Sian Rowlad has written a fantastic piece of theatre in the form of Gazing At A Distant Star at Greenwich Theatre which runs from 13 to 29 January 2017. Here, Sian tells Break A Leg all about it:
Thanks for talking to Break A Leg. Tell me about the production, the inspiration for it and how easy it was to put down on paper.
Gazing At A Distant Star is a play about those who go missing and those who are left behind and opens this Friday 13th (luckily I’m not superstitious!) at Greenwich Theatre Studio in London. It was inspired by several things: I sing with my local Rock Choir and we did a lot gigs for the charity Missing People. Before each performance someone who had experienced a loved one going missing would talk to the audience and their stories stayed with me. It lent an extra poignancy to our singing! I thought of missing people as mostly young runaways but there are so many reasons people go missing- either voluntarily or through force. This hit home when the three schoolgirls from east London disappeared from their homes to join IS. The news focused on the girls themselves but I kept wondering how the families of the girls coped. Would they feel able to mourn the loss of their daughters or sisters while the world judged them? Did they go over every word and every action and wonder where it went wrong? There are thousands of stories that may not even make the news and that really got me thinking.
I’m also interested in how tough things are for young people at the moment. They live in a world of university fees, zero hours contracts and lack of jobs so I wanted to bring in those themes too.
I started with Karen’s story as a stand alone monologue and then wove Arun and Anna’s stories into the narrative. The play grew and grew and at one point I printed it out, sat on the floor and cut and glued bits together until it felt right. It’s had many, many rewrites and edits and I’ve been lucky enough to have some readers along the way who have given me really perceptive feedback.
I’m also thrilled that it’s having its debut at Greenwich Theatre. Greenwich Theatre is a real stalwart of the London theatre scene and under the artistic direction of James Haddrell has gone from strength to strength in recent years. The theatre recently received a grant to create a brand new studio space and my Gazing At A Distant Star is kicking off the spring season.
I was keen to give something back to Missing People so on the 19th we’ll be having a special performance where a percentage of ticket sales go to the charity. The evening will be introduced by Bafta award-winning actress Monica Dolan (recently seen on our screens in Witness for the Prosecution) who got involved in the charity after playing Rosemary West in Appropriate Adult.
What were your ideas for casting? Did you know who you were looking for to fill the role(s)?
I’m really lucky that James Haddrell is directing the play himself and has created a perfect cast. Victoria Porter plays Karen and has been attached to the play since it was a short monologue. Her performance as a grieving mother is just astounding. Serin Ibrahim brings a real tenderness to the part of Anna and Television Workshop graduate Harpal Hayer is perfect as Arun who is caught between generations and cultures. All three have worked so hard to really embody the characters and create something special and moving. There are also some lighter moments and all three actors are able to bring light and shade to the parts.
Have rehearsals altered your perception at all?
For me, the joy of being a playwright is passing over the script to the director and actor who use it a starting point to create a world for the characters. I love the way actors take a bunch of words that came from my head and bring them to life. I’ve left them to it as it belongs to them now and besides, I’m self-employed so need to get on with the day job!
How does the space lend itself to the piece?
The studio has a fresh, open feel and seating is very flexible which works well as I want the focus to be on the actions of the characters rather than set. I like the idea of the audience feeling close to the action but still separate. It’s also fully accessible which is great as many studios seems to involve steep stairs.
What do you hope the audience will take away from the piece?
It’s human nature to try and neatly package people so the play reminds us to not make assumptions and to look at the complex stories behind the headlines. I borrowed the title from a line by Haruki Murakumi as it made me think about how we never really know what’s going in someone’s life. It’s also a reminder that all our lives are irrevocably interlinked and if one part is removed then the whole can unravel.
Finally, what’s your advice for budding writers?
Read, watch, listen and learn from those who are in the business. There are so many people out there who offer wise words of advice to writers at every stage. Try writing lots of different genres until you find your niche. I found my voice by blogging about my redundancy following government cuts!
Here’s a link to the play and you can book tickets here too: