In its second year, The Other Room’s Young Artists Festival brings together actors, writers, directors and stage managers to produce a series of innovative theatre productions. These short commissions allow the chance for young artists to form their own theatre companies for the real experience of working on the fringe. In this series we will hear testimonies from five individuals as they challenge themselves to produce a performance after a gruelling week. Second up is Emily Garside.
When writers say ‘I really just need space to write’ what they actually mean is ‘I need someone to lock me in a room and upon pain of death force me to write something’. Luckily that’s exactly what The Other Room did for their Young Artists Festival writers last week.
OK, so they left out the ‘pain of death’ part, but they did say one Tuesday ‘here’s a director and some actors, write them something to do by Friday’ which actually might be a more frightening concept. Luckily for us, the folks at The Other Room are anything but frightening, and for a set of young (slightly terrified) writers, we couldn’t have asked for a more supportive environment to write in.
This time last year I attended the Young Artists Festival as a reviewer, on one of my first assignments for Wales Arts Review, and as my first encounter with The Other Room. To look back a year later, having taken part in the festival myself, feels like a great achievement. Last year I sat in the audience and wrote reviews, while simultaneously being inspired by the brilliant work on show, I also had a feeling of ‘I could do that’…but while I’m confident in my writing in some respects, it’s been so long since I felt creative I’ve hesitated to really call myself a writer for a while.
Sadly as well for those aspiring, but not yet confident types like me, the theatre world has felt like a bit of a closed door. It’s so difficult, particularly if you’re a writer who isn’t an actor, director or something else in theatre, to get not even a foot in the door, but to find the damn door in the first place! So usually writers are blindly sending submissions into the ether, and mostly never hearing anything back, never mind any feedback on how to improve. So it’s really a revelation for somewhere like The Other Room to actually invite in a group of writers, give them support, feedback and, as Kate Wasserberg said to everyone on the first morning, to enter into a relationship with all of us as young artists.
The experience itself was intense, exhilarating, terrifying and inspiring (not the most creative adjectives for someone claiming to be a writer, but I’m pleading creative burnout after an intense week). The writers of the Young Artists Festival had a bit of a different experience to the actors and directors – for the first few days we were a bit on the outside while the actors and directors worked on bringing their first pieces to life. Meanwhile the writers had workshops, sat in the bar/outside/wandered around aimlessly/diligently writing away (mostly, we also played a bit of Pokemon too).
There were moments of inspiration, talking to other writers both allayed my fears, and reassured me that I was on the right track. Worried I would come up with nothing at all after the first afternoon, one of the other writers encouraged me to revisit a piece I’d previously done, which eventually became what I worked on. Likewise, as a group we discussed ideas, encouraged each other and reassured each other – even when that reassurance was just that we were all equally terrified!
As a writer it’s so valuable to have that sense of community. Unlike the actors and directors who were all off working together, engaging with each other, writers ordinarily live in their own heads, but to have four other people sat alongside you was uniquely inspiring. What I’m most thankful for is that we were a group of very different personalities who were all able to get along, and work (or not work!) together. There were moments of serious discussion, over the shape of a piece, the style of writing or just how on earth we were going to pull this off in two days! Equally important there were moments of madness, like when we suggested pitching a piece entirely comprised of owls and pigeons as a metaphor for the current political climate (luckily for stage-management we vetoed that idea).
So while the actors acted and the directors directed, we wrote. And took part in some brilliant masterclasses. Not content with giving us creative free reign and a space to do it in, The Other Room also connected us with three fantastic local writers; Matthew Bulgo, Alun Saunders and Gary Owen. Getting to sit down with these three writers, who generously shared their time and advice with us was for me one of the most motivating moments of the week. Not just for their excellent advice and techniques, but also for the idea that it was possible to achieve what they have done. Three very different writers, with three different paths to where they are, as well as their own personal styles was a really great thing to see for us writers, and I think kept us going just as we began to question the sanity of getting involved in this. Writing is such a solitary occupation, so to have established writers reach out and say ‘this is how I got here’ and ‘this is how I work’ makes it all feel so much more possible.
Then came the point of no return: handing over our work to the actors. They all seemed really excited to see what we’d done and with an impending sense of doom I hoped they felt the same when they read it! Luckily they did and despite being utterly exhausted from rehearsing and performing one play already in a matter of days, their enthusiasm and commitment to working on another new piece never faltered. As a new writer getting a day to sit down with actors and a director and hear all the things they got from your script that you didn’t even imagine was such an education, and to see them breathe life into the words was a truly thrilling moment.
And finally the moment of performance came. In all honesty at that moment had I been close enough to the fire escape I might have made a run for it. The reality of having something you wrote so quickly turned from ideas in your head to something people will see (and judge) was more than a little intimidating.
However, the best part about having the chance to share work so quickly, was the chance to get feedback just as quick. And that feedback came from the second the actors spoke – from their reactions, to the audiences’ in the theatre, to afterwards. Both the reassuring comments of enjoyment and the more in-depth feedback people were offering is such a privilege to have for a young writer, and so early in the process of writing something.
So, a year after sitting back as an audience member and a reviewer, I am able to say ‘I did it’. And more importantly thanks to The Other Room opening its doors to us, I finally feel able to say ‘yes, I am a writer’ with a bit more confidence than before.