Silva Semerciyan - BBC Arts Fellow
Who is your favourite writer - playwright or otherwise?
Eugene O'Neill. Long Day's Journey Into Night is my favourite play. O'Neill's former wife, Carlotta Monterey, said that whilst writing it, he would come out of sessions looking ashen and tearful. That's the kind of play for me.
Why plays? Have you written in any other forms?
I get the biggest buzz from watching live performance. Sometimes, though, when I read a novel, I get a bit jealous of all that elbow room. A line of prose can be as eloquent or expansive as it needs to be, whereas dialogue has limitations: it's either restricted by what a person would actually say or by what an audience can bear to hear. I started to write a novel when I was eleven entitled Tori (with an I) Goes to France. Sadly, I had to abandon the project when I came to the last page in my spiral notebook. (Still unsure as to why she had actually gone.) The experience did teach me the value of research. In order to write the book, I had opened an atlas, examined the map of France for at least five minutes, and then decided to locate my sprawling fifty acre farm somewhere in a North Paris suburb. Maybe I'll finish it one day. For me, the best thing about writing plays is the chance to collaborate with other artists: making discoveries with actors; being inspired by directors and designers; the blooper moments; the feeling of vindication when an idea works on stage. I could never be happy working alone.
When was the first time you heard your words spoken on stage? What was that like?
I was sixteen. I had written a comic sketch called ‘Love Triangle' in which the same template scene, a boy catching his girlfriend with another boy, is repeated over and over, each time in a different dialect of American English. I had cast myself as the two-timing girl from New York because that was the accent I could do. Every time the audience laughed, I laughed right along with them. Until then, my exposure to theatre had been limited to driveway spats between neighbours over cats and flowerbeds, so I had never heard the term ‘corpsing' or indeed ‘Stanislavski' before. I thought it perfectly acceptable to unburden myself of the urge to laugh by laughing. These days, I sit in the back row of the auditorium and watch, as serene and expressionless as a pillar. Or try really hard to.
How much do you plan your work?
More and more with each new project. There was a time when I might have loftily declared, ‘I never use outlines', before flinging a paisley scarf over my shoulder. Now, with a three-year-old clasped to my ankle, I am less tolerant of unplanned forays of any description. I've finally learned to see outlines for what they are-a preventative measure against a colossal waste of time.
What is your favourite performance space?
The Olivier Stage at the National Theatre. Much as I adore a swirling, gold-leafed proscenium arch, it colours expectations about the play to come: perfect for a play with corsets and epigrams, less suited to a social-realist piece set in a bedsit. The Olivier is epic without being grand; you feel its scale but ignore its carpentry.
Do you listen to music when you write?
Never. I need absolute silence or at most, the hum of the refrigerator. If want to imagine how a scene could be staged to a certain song, I'll listen to the song, but I don't write at the same time. I do use music to alter my mood or put me in the right mindset for writing, but then I switch it off.