One of the most infuriating statements I’ve ever heard was ‘anybody can write a play.’ It was said in a way that was not only dismissive of those who had tried and failed, but it presupposed a host of privileges not everybody has including literacy, physical well being, and mental well being. It ignored the barriers that class, race, disability and gender can pose. That statement refused to take into account those working endless hours to simply make a living for themselves and maybe others. ‘Anybody can write a play’ masks it’s refusal to acknowledge a vast number of people from wildly different backgrounds than it’s own under a guise of undermining optimism and assumes an enormous amount of lucky circumstances before we even begin to talk about the roadblocks to getting that play produced.
This February, my show, Frances Farmer: Zombie Movie Star, will be performed for two nights at the VAULT Festival underneath Waterloo Station. I imagine many of the people reading this article, who’ve sought out an article like this, will be able to count themselves as one of the lucky people able to sit down and write play like myself and now want to know the next step. In which case, congratulations! Luck aside, you’ve completed one of the hardest first steps to seeing you’re play fully realised on stage which is writing the damn thing. However long it took you, whatever it took, and whatever your play is about, give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve made a thing, and that can’t be taken away from you. Now for the bad news… to get this thing on it’s feet, you’re going to need a whole lot more luck.
Before I had even conceived the idea of writing a show about a reanimated movie star from the golden age of Hollywood based on the real life Frances Farmer, I was absolutely in love with VAULT Festival. I volunteered at the festival for two years, I watched SO much theatre, and I got to know some amazingly talented theatre-makers who pointed me towards other performers, artists, and venues where great sometimes under-appreciated theatre was being made. I have always loved theatre and have done multiple summers up in Edinburgh for the Fringe, but this introduced me to a whole new and wonderful side of the London fringe theatre scene that had been sitting under my nose the entire time. It was incredibly lucky that a few years ago I stumbled into VAULT Festival because of a random post on Facebook, and it was luckier still that one day I woke up and found myself surrounded by wonderfully creative people who made me want to push myself to create to.
I wrote my show specifically with the VAULT Festival in mind. It contains in jokes and references that only people familiar with the space will get. I still panicked about whether or not the show would be liked while I waited for a response after applying for the festival, not only because I was worried about rejection, but because acceptance meant producing, directing, and casting a show for the first time in my life. And now, putting on this show is hard work, but I get to work hard because I was lucky.
My advice for playwrights- whether you’ve finished that play or not -is to go where new theatre is being made, theatre that excites you. Try to surround yourself with the people making that theatre not because you’re ‘networking’, but because you genuinely enjoy their company and they inspire you to create. Support others whenever you can, and try to get really lucky.