. As a person who grew up elsewhere and then moved to London, I always forget that for some people London has always been home. The way the city has built up must be a very confusing, and exciting thing for the long-term residents to have witnessed. It’s easy to take London for granted, but for them it’s a way of life.
James Robert-Moore has written ‘Welcome to Blackfriars’ as part of ANOTHER DAY. He is also mentoring student playwright Claire Squire, and refining the story arc for ANOTHER DAY with dramaturg and director Patrick Maubert.
In the run up to ANOTHER DAY, we’ve been introducing the playwrights involved, and we are thrilled to welcome John Hamilton May back to the team.
John, we first met last year at Tiny Dog’s new writing festival, and it was a rather odd introduction as we recall…
I had written a monologue to be performed at Theatre Breaks (alongside fellow Another Day playwright Lucy Beacon’s fantastic piece, Rostov) and met Sooz and Patrick backstage. They approached me and asked if they could speak to the writer of my piece, as a last minute illness meant I had to perform the monologue myself. I told them it was me, and well – we’ve been talking ever since! They’re such a supportive and nurturing team, who care a lot about the work they produce. You could sense that from first meeting them.
You’re making us blush! The moment that you owned up to be the playwright as well as the star, we knew straight away that we wanted to work with you. So what have you been up to since then?
Since… well, it’s all been a bit mental since. I’ve been signed, been commissioned by BBC Radio 3, and had work performed at the Roundhouse, Ovalhouse and any other shaped house you like, Contact Manchester, West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Tron Theatre. I’ve also had my play Love in the Past Participle translated into Spanish, and hope to visit for the premiere (and a significant amount of churros) in March 2015.
And those who attended THE INSTALLATION, in November 2013 will have seen the play that you wrote for our site specific production at Hide Gallery; Seventeen Thousand, Five Hundred and Then Some. Now you’re back and writing another commissioned play for ANOTHER DAY!
I have something to admit though – I’m not a Southwark resident. I’ve never worked there or have family there. I’m not even going to pretend my bus goes through there because in fact I am an infiltrator. I live in the North, however, have made numerous rekkies to the area in an attempt to get a feel for its personality. I was immediately drawn to Chirst Church. Half a garage, half a house of God. I knew straight away that’s what I had to write a play about.
We’ve read your drafts, and it’s clear that you’ve taken the time to get to know the concerns of people in the area.
Whilst my knowledge of Blackfriars at the moment is limited to the great recommendations of others (e.g. the bars under the floral canopy of Isabella Street, or the Thai food stall outside The Windmill pub on The Cut), I’m looking forward to spending more time there during the run and speaking to residents and audience members.
So tell us a bit more about you as a playwright.
I’ve been writing, on and off, for seven years now. I haven’t always wanted to be a writer, and honestly, sometimes I question whether I want to be one now. Wouldn’t life be so much easier as an accountant? Or an estate agent perhaps? Something that didn’t include gutting out your soul onto a Macbook (because we’re too pretentious to use pen and paper) and bare it before critics. And by critics I mean my mother. Who “quite liked it just wishes you wouldn’t swear so much”.
Ha! Families are always the worst critics! But assuming that you don’t take up accountancy in the near future…?
I mainly write plays, but have a penchant for mogologues and poetic writing. I like to look at small, tiny heartbreaking situations and characters. The normal life. That’s what’s most interesting to me. I’m doing some work for the radio at the moment and also edging into spoken word too. The BBC commission, The Jumble Male, is my next big project, and is a ‘multidisciplinary piece’ that aims to ‘explore the current crisis in masculinity’. In reality, it’s me talking about being a 23-year old boy. Not a man, a boy.
And what is it that inspires you to open your Macbook and start typing?
I’m a magpie when it comes to writing. I pick bits up everywhere – from people on the street, the newspapers, accidentally from other writers sometimes… and keep them all on sticky notes on the computer. It takes a lot to get me to actually start writing (as Patrick and Sooz know now!) as my ‘proper job’ is pretty hectic too. Stuff normally comes out how I want it, just in need of some cinching and polishing, and this is where having Patrick as dramaturg has been particularly useful. I don’t have any writing rituals, although I can’t deal with mess when I’m working, and it helps to have a cup of tea to hand.
Any other tips?
I’ve trained both as part of my degree and on various playwriting groups (at the Soho most recently) and to be honest, the most prevelant piece of advice is JUST WRITE. Do not worry about quality or quantity or anything it all. “Don’t get it right, get it written” – James Thurber.