Mezze Eade (Participation Director) and Charlie Howitt (participant) talk about the end of Playhouse Playmaker 2016/2017.
It is with sadness that we come to the end of any workshop, course or programme, but it is with joy and in anticipation that we prepare for the beginning and the arrival of another group of committed participants. It continues to be a great pleasure working in partnership with Oxford Playmaker; John Retallack delivers an exceptional programme for the Playhouse. Playhouse Playmaker 2016-1017 has come to an end with another group of skilled and generous playwrights producing engaging drama which would be at home on any stage in the UK. After two years and thirteen writers, each with a distinct theme and voice, I will watch the next year unfold like a concerned mother wanting all of her children to succeed, but before we welcome our new writers here are a final few words from a playwright who has flown the nest. Thank you for your creativity and generosity to each other and thank you to Charlie for giving me the opportunity to bring one her character’s to life, an experience I will never forget – Mezze (Participation Director)
Did that just happen?
We six set out to write six plays. That was the challenge for us as writers-on-attachment and it was one I gratefully accepted. It was September when we all met at the Oxford Playhouse for the first time. We shook hands and had drinks, John introduced us. We went around the group discussing why we wanted to write - an apt question to start us off and something I have to rediscover in myself from time to time. During those more frustrating moments as a writer, I have questioned why anyone does it to themselves… Sometimes it can feel like you’re torturing yourself while the rest of the world is off doing things of far more value - though I don’t think I said that in my introduction. I was feeling pretty chipper so I probably said something ideological and optimistic about the power of storytelling.
The scheme was offering all the things I needed at that moment. I had a play I was dying to write, but I’d just completed my theatre company’s touring project and it knocked the wind out of me somewhat. The thought of diving straight into the next play made me a bit nauseous and I knew it would be mistake. I wanted to develop my craft as a writer - I knew I needed more discipline, to work to deadlines, to get honest feedback - all things that John and the Playhouse were able to offer us with Playmaker. Every month we would meet and spend the morning deconstructing great plays. John would facilitate a lesson and we’d examine what we could learn about plot, structure and form. In the afternoon, we’d move onto our own plays, as a group looking at each project in turn. We formed a kind of community and that was one of my favourite parts - not only having writers to support me in my process but getting to be a part of their process. The group’s passion and energy was a real galvanising force for me when I inevitably lost my way eight months into the ten month scheme. I always lose my way for a bit…it seems to be an important part of my writing process, though not a particularly enjoyable one.
Many writers say you have to get out twenty pages that go straight in the bin just to find five lines which get to the heart of things. I have often found this to be true, and yet, knowing it and accepting it are very different sensations. I have to try and kill my ego before I get anywhere or else I become ambitious - and not the good kind of ambitious - I mean the corrosive kind that hates throwing work in the bin, that wants instant results and resents the humility required to learn. The group was a medicinal environment for that. Every month we showed each other our imperfect, unshaped ideas and offered a critique. Perfect wasn’t the point. Development was the point.
It is now ten months on from where we started and we six have six plays. Somehow, and I don’t know exactly when, things came together. John guided us through the ups and down of the process and I was able to write the project I’d been day-dreaming about for the better part of two years. During that final session actors came in to perform extracts of our work and we all saw our words spoken. It was the perfect send-off.
The writer-on-attachment scheme has only been around since 2015, but to me felt like a long-established writing programme, no doubt owing to John’s fantastic mentoring. I hope more theatres follow in the footsteps of Oxford Playhouse, nurturing emerging writers without agenda or charging fees for writers to take part. Their support has been invaluable to me.
Thank you: Louise Chantal, Hannah Groombridge, Mezze Eade and everyone at the Playhouse for making us so welcome and supported. To the group: Ayad Andrews, James Baldwin, Phil Darkins, Karim Khan & Carolyn Lloyd-Davies. And a HUGE thank you John Retallack for all the time and energy you invested in us, guiding us through this process.
Long may the Playmaker continue!
– Charlie Howitt (@ReverendTheatre @WittnCamp)