By Julie Tsang, Jul 2021
A few summers ago, I took a walk up The Cobbler (Ben Arthur) to clear my head. At the top of a steep part of the hill I was met by a lone sheep. The sheep stared deep into my eyes, opened its mouth and said “Hullo!” Ok, that didn’t happen, but at the time in my head I thought, imagine that did happen. Just me and this sheep standing 880 metres up the Arrochar Alps, drinking in the beautiful landscape and exchanging pleasantries as we passed through. But alas, the sheep remained silent and stared at me while nonchalantly chewing some grass. I took a pic of the sheep and moved on.
It wasn’t until my phone pinged ‘On this day 2 years ago...’ with bittersweet reminders of life pre-Covid, that I saw my sheep friend again in photo form. It was from that tiny exchange where my idea grew. The play I am developing is...wait for it... an immersive, meta- theatrical, form bending experiment! Yes, you read right! Wildsheep & Wunderkind takes the spectator on a theatrical journey, where Scottish myths and folklore are reframed to fit with how we make sense of and view the world today. With a talking sheep, of course!
Being a Playmaker
It is a gift. Knowing you are met with encouragement and support allows you to try something new and take risks, hence my experimental play! As a group we became a close unit developing our work. I learned so much being part of their process as well as them being part of mine. Once we had a full draft, with brilliant insight from Clare, they were all shiny and ready for the showcase. I can’t put into words how special it felt knowing we would all finally meet IRL and be IN AN ACTUAL THEATRE! Watching my words come to life in rehearsal was emotional and nerve wracking, but the actors were wonderfully generous and I felt they really captured what I was trying to do with my play. There were restrictions in place and Ellie was impeccable; rehearsing and filming to a tight schedule. Afterwards, we all sat in the park eating pizza and having a celebratory drink. It was strange to all finally be together having only ever seen each other’s heads and shoulders on Zoom. I took a moment to soak it all in. Before we knew it, it was time to go. I left Oxford feeling happy to have been part of something unique.
How has past year impacted you as a writer/theatre maker?
The past year has been a difficult one for me on a personal level. My dad passed away in December and I am processing my grief. My work has altered; loss and belonging are recurring themes and are evident in this play and my other work. There are lots of people experiencing loss in many forms right now. I remind myself that grief has no timeframe, its non-linear and unending. Writing gives me a space to vent and sometimes helps to make sense of what I’m feeling or what is going on around me.
One thing that has challenged you in this month
Meeting a deadline without childcare. I mean, it’s not really possible is it and if anyone reading this has any tips, send them my way!
One thing that you are celebrating this month
Every Friday I pat myself on the back for still trying my hand at being a writer. It’s a privilege to be here and I don’t know how much longer I’ll get to do it!
By Tabby Lamb, Jun 2021
I've been developing a play loosely inspired by the village I grew up in. It’s a show about rural masculinity, rural identity & it's kind of about gentrification too? Both the gentrification of rural spaces, and the gentrification of the Trans Body too maybe? I don't quite know yet.... it's only a first draft! It follows an elderly Trans Woman as she tries to unite her amateur dramatics group for one final show before the village hall is demolished to make way for HS2.
In a year when we've all been so isolated, I've loved working alongside the other iconic Playmakers. It really made me feel less alone as an artist, jumping into each of their worlds for half an hour each month. we each have our own styles and quirks but being able to read new scenes each month and having new scenes of my work noted each month has been totally invaluable.
The past year has changed me personally and professionally in ways I can't even contemplate - but the biggest thing I’ll take away from Playmaker (aside from the friendships) is the skills to write for a large cast. I challenged myself at the start of the scheme to write for a bigger stage than I usually do and expand my skill set & I hope I've achieved that.
It's Pride Month currently, and we're seeing a huge coordinated attack on Stonewall for their support of Trans Rights, alongside a slew of Anti-Trans bills being introduced across America and the UK so it's more important than ever for us to tell stories of Queer Triumph. To counteract these, I’m not writing stories for cis folk to show them how we’re 'just like them'. I'm writing stories for Trans folk about our own brilliance. Stories that show us living the full, happy and joyous lives that we all know we're capable of.
This month, an audio play I wrote is being released by 45North, it's a queer reimagining of the Peter Pan mythology called Darling, and stars the utterly fantastic David Hoyle. It's something I dreamed up in January and I'm really proud of it, so it feels fitting to share it during Pride. You can listen to the audio here https://www.forty-fivenorth.com/darling.
Tabby Lamb is a non-binary writer and performer based in East London and a graduate of the Theatre Directing course at Dartington College of Arts. Equally inspired by Carly Rae Jepson and Tennessee Williams, they strive to tell stories that explore the intersections between popular culture and politics. Their debut solo show SINCE U BEEN GONE, which Tabby wrote and performed, premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2019, after previewing at the Gate Theatre. The show was spectacularly received by audiences and garnered a glowing 4* write up from the Guardian who called the play “bold, honest and swollen with love”. They are currently under commission at The Unicorn Theatre, The Place and 45North. Alongside their passion for writing, Tabby is a facilitator and runs creative arts projects for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Follow Tabby on Twitter @thetabbylamb and Instagram @badgalenby
By Patrick Hughes, May 2021
I am Patrick Hughes. I am a scouse playwright and below is a little insight into what I do every month with the wonderful Oxford Playhouse. I always think I should start these things with an insightful quote but I don’t know any so…
What Am I writing?
For Oxford Playhouse I am writing a play about mental health and the ethical questions surrounding early life ethonasia. I am someone who has been personally impacted by mental health issues and am interested in delving deeper into the way we, as a society, view and interpret other people's mental health journeys. You are laughing already, right? Well actually, I do always try to look for the point in my writing where darkness and light meet so there may be a few chuckles along the way… hopefully.
In this brave new world in which we live in we have been forced into the deepest darkest recesses of Zoom for our monthly writers sessions and although that means no hugs or pints it does still give us the opportunity to all learn from each other and grow together (maybe more like a Bonzi tree than an oak). It has been such a privilege to be put in a group with all of the other writers who are of such a high standard and give notes that have shaped and changed my work.
The Past year
The past year has been difficult. You all know that and I will not dwell on it. But being part of this community has really helped me to stay focused and made me feel a little less anxious and nihilistic about the future.
To round this off I am going to list five personal challenges and five personal successes of the last year.
Is he going to stop soon?
Yes. I would just like to say that if you are a writer then next year apply for this course. Oxford Playhouse have done such a brilliant job at facilitating this group in really difficult circumstances and they have honestly improved me as a writer tenfold. They are an organisation that deserve your support and love.
Oh! I thought of a clever quote.
No, wait… it’s gone.
Patrick Hughes is a Liverpool born playwright and dramaturg living in the south of London.
Previously working in National Theatre's New Work Department, he is currently Executive Assistant at Lyric Hammersmith Theatre. His first play was performed at Liverpool Everyman Theatre. Patrick has an MA in scriptwriting at University of East Anglia which he completed under the tutelage of Steve Waters and Timberlake Wertenbaker. He is a reader for a number of UK theatres as well as a creative writing workshop facilitator. His favourite way to cook eggs is to poach them.
By Rachel Tookey, Apr 2021
At the start of lockdown, a Tweet did the rounds reminding us all that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while quarantining from plague…so really there was no excuse for the rest of us not to come out of this with a literary masterpiece. As a colleague kindly told me: ‘you've got nothing else to be doing’.
Yet writing in a pandemic has been a real test, so we’ll have to assume Shakespeare went into his with a final draft already under his belt. On the outside, there’s this furious, shifting world - where every time you open the news, you’re greeted with another painful twist in this crisis. But on the other side, there’s just…monotony: buckling down to write in the same cramped flat-share, the same walks, same trips to Tesco… Between those extremes, it can be hard to find the focus and urgency to write, and it can feel almost self-indulgent to do so.
That's why it has been such a joy to be an Oxford Playhouse Playmaker this year. Each month, we’re given a deadline to produce ten (more) pages of our play, which we share with the group the following week. Under the guidance of the wonderful Clare Baylee and Ellie Warr, we offer reflections, questions and encouragement to each other, as we all push further into our ideas.
The play I’ve been working is about girl scouts and vampires, and it asks what we tell young women about womanhood. The play’s asked me to write in new non-naturalistic registers, and the feedback and encouragement from the group has helped me find my feet there. And it's been a real gift to see the other plays come to life in the group, as characters shuffle themselves into place and worlds expand.
Outside of the group, I’ve found the Playmaker scheme has given me momentum across my writing. After hearing of Tabby’s incredible drafting and redrafting exploits in the last session, I challenged myself this month to write a first draft of a new play in a week. Getting into the idea was tough at first, but it soon became kind-of thrilling to let myself write imperfectly, in a bit of a haze. I'm now celebrating getting it written by sketching out ideas for the second draft having a Netflix and nap.
I’m excited to see what the rest of this process brings and how all our plays evolve. I hope we make it to the pub as a group at least once.
By JC Niala, Mar 2021
Theatre is all about timing and my Playmaker experience is no exception. I had applied and been rejected three times, so this was my fourth attempt. The timing could not have been better as it has given me the opportunity to work with Clare Bayley. I had previously taught her play The Container at the University of Warwick where I am an Honorary Research Fellow in the department of Theatre & Performance Studies. Clare has exceptional skill at permission giving – her guidance opens up possibilities that has taken my writing into completely new directions. I am working on a play called Out of Bounds which is an exploration of love, class and social differences against the backdrop of the HIV/AIDS global epidemic of the nineties and the digital age of the noughties.
As I have a family, working on Zoom has been a silver lining on the COVID-19 cloud. Even though the Oxford Playhouse is local to me, being able to be involved in a creative process with a dynamic group of 5 other writers and Eleanor, OP’s brilliant resident director, without having any travel time makes a huge difference. Juggling the writing life with work and family commitments has meant that despite the sociality of theatre, I have mainly worked alone in the early hours before my family wake up. I am relishing the time spent learning from and alongside other creatives.
The Oxford Playhouse is a tremendously supportive place. When the network I belong to African Women’s Playwright Network produced the second ever collection of plays by African women to be published (Methuen, 2019), they provided space for readings which helped us to launch the collection. Staff are welcoming, flexible and open to finding ways to work with writers and artists. They also have a superb programme for young people which my daughter has previously participated in.
In these challenging times, we need all artistic practice more than ever. When I and others have lost people over the last year, it is words of other writers – poets, playwrights - that we reach to for comfort and share.
Live streaming has democratised theatrical spaces by making it possible for those who otherwise cannot get to theatres to be able to participate from their homes. This, of course, does not take away from the magic of live theatre that happens in the moment where anything can go wrong (or right).
If you have a play idea that you have been thinking about, or perhaps a piece of work that you have started and put down, I highly encourage you to dust it off and work with it.
The world needs your words.
And do apply for next year’s Playmaker – if you don’t get in – don’t be put off and apply again.
You will get in when the time is right.
JC Niala - Playwright & Oxford Playmaker
Follow J C on Twitter & Instagram @jcniala
By Georgie Bailey, Feb 2021
Hi! I’m Georgie Bailey (not the one from It’s A Wonderful Life) and I’m a working-class Poet, Playwright, Producer and one of this year’s Playmakers.
The scheme brings together 6 writers with different backgrounds, styles and voices and offers us the space to develop a new play. In these monthly sessions, currently via Zoom, we’re given the opportunity to provide feedback on one another’s scripts, to discuss all things theatre as well as gifted the freedom and time to actually write from Clare’s fantastic exercises.
Over the course of the 2021 Playmaker scheme, I’ll be developing a new play called ‘GORGER’ which explores the Romany community and interrogates what we choose to hide from others and questions the divide between us all as humans. It’s set within the confines of a garden and is broken down into several acts which follow a shed being built, whilst two misunderstood communities butt heads in a growing fire of conflict.
2020 was an incredibly strange year and finding inspiration amongst everything going on has been tough to say the least. Everyone’s banging on about Shakespeare writing King Lear during the plague, but I’d like to see old Willy put up with Twitter telling him he should be doing it anyway. In a time when we’re so isolated, we’ve never been so surrounded by other’s opinions, and I’ve found I’ve been trying to reflect on the kinda writing I want to do, rather than what people think I should do.
Graduating from an MA last year was also hideously daunting. With work I had lined up with my production company getting shifted, it meant I’ve gone back to the drawing board with how I create. Whilst feeling like a bit of a backstep initially, it’s actually been super rewarding, and has allowed me to consider new avenues, collaborations and ways of making, and I think if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s to try new things, even if they feel like the furthest thing from the boxes we know.
This month, the uncertainty really challenged me. More so than it did over the whole of last year. No certain plans. No ability to make any certain plans. Family and friends becoming ill. No indication of when it might end. It’s all been very doom and gloomy.
Because of cancelled plans I’ve had space to write, think and create. This month, I’ve started a new play, soldiered on with GORGER as well as finished off funding applications for a collaborative animation project for graduate artists. Oh, and I bought a new set of teas (which is something to celebrate, right?)
I’ve found lately, it’s about finding that light, no matter how much of a slither it may be.
Sending all my love, wherever you find yourself reading this.