Already experienced in writing for the screen, Rosie Day is about to make her stage writing debut at the Old Red Lion. She talks to Joseph Shaw about the elements that went into the piece and why she decided to take the plunge and combine all of her creative talents.
Rosie Day is the writer and star of upcoming one-woman-show, Instructions for a Teenage Armageddon. I ask to interview her in person, but, due to it being her first week of rehearsals, it takes place over the phone. I initially feel trepidation as past interviews I’ve done in this way have felt flat and awkward but as soon as Day picks up the phone I know this won’t be the case. Never have I heard someone so sprightly this early on a Monday morning.
“Hi Joseph! How are you?” Day asks. I tell her the interview will only take 10 minutes or so as I know she’s very busy. “Oh, don’t worry” she says with reassuring warmth. I ask how she feels, given that today is the start of rehearsals. “I’m literally in an Uber right now going… I’m feeling very excited – we’ve been planning this since September so it’s been a lot of anticipation,” she responds eagerly.
Instructions For A Teenage Armageddon, is, in Day’s words, “about a teenage girl whose sister has died. It follows her from ages 13 to 17 and is essentially about the effect that her sister’s death has on her life, and how she deals with it. It covers things like eating disorders and mental health; there’s a lot of difficult situations she finds herself in… There’s also a lot of humour in it, it’s quite funny.” I personally find shows that mix the dark with the light, the serious with the funny, to be the most engaging. I recently saw Dear Evan Hansen, which does this well and loved it. The two shows sound similar in their angles and approach to dealing with serious, life-altering issues.
I ask about Day’s motivation in tackling heavy topics like eating disorders and mental health. “I am an ambassador of a teenage mental health charity called Stem4. I work a lot with schools and see a lot of teenagers with these kinds of issues and I’m very aware of how many young people suffer with mental illness”. She believes that representation of these issues “on screen is getting better” but “she hasn’t seen it on stage as much, especially from a young girl’s perspective.”
The process of creating something seems to viscerally excite Day, a deduction made not just from her writing and directing credits (one feature film in pre-production, two shorts, one of which is doing well on the awards circuit), but from the bouncy and vibrant way she speaks about her projects with. Either she is three quarters of the way through a large coffee or is genuinely ecstatic about getting to the rehearsal stage of her latest project. Or very possibly both.
“So how did this play come to fruition?” I ask, fascinated as I always am about the origin story when discussing a project with a creator. “I was doing a play at Trafalgar studios and the director dared me to write her a play and so I did… I never thought anyone would read it, let alone see it”. She was later at a meeting with producers Brian Zeilinger and Jack Maple about a different play when they expressed a desire for more female driven content. “I mentioned this play I’d written, that maybe they’d like to read it. They read it and they optioned it, which was amazing”
Day has a fair bit of experience writing for the screen, but Instructions for a Teenage Armageddon is her writing debut for the stage. I ask how the two styles of writing differ. She reminds me that two of her screenwriting projects were short films whereas this play is 70 minutes long. “It has to be a very structured narrative and you can’t rely on visuals like you can on-screen, so it’s all in the words”.
This is also the writer’s first-time performing words she has written herself. I wonder about the thought process behind casting herself. “I always wanted to keep my acting, writing and directing separate, then I wrote this… it was mentioned whether I’d be up for supporting it because it’d come out of my brain and I’d lived with it for so long… I really did want to tell this story about young women.”
I ask if one feels doubly vulnerable when writing and starring, because it definitely sounds like one would. “Yes! That’s what I’m most terrified about,” she replies quickly and candidly. Before elaborating, “when you’re an actor, if people don’t like the play it’s not necessarily your fault. Whereas this is like, the whole thing, you wrote it, you’re in it! There’s nobody to hide behind essentially. It’s incredibly scary from that perspective. I do think doing a one person show is probably the most challenging thing an actor can do, having watched many of them, I found them so awe-inspiring” Day pauses before continuing with a laugh, “maybe I’m a bit of a glutton for punishment” She definitely seems up for the challenge.
Instructions For A Teenage Armageddon is playing until 29 February. For more information and tickets, visit the Old Red Lion Theatre website.