The Graft of Writing
I have had an amazing couple of weeks, courtesy of the Write to Play programme. As well as workshops and mentoring, we also have two weeks’ work experience at one or more of the partner theatres. At the end of June, I was very fortunate to be invited by Suba Das (associate director at Curve Theatre) to watch a week-long workshop. To watch the process of a director working with experienced actors and other professionals is a fantastic opportunity in itself. But then I was told it was all happening at the National Theatre Studio in London! What an experience.
The production is Pink Sari Revolution, produced in collaboration with partners Coventry Belgrade & West Yorkshire Playhouse. It is a true story, based on the book by journalist Amana Fontanella-Khan, adapted for the stage by Purva Naresh. It is about the Gulabi Gang, commanded by Sampat Pal Devi. It’s a movement of over 400,000 women, fighting for their rights in stunning pink saris.
The production has already had an extensive period of research and development in Leicester and India. In February, Suba and the team spent two weeks in northern India. They went to meet Sampart and her
The workshop had seven actors: five female and two male. They read through the text, interrogating characterisation and context at length. They improvised sections to develop them. These were recorded and sent to Purva in India, who then redrafted sections. It was an extremely collaborative process across two continents. Director and writer are due to meet soon to consolidate the script, ready for rehearsals on 28th August. The play is due to open in Leicester on 27th September.
I was hooked from the first read-through by the actors. I can see why Suba wanted to bring this fascinating story of power and injustice to the stage. However, I was surprised how long the process (including the funding) of getting new work to stage can take. It demands so much passion, drive and commitment. I learned from watching Suba talk to the actors and other professionals how important this is.
The inspiration wall featuring photos of the Gulabi Gang:
On Wednesday 5th July, we had an intense afternoon workshop at the Curve in Leicester. It was run by Steven Camden (aka Polarbear), a spoken word artist. He started by asking where we were with our writing for the programme. I got a little flustered vocalising my idea for my full length play as I worry how people will perceive it. However, it’s a vital part of the process that I am going to have to get used to. I have to thoroughly know and believe in my story if I am going to inspire someone else to.
Steven talked about getting to know your characters inside and out. He can work for hours; asking random questions of their needs, wants and motivations to unlock the minutiae of a character. Steven explained that he may only directly use one or two ideas, but nothing is wasted, as it helps build and define a character. He also took us through a couple of exercises, including getting our main character to make a cup of tea. Six writers gave six different ways; complete with idiosyncrasies and quirks belying character. Steven also talked about his ‘messy’ writing process, which gave us all a bit of comfort and confidence.