Adam Peck, Bristol Old Vic Associate Artist
Why writing for theatre?
Because it's live and immediate. Because you get a direct interaction with and response from the audience, both in the theatre during the performance, and in the bar afterwards. People always seem invigorated by a good piece of theatre and want to talk to other people about it. Audiences share their thoughts, their ideas on how great the acting was, or how the play could've been improved, or want to discuss the (moral, political, personal, social) issues raised by the work. In contrast, a cinema audience leaves the auditorium quietly - it is a more inward solitary experience. A theatre audience want to interact and make change, and for that reason I write to for theatre - because I think it can change the way people think and have an impact on how they live their lives.
What was your first production? And how did it come about?
I had two shows on in London before I moved to Bristol (one at the Camden People's Theatre, and one at the Diorama Arts Centre), but they were both unfunded, part of festivals, and really experiments for me as an inexperienced writer.
My first "proper" production was Gilgamesh for the Bristol Old Vic Young Company in 2006 - an adaptation of Geraldine McCaughrean's book for children. It was a great project and the first time I'd worked with Tid as a director. (Tid is the Artistic Director of Fairground, a theatre company we co-founded in 2007. We'd worked together as actors in London before that, in a production of The Tempest). It was a devised and scripted show, and by that I mean, every week Tid would devise material based on the book with the Young Company and I would bring in material I'd written at home on my own. We would share material and the best ideas would be incorporated into the final script. It was an organic process - not writer-led or purely devised, but somewhere in-between - a difficult thing to describe and specific to that project. It was an amazing learning curve for me, particularly in how to write for large numbers of actors. In the end I wrote about thirty different characters for a cast of about twenty actors.
Who has been the biggest influence on your work?
In a practical, hands-on, how do we make a piece of theatre in the room with a writer, I would say Tid, Chris Gylee, Joseph Wallace, Peter Reynolds and Catherine McKinnon. We have made work together for five years now and their ideas and processes have informed my work a great deal.
In terms of playwriting skills and the form of my work, I hold Tim Crouch in great esteem. I think there is a magnificent paradox in his work: there is a complexity in how it negotiates the audience/performer relationship and the politics surrounding authorship, but at the same time a simplicity, namely in the directness of the dialogue and straightforwarndness of the subject matter. (For example, the subject matter of most of Tim Crouch's play could be described in one or two sentences - A man talks about how he held his arm above his head for a long period of time and what happened to him and his arm. A hypnotist invites the father of the child he has killed to a performance where he attempts to come to terms with what has happened. A minor character from a Shakespeare play gives their version of the events in the play in the form of a monologue directly addressing the audience.) In my opinion, the combination of content and form in Crouch's work, makes for remarkable theatre.
What's the biggest lesson you've learnt as a writer?
There are a few lessons I've learnt along the way.
a) Don't write too much. If you try to write to be as concise as possible from the start you will still write too much but you will make your job later (i.e. editing) much easier.
b) Don't expect to get your play produced just because you think it's good. It might be, but convincing a production company to put it on is not always about the quality of the work. Politics, preferential treatment, money, time and space are almost always as important as the quality of the script in hand.
c) Start small and work it out from that small starting point. So many writers tell me about a hugely complex play they're going to write, and I think ‘good luck trying to get all that to work in one play; where are you going to start?'.
What play that you've seen or read had the biggest impact on you?
Crave by Sarah Kane made me rethink what a play was, both in terms of story and dialogue. I started asking myself questions like does dialogue have to be people talking to each other? Does there have to be a story? How does a play accumulate meaning and significance, rather than explicitly stating them?
I love Blasted, also by Sarah Kane, because it is not contrained by it's own premise. It starts naturalistically in a hotel room in Leeds, and ends in the middle of a civil war with a man being blinded and raped. The scope of the play is incredible, and that a theatre audience can be expected to follow a single play which lurches between reality and surreality, from personal politics to issues surrounding war and terror is a credit to theatre. That Blasted was the first play Kane write is incredible. Shame on the critics who initially panned it (to be fair,once they realised they were wrong, they did say sorry, but who told them they were wrong, or when did they realise?).
If you could invite four writers or directors round for dinner who would they be?
Nicholas Hytner, because before I die I want to have a play on at the National Theatre, and to meet him would be the first step towards that (I haven't written that play yet I hasten to add). He also seems like a nice chap, and he likes Alan Bennett who is also from Leeds, which I appreciate.
Polly Findlay, because she is not only an excellent director to work with, as a writer and also as an actor, but she is also a friend and a really nice person to have around.
Simon Stephens because he's a prolific playwright whose work is brutally honest, but heartfelt and sympathetic. He's also a really nice guy, easy to talk to and approachable. And he's affiliated with the Lyric which is a theatre whose work I love.
Caryl Churchill, because she's had such an influence on British playwriting/theatre-making, and has written so many various plays in so many different styles and with such different content, that she must be an absolute mine of knowledge and intelligence, and probably a really humble, honest and decent person.
What advice would you give to someone considering writing for stage?
Write something short (no more than 30 mins), and make sure you write it all before you start to edit it.
Then work on it editing and cutting lines of dialogue and work on it redrafting and moving scenes and deleting scenes and conflating scenes, and work on it until it is as good as you think it can be. That relies on a) that it tells the story that you set out to tell b) that the characters have individual characters and are not all speaking in the same voice c)that it is communicating something discernible to it's audience - even if it is very simple or obscure meaning, or theme, or simply highlighting a problem or celebrating a feeling - all plays, in my opinion must be trying to paint a picture with a particular type of brush.
I'm working on two plays for Ustinov, Theatre Royal Bath. One about two people who walk the same way to work (The Unremarkable, 20th April 2011), and one about eight people whose real-life stories I am turning into a play that they will perform (Life Savings, 21st-25th June).
I'm also playing Banquo in the Bristol Old Vic's production of fairymonsterghost, and preparing to work on a new version of Lorca's Blood Wedding for the Tobacco Factory in September this year.