Spotlight On… Writer of Gazing At A Distant Star… Sian Rowland

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:

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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:

http://www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk/

 

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Spotlight On… Writer of an Adaptation of Frankenstein, John Ginman

Blackeyed Theatre, in association with South Hill Park, presents  Frankenstein by Mary Shelley Adapted by John Ginman 
UK Tour: September 2016 – March 2017 

To book tickets visit this link: http://www.blackeyedtheatre.co.uk.    

Marking the 200th anniversary of the creation of Frankenstein, Blackeyed Theatre’s brand new stage adaptation of Mary Shelley’s gothic horror masterpiece embarks on a five-month UK tour.
Geneva, 1816 – Victor Frankenstein obsesses in pursuit of nature’s secret, the elixir of life itself. But nothing can prepare him for what he creates.  So begins a gripping life or death adventure taking him to the ends of the earth and beyond.
Adapted by John Ginman, who penned Blackeyed Theatre’s hugely successful 2013 production of Dracula, this world premiere fuses bold ensemble storytelling, live music, puppetry and stunning theatricality to create a fresh telling of what has become a landmark work of literature.
A unique feature of the production is the use of Bunraku-style puppetry to portray The Creature.  Designed and built by Yvonne Stone (Warhorse, His Dark Materials), the full size 6’4” puppet, which needs up to 3 people to manipulate it, adds an exciting new dimension to the retelling of the classic story.
Director Eliot Giuralarocca says, I’m really excited to be directing Frankenstein. It’s a taut, gripping thriller, an exciting gothic fairy tale for grown-ups and a morality play all rolled into one. It’s always a daunting challenge to attempt to breathe new life into a classic but with a wonderful ensemble cast and a fusion of bold storytelling, music, sound and Bunraku-style puppetry I’m hoping we can bring Mary Shelley’s gothic fairy tale kicking and screaming into life!
John Ginman comments, Working on this has left me full of admiration for the achievement of the nineteen-year-old novice writer, who responded to the challenge of inventing a ghost story ‘to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart’.  This version seeks to provoke thought and discussion around many key issues that have renewed significance for us today including the ethics of genetic experimentation, and the causes of violent behaviour in some marginalised social groups.
The cast includes Ben Warwick as Victor Frankenstein (seasons at The National Theatre, Theatre Royal York, Royal Theatre Northampton, Watford Palace and The Finborough), Max Gallagher as Henry Clerval (Home Fires – ITV, James & The Giant Peach – Sell A Door, PIAF – Charing Cross/Bridewell), Lara Cowin as Elizabeth Lavenza (The Obfuscati – Theatre 503, Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom – Fiery Angel), Louis Labovitch (STOMP! – US tour, Leave Hitler to Me – Arts Theatre) and Ashley Sean-Cook (The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – Children’s Touring Partnership, My Pet Monster & Me – Blunderbus UK tour).

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I chatted to John about next year’s tour…

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg. Tell me about the piece and your inspiration for it

This decision to adapt Frankenstein was the result of a series of conversations between myself and Blackeyed Theatre. Blackeyed have clear views about how each show grows out of all the shows it has staged before. It’s very mindful of its potential audiences, and its desire to create exciting, challenging performances. We discussed a number of possible subjects, but Frankenstein was the clear front-runner, and I was very happy with that.

Was it easy to put it all down on paper?

It’s often more about thinking rather than writing! Adapting a two hundred page novel to the requirements of a two hour touring theatre show means that you have to be extremely selective. You have to find the creative opportunities in the restrictions you are working with. In this case, the process has taken eighteen months on and off, and four drafts, with further script changes in rehearsal. With Frankenstein, the structure was established early on, and most of the rest of the writer’s work has been to make sure that the telling of the story is clear, and that the interplay between the characters is strong.

Is it translating well from page to stage? 

Yes. It’s been fascinating to watch the actors working with the script in rehearsal. Hopefully they always pick up on the things you have planted in the script, and find something extra as well. That’s been the case this time. Also, parts of the script rely very heavily on action and sound, and it’s always exciting to see how a company approaches these in a creative way.

How is the space lending itself to the piece?

This is a touring show and part of the interest of the project is seeing how the production will expand and contract spatially to work in diverse venues. The central section of the set provides a very strong focus for action that can be modified as needed in the different venues the show is visiting.

What do you hope the audience will take away from the production?

An experience that is uniquely theatrical, something you would not encounter on screen, for example. Something that has engaged them imaginatively and emotionally. This adaptation includes two aspects of Shelley’s novel that are often omitted in stage adaptations: the stories of Robert Walton and the Creature himself. I hope these enrich the experience of the audience.

Finally, any advice for budding writers?

Acquire the habit of writing as part of your routine. Don’t wait for ‘inspiration’ – it’s best to make writing part of your routine every day, even if only for a few minutes, just like cleaning your teeth. If you choose to write for theatre, make sure you’re aware of the work that’s out there and which companies or venues you are interested in writing for. Remember that theatre writing is about connecting with an audience in a public space.

Thanks so much for the interview, John, look forward to seeing this next year.

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