What is your current job title?
Playwright in Residence at the Mark Twain House & Museum.
When did you realise that you wanted to be a playwright?
When some friends of mine decided to put on a production of my first play, Making the Move, for our school, one of the actors looked up from the script and said that it sounded just like his conversations with his friends in his dorm room, which had been my goal. I had always wanted to be a playwright, but this moment made me feel as though I could be one, and it has stuck with me ever since. I was lucky enough to see Making the Move through a popular run at the 2014 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Can you tell us a little about your journey so far? How did you get to your current position?
This current position is the product of hard work and more than my fair share of good fortune. In preparation for my first play's run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, I came in contact with a producer who, as it later turned out, had done some work with the Mark Twain House & Museum. After the success of that first play, we talked about what was next for me and I told him, completely unaware of the Twain connection, that I had always been interested in adapting Twain's work for the stage (there is a long history of both great successes and utter failures in adapting Twain, which made it exciting, and I had always seen Tom and Becky's relationship as the quintessential story of young love). From there things snowballed and I couldn't be more grateful for it and more excited for what's to come.
What do you feel the biggest challenge is that you face as a young playwright?
There is no lack of inspiration or substance for teenage playwrights. The challenge is, I think, trying to learn how to craft the often overwhelming emotion that inspires a piece into a cohesive, structured play.
When did you begin work on The Sawyer Studies?
I began writing The Sawyer Studies right after the run of my play, Last Call for Providence, ended in Edinburgh this past summer. A collection of shorter pieces, The Sawyer Studies was the logical step between the one-act work I'd done at the 2014 and 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festivals and the full Broadway adaptation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in that it tests how far an audience, or a company, is willing to step from and step towards Twain's original work while maintaining, and perhaps enhancing, the timeless truths of the novel.
What is the first thing that you do when writing a play?
It all depends on the project. For adaptations, the first and most important step in the process is to become familiar, almost too familiar, with the work you are adapting. For Tom Sawyer, I spent weeks reading, re-reading, and taking notes on Twain's classic before I began any writing of my own.
Is there a process that you follow for every play?
The one step in writing a play, perhaps the most underrated step, which I always rely upon, is excessive reading. Even if I am writing full time, and perhaps especially if I am writing full time, it is crucial that I read as much as I can from as many different sources and mediums as possible. When I wake up, before I go to bed, even during the work day, whenever I feel like I am approaching a roadblock in my writing, I always read. For me, there is no better fuel for good writing than great reading.
What can a young playwright bring to the theatre industry that an older playwright might not be able to?
In order to write something worthwhile, I think, you have to either write from experience or from true interest. In that sense, though as young playwrights we lack the sort of craft experience of our idols and mentors, we have a natural, immediate connection to what it means to be growing up, or to be in love for the first time, or whatever else we and our friends are going through as teenagers. If we tap into that, if we look critically and caringly at our own lives, we have access to a wealth of feeling and experience not so easily available to older writers.
And finally, is there any advice that you would give to a young playwright who was looking to be taken seriously within the industry?
Of all things, I would tell another young playwright not to try too hard to be taken seriously at all. Just tell your story. It is all too easy, as a young playwright, to seek the dramatic at the expense of the true and lose what little of both you could have captured in your work. If your experience or your true, deep interest gives you a reason to have drugs or a gun on stage, put it in, but if you are just looking to be dramatic, or to impress, or to be taken seriously, you will likely be missing out on the great drama of your own life, however small it may seem.
The Sawyer Studies is running at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden from 1-6 December. For tickets please ring 020 7482 4857 or email [email protected]
Want to know what it takes to be a playwright? Check out the Creative Choices, the arts careers website, here.