When Writing becomes like Adoption

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The process behind giving an early script, Acquaintances, to a director and watching it grow from a distance…

For the East 15 Devising Festival in 2014 I wrote a lovely little script about two mutual friends meeting at a party. At the time it had no name, but following several conversations about the material with Belynda Galliard, I decided to pass the work onto her. A few months down the line it would be performed for an audience; transformed, adjusted and streamlined to performance standard.
This all sounds fairly simple, but at the time it was completely alien to me. It’s the biggest step you can take in the early stages of the career, to give your writing to someone else. They adopt your work and you turn up later to see how it’s grown up.
At what point can you trust another person with your work? When are you ready to let go and just see what happens…
It’s certainly a very interesting experience, to work so hard on the text at hand for several weeks, go through various edits with the director and then, whoosh, nothing… the work is over. Nothing for me to do until I hand out a few notes and provide context at a dress rehearsal. Whilst this feels strange it is exactly what the role of writer should be. It was something I wanted to experience. A writer should be immensely involved at the start as they build the concept of the world with the director. However after that they should clear the hell away. There is nothing worse than a interfering writer trying to give their twelve pence every five minutes into the creation of the piece. If that’s what they want then they should write and direct, as I know many of my colleagues have done and I’ve personally done on several occasions. It’s therefore so vital to learn early on when to be involved and when to stay away. You should always precisely learn your personal role in the creation process, whether that’s being a actor, director or writer. Every director that an actor works with will be completely different. You must personally gage how little or much to be involved throughout the process depending on how the director works. Do they tell how to work precisely or do they take a step back and let you create? Meanwhile writers must consult carefully with the director at the start and organise to what amount that they should be involved in the process.
What was also interesting about this piece in particular was it’s personal value to me. Once it had left my hands to be adapted, I honestly felt a form of withdrawal for several days.
I probably should explain further…
The script itself had very personal meaning to me as it was based on my own experience. The script involves two people meeting at a party and watching a film together. The script then jumps forward a couple years to the boy on Facebook discovering that this girl has passed away. Without Facebook, it’s possible that he may not even know to this day that she is no longer on this earth.
This happened to me. Even now, I find myself getting slightly emotional writing this and that’s positive and negative. I’m immensely proud that I have created a script that honours my friend’s life, but I sometimes question whether I should have written it at all. Was it my place to write this account of life? After some thought I’ve realised that I’m glad I had the opportunity to express myself. The very night I discovered the news, I was so upset that I needed to express myself. I sat down and wrote. My writing grew as an elaboration of how I was feeling in the moment and then I ventured back into my memory to the very first time I’d met my friend. I wrote everything I wanted to to say to her at that initial party, if I could travel back in time and do it all again.
If I had gone ahead and presented this piece at it’s rawest that very clearly showed a representation of myself, it would de-value the subject at hand. It would de-value my friend’s life. Performing the initial script would have been indulgent of my own feelings. The script was not about me. It was about my friend.
By passing this script onto Belynda, we were able to keep the essence of the story existing. We changed the characters names, their lives changed, but the focus remained. We learnt how beautiful this girl called Eve truly is. And the boy, Lucas, is able to express everything he possibly can to her that he never could when I met her in real life. This piece expresses everything that we want to in our imagination but can’t in reality.
Belynda’s process was also very intriguing. She only worked on the first half of the play with her two actors, Lara Costello and Victor Itang, where the two acquaintances meet for the first time. Only a week before the performance she revealed the second half of the play where Lucas discovers that Eve has passed away. As a result, the actors genuinely felt the loss of life, especially when I walked into the rehearsal room and told them that this was a real story. However it was vital that I didn’t know initially that it was a real story as they would try and imitate myself or the girl I had written about. Their job was be the characters that had grown from my own imagination. They were not me. They were extended creations of themes that had grown from reality.
Sounds all rather complex, but it’s not. I passed my truth onto Belynda and along with her cast they made it their own. If I had created this piece, I would have limited myself.
Needless to say, the piece went very well. The audience seemed genuinely touched by the material and it actually raised money for Cystic Fibrosis through collection boxes at the end of the performance. I saw both performances and the actors Lara and Victor handled the text very well. They were clear, articulate and most importantly connected with the raw themes at hand.
Belynda directed the text with such precision and care that I found it quite inspiring. She represents a great example of how to be director. Her process was precise and the final product she produced shone with the effort she had poured into it.
She also had Matt Trayler on board as Assistant Director who ran many of the warm-ups and provided a second set of eyes during the process. I bring this up, as the relationship between myself Matt as Assistant Director and Lara and Victor as the Actors was barely existent. This is vital. In all honestly I haven’t much clue what happened in the rehearsal room. I don’t know what excersizes took place. I don’t know the extent of Matt’s role as Assistant Director and neither do I need to. As a writer I don’t need to be part of the acting process. My working relationship existed only between myself and the Director, Belynda. It kept me distant from the process and made the end the result even more intriguing.
It was a difficult but vital lesson to learn. It can be so tough to give up your own work, but sometimes it’s necessary and some cases extremely exciting. I didn’t have the capability to produce this script and I’m so happy that I was given the opportunity to pass it onto a friend who could create it on my behalf.
As I look out at my window right now at the endless blue sky, a pulse of emotion echoes through my chest.
It’s distant. Pure, raw and content.
Life flutters beyond the glass of my window and I leave my laptop at last, stretch forward, twist the handle and I let life echo against me.
It’s strange. Surreal. It doesn’t matter. It’s real.