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Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Nationwide Voices – Blog Five

Posted on: February 4th, 2021 by ettEditor

Matilda Ibini is a bionic playwright and screenwriter of Nigerian heritage from London. She has had work staged at the Old Vic Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, Bush Theatre, Royal Court Theatre, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, National Theatre Shed, St James Theatre, Royal Exchange Manchester, Soho Theatre, Arcola Theatre, Bunker Theatre, Hackney Showroom and Vaults Festival. 

In 2020 Matilda worked with ETT on an audio play for our digital project, F**ked Up Bedtime Stories. We were delighted to have her back to be our writer on attachment for Nationwide Voices!

This is a blog post with her thoughts and reflections on the Nationwide Voices session with guest speaker, Eve Leigh.


Hey curious reader,

The name’s Matilda Ibini, I’m a bionic playwright and screenwriter of Nigerian heritage from London. I first engaged with English Touring Theatre when I was commissioned to write a short audio story for their F**ked Up Bedtime Stories (for adults) earlier this year (which by the way is still online, available and free to listen to on all your favourite audio platforms).

I had so much fun writing and developing my audio short story which was directed by ETT’s (brilliant!) Creative Associate Jennifer Bakst, so when she asked if I wanted to be ETT’s nominated writer for the NV programme, I was delighted at the chance to collaborate again with Jenny and ETT (and a little chuffed they weren’t sick of me… yet). The sessions so far have been great and remind me as a writer, the learning is never over. There’s always a new technique to put in your toolbox, there’s always a new perspective to see your craft through and there’s always a new exercise to trial that may help your overall process.

So for this week’s session our amazing workshop leader Chris Bush led us through an exercise on plotting and how characters generate plot. She shared that this exercise will help ensure your plot and character feel interwoven and that the audience is experiencing the world of the play through your characters and their responses. We did this by analysing the protagonist of her phenomenal community play and it’s titular character, Pericles. But the great thing about this exercise is that it can be applied to not only your protagonist but all the characters in your play.

We did this by mapping out the following of Pericles in a spider like diagram:

-What is their mask?
-What weaknesses do they use their mask to hide?
-What are their strengths?
-What are their fears?
-What are their most desirable traits? (aspects of their personality that make you love them)
-What are their most despised traits? (aspects of their personality that make you hate them)

This exercise is also great as a visual aid, reminding you of the internal struggles your character faces that may not be present in the dialogue or even the story, but which impact the decisions they make. After all it was once said (I can’t remember by who) that theatre is live decision making and getting to watch the fall out of those decisions. So understanding the conscious and unconscious desires of your characters can be a really helpful way of generating conflict especially when they go against their internal motives/beliefs.

Our guest speaker this week was the incredibly talented Eve Leigh who I’ve had the pleasure of working with on her play Midnight Movie (and is a kind badass in the industry). She came to talk to us about writing between media.

Eve shared a different way of thinking about narrative that comes from games… (drumroll please)….MDA language – it is a way of understanding how action works in a game (but also theatre) and how audiences perceive action in a game (but also theatre). It is used in the early stages of game design and centres the audiences (gamers) experience.

The first principle is Mechanic which expresses How do you win?

Which can be interpreted to how does the audience win? What feels like a win to the audience? Is the win for the protagonist/antagonist different to the win for the audience? Another way of thinking about mechanic are what are your characters objectives?

The second principle is Dynamic which expresses How it feels to play the game? (Also – How it feels to watch the game?) For example the dynamics of playing football are different to the dynamics of playing poker. Part of the dynamic of poker is that you aren’t able to see other players decks so there’s a degree of suspense and strategy, whereas in football the more your able to see the whole field, the easier it is for the player to play football (but also if you’re watching the game and can’t see the field, it makes it harder to follow and therefore care about) meaning a major factor in the dynamic of football relies on seeing the whole field.

Which can be interpreted to how does it feel to watch the play for the audience? How active a role do they play in what is happening on stage?

The third principle is Aesthetic which expresses How does the game look?

Which can be interpreted to how does your play look and feel. Aesthetics can invite as well as set the audiences expectation. For example a panto has a very identifiable aesthetic – cartoonish, bright colours, 2D sets, heavy make-up etc. This also makes me think of horror movies (if you’re into that, I dabble) but we as an audience usually know something bad is about to happen if the scene is taking place at night or in a location with little light (basements, forests, graveyards) and most identifiably the music changes.

The MDA framework raised some questions about stories I am currently developing. How can I elevate my dynamic and aesthetic choices as a way to get the story leaping off the page? What will the audience expect when they see the aesthetics of my play and how can I fulfil, play with or subvert those expectations? Or how I could be bold in the offer of the storytelling style for collaborators (everything from the actors, lighting designer, sound designer, costume, movement etc)? I don’t have the answers right now but mining these questions feels like an exciting task. I also think this framework can be useful when redrafting your play, thinking about how your play is addressing each principle, and follow how those principles are actualised into the production. This is a framework I will definitely be coming back to and exploring further.

What was so great about exploring the MDA framework is how visual it is. Thinking of your play as a kind of game; the outcomes you want for your characters and the outcomes you want for your audience should be different as another way of creating conflict. Like I said earlier, throughout my career I feel like I am accumulating a toolbox of techniques, exercises, methods (almost like cheats in a game) to help me through the levels of writing and conquering my play. The further you go the harder the game gets, just like writing, so when you do win, it makes it that much sweeter. (I’m aware this is a very messy metaphor – kinda like my process). Basically there is no universal remote in playwriting. No one tool can fix all your plays problems and so your toolbox should be overflowing and varied because you never know when you’ll need to go rooting around in there for the right tool.

Nationwide Voices – Blog Four

Posted on: February 3rd, 2021 by ettEditor

Asif Khan is one of the six writers participating in the inaugural year of our Nationwide Voices programme. This is a blog post with his thoughts and reflections on the Nationwide Voices session with guest speaker, Emily Lim.


I’ve been lucky enough to be part of ETT’s Nationwide Voices since the end of August, one of six writers to be involved. Each writer has been nominated for the programme by a theatre or company. Thanks to Rifco Theatre Company who nominated me!

In a year full of dreadful news, it has been a joyful escape to be part of this group, meeting (on Zoom) every fortnight, together with Chris Bush and Jennifer Bakst, discussing what we all love doing. For the first two hours, we’re led through a masterclass with Chris Bush, who’s knowledge of playwriting is incredibly insightful. Her warmth, along with Jennifer’s, have always made the sessions feel wholly supportive and safe. For the remaining time, we have a guest speaker, different each week.

I was born and brought up in Bradford and moved to London in 2006 to train as an actor at RADA. I always thought I would end up writing one day and in 2013 I started putting pen to paper on what became my debut play Combustion, which premiered and toured in 2017. Since then, I’ve been working of several commissions/projects with: The National Youth Theatre, Tamasha, Rifco Theatre Company, Watford Palace Theatre, Bush Theatre, Birmingham Rep and Turtle Key Arts. Alongside this, I’ve been part of various writers’ groups including the BBC Comedy Room.

The particular session I’m going focus on here is the one we had with director Emily Lim. Emily specialises in creating community work and working with non-professional performers. This was particularly helpful for me, as I am currently writing a community play for Birmingham Rep Theatre.

One thing Chris had mentioned earlier, which I agree with, is that there’s often a misconception that community plays are ‘easier’ to write and that they are often given to lesser experienced writers. Chris confirmed, having worked on a few herself, that this was not the case. Quite the opposite was the case. Emily in turn, stressed the same point and it was inspiring to hear her speak so passionately about making work for community groups, young people and non-professional performers.

We focused on two plays which Emily had worked on: an adaptation of Pericles written by Chris and Brainstorm which Emily worked on with Ned Glasier and Company Three. It was interesting to explore work created for a huge ensemble community cast. In the version of Pericles, there were approximately two hundred! Brainstorm was a very unique and interesting piece by and for young people about teenage brain development:

Inside every adolescent brain, 86 billion neurons connect and collide to produce the most frustrating, chaotic and exhilarating changes that will ever happen to us.

Brainstorm is a unique theatrical investigation into how teenagers’ brains work, and why they’re designed by evolution to be the way they are. Created by Ned Glasier and Emily Lim with Company Three (formerly Islington Community Theatre), in collaboration with neuroscientists Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and Dr Kate Mills, the play is designed to be created and performed by a company of teenagers, drawing directly on their personal experiences.

What was special about the piece is that it also contains a blueprint following the text. This blueprint contains a series of exercises, resources and activities to help schools, youth-theatre groups and young companies create and perform their own version of Brainstorm. So when working your own group, they will feel even more so, that the piece belongs to them and is personal to them.

The care and respect Emily had for her performers in her work was admirable. Everybody had to feel not just included, but also necessary for the piece to work. This made me interrogate my own commission for Birmingham Rep and question if I too had created a piece which would allow every cast member to feel this way. Certainly, in my future draft I would try and implement this as much as possible.

I had been given the task to create a piece about the demonstrations against LGBT+ inclusive education in Birmingham schools, which took place in 2019. I was told to create a piece which would be suitable for performers of all ages, including children, up to a number of 50. I had a question for Emily about how you balance creating material for a large cast, currently on a rough estimate, but also ensure that you as the playwright are creating a piece of quality and with no ‘excess flab’. Her helpful response was that as the specific cast number was currently unknown, I should focus on the quality of the piece, make the piece as strong as possible, but also to remain flexible. During the rehearsal process, I may need to be able to easily adapt things.

Following the session, I came away with more respect and passion for community work and was eager to crack on with my own commission.

Thank you Emily.

Nationwide Voices – Blog Three

Posted on: February 2nd, 2021 by ettEditor

Sonia is a writer and theatre maker from Manchester, and is the Nationwide Voices writer on attachment with Kiln Theatre in London. Sonia has worked with Kiln Theatre, Paines Plough, Company Three, Donmar Warehouse, and Hull Truck. She was a member of the Royal Court’s Long Form Writer’s Group and the BBC Writersroom Comedy Room and has written on a number of CBBC and CBeebies shows. She is currently co-writing a new audio comedy-drama for Whistledown Productions and Audible and is under commission with HighTide and the Royal Exchange.

Here are her reflections on the fourth and fifth Nationwide Voices sessions with guest speaker Lyndsey Turner:


Lyndsey Turner came in for a couple of Nationwide Voices sessions to hear our play ideas and give us some feedback, and all I have to say is this:
Please can I keep her brain in a box and take it out whenever I don’t know what the hell I’m doing which is always.

Basically she’s a wizard and I don’t think I can fully do her big brain justice, but I’ve tried to boil down what I learned from her into a few take-home lessons:


1 – Pitches

Start your pitch with an image.

When it was my turn to pitch, I did my usual explanation of all the things that had led me to wanting to tell this story: “I’m interested in x, I saw this documentary about y, I’ve always wanted to make a play that does blah blah blah.” About 8 mins into me explaining myself and telling her my whole life story, I finally gave her a clear image of a specific moment in the play. And then it all started to fall in to place. Lyndsey reflected that everything before that image was “interesting and yeah we all find memory fascinating but…what’s the play going to be Sonia?”

I think the lesson I learned here is this: when you’re pitching an idea to someone you don’t have to build them a ramp and walk them slowly into it. Trust your idea enough to dive right in and if it’s good enough, you’ll float.


2 – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

This is a 5-tier pyramid of human needs that Lyndsey used to illustrate the kind of things our plays might grapple with. (Definitely worth a google).

At the bottom of the pyramid we have Physiological Needs: air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing, reproduction. Next up we have Safety Needs: security, employment, health, home. Physiological and Safety Needs make up our Basic Needs as human beings. Needs that might feature heavily in your play if your characters are fleeing war or have lost their home.

Next up we have Love and Belonging Needs: friendship, intimacy, family, sense of connection. And Esteem Needs: respect, self-esteem, status, recognition, strength, freedom. Lots of plays sit in these categories of course. These Psychological Needs are rich and relatable.

And finally, at the top of the pyramid, we have Self-Actualisation Needs: the desire to become the most that one can be. I think privilege must sneak in here somewhere because you’re probably not worrying too much about this unless you have everything else sorted out. A character who is fleeing war might be more concerned with shelter and safety than they might be about reaching self-actualisation.

Lyndsey encouraged us to identify what tier or tiers of the pyramid our plays sit in. All of it is rich territory, but perhaps if your play solely sits in Self-Actualisation, it might only be relevant to a privileged few.


3 – Who Is in the Cockpit of your Play? What Fuel is in the Tank?

Lyndsey didn’t say exactly this, so pardon the paraphrasing, but what I took from what she did say was: make the fuel of your play a juicy mix of stuff. If, for example, the only fuel in the tank is self-actualisation, it might be a boring flight.


4 – Is your Play a Play…

…or is it a documentary/ dance piece/ tweet/ blog? Don’t drag a 500-word comment-is-free article out into a whole play. You have to have more to say than that, more questions to ask, more layers to pull apart.


5 – Weather Systems

Lyndsey talked about weather systems and I got well into it. Before your play even starts, you have this whole weather system that is moving about waiting to land where you are. You might have the housing crisis coming in from the east and generational trauma coming in from the west. These things are hanging in the air of your play. What happens when they collide?


So thank you Lyndsey. These are just a few gems from those two sessions and I hope I’ve not got anything horribly wrong but what I can say for certain is this: I promise to never open a pitch with “So I’m really interested in memory” ever again.

Nationwide Voices – Blog Two

Posted on: November 26th, 2020 by ettEditor

Emily White is one of the six writers participating in the inaugural year of our Nationwide Voices programme. This is a blog post with her thoughts and reflections on the third Nationwide Voices session, around the topic of adaptation, that she experienced back in September… Enjoy!

So first a bit about me and how I came to be a part of the program. 

originally trained as an actress at RADA many moons ago, and after many years treading the boards, I packed it in and discovered my love of writing as a mature student doing an MA in Theatre Writing, Directing and Performance at York Uni.  After my graduation ceremony I skived off my call centre job for four days and wrote the first half hour of Pavilion.  The play is set in my hometown in Wales and takes place over one night in a local pavilion where the Friday night disco takes place. It’s a play about austerity but it’s also a big Welsh night out full of larger than life charactersa play about a specific place but with broader national themes at its heart.   

After several drafts and some good feedback, I staged a rehearsed reading at RADA for an invited audience.  Tamara Harvey the Artistic Director of Theatr Clwyd came to the reading, and over a year later I received a phone call out of the blue to say that she would like to produce the play.  I was over the moon to say the least.  We went into rehearsals in 2019 with Tamara directing and the show was a big success for the theatre, but it didn’t get the opportunity to be seen by audiences outside of Wales.  So, when ETT got in touch with Tamara about nominating a writer to be part of the Nationwide Voices program she gave me another exciting, out of the blue phone call and I got to be over the moon all over again!   

The sessions all take place over Zoom which takes a little getting used to. Full disclosuredon’t anger easily except in two scenarios; watching the news and working out how to use new technology.  am a person that routinely shouts at technological inanimate objects. My partner often finds me incandescent with rage at my poor laptop. Usually it’s the internet I should really be angry at and my laptop is entirely innocent of all charges. HoweverI am happy to report that Zoom is far superior to Skype (which sends me into a state of apoplexy whenever I try and use it) and the sessions have all run smoothly... so far.   

Each session starts with a masterclass by the incredibly insightful and talented Chris Bush, and then moves on to incorporate a guest speaker to focus on a particular aspect of playwriting.  This week Chris was talking to us about adaptation and the guest speaker was the lovely Chinonyerem Odimba, who now has several successful adaptations under her belt. 

When you’re a new writer just starting out in the world of theatre, the thought of writing an adaptation of another writer’s work can appear daunting.  Especially a famous, admired writer that the audience is going to be very familiar with already.  And yet this is often what emerging playwrights are asked to do by theatres that view staging their original writing as being too risky.  For this reason, Chris advised us, it is always a good idea to go into theatre meetings with an adaptation pitch up your sleeve along with your original ideas.   

These adaptations can take the form of new translations/modernisations of existing plays that are originally written in another language (Chekhov, Ionesco, Ibsen, Euripides etc.), or adaptations of books or films for the stage.  In the previous session we had all been set the homework of thinking of a play we would like to adapt and then pitched them to the group.  Everyone approaches pitching differently but my takeaway from this exercise was that you should know your material well and be able to answer these three questions: 

  1. Why is this a good version to be doing now?  
  2. Why am I the person to do it? 
  3. Why my version instead of one of the other versions already out there? 

Chino then logged in and spoke about her experiences with adaptations and the different approaches she took.  For example, when adapting Oliver Twist, she updated the story to the modern day and wrote a completely new story and dialogue, and only kept the shape of the original and the main characters.  For The Prince and the Pauper, she kept the story and the language in its original time period and made it into a musical, heightening/fore fronting certain elements to say what she wanted to say.  For both she had a definite idea of who her audience was – The Prince and the Pauper was a Christmas show and Twist was a school tour. 

She was nervous the first time she was approached to write an adaptation so gave some helpful tips on the practical considerations once you’ve got the gig and your first thought is ‘HELP!  Where do I begin? 

Chino starts off by reading the book three times and figuring out what the writer is trying to say to the reader and the world, and then plans what she wants to keep and what she’s going to let go.  She makes the big decisions about where she’s taking the story, what characters are staying etc. and makes notes on each chapter, breaking the story down into manageable units.  She does her homework on that period of history even if she’s going to update the story.  Basically: plan, plan, plan.  Also knowing what audience your adaptation is aimed at is important, as that places certain restrictions on the writing.   

Another useful exercise she suggested was to think about what would happen if you told the story through another character’s eyes?  If each key character became the protagonist, how would that change the story?   

Her final word of warning: be careful what stories you choose to adapt.  The source material should resonate with you as a writer so that you can bring your politics to the adaptation.  Writers bring themselves to whatever they write; if you can’t bring yourself and your voice to the adaptation, then maybe it’s not a good fit. 

All in allI came out of the session feeling more confident that I could take on an adaptation and knowing how I would set about it.  Hopefully I’ll get another one of those out of the blue phone calls sometime soon!  In the meantime, I look forward to our next session and seeing everyone’s big smiley faces looking back at me from my laptop.  It’s not the same as sitting in a room together, having a good old chin wag before the session and a ‘getting to know you’ pint afterwards, but it will have to do for now.  Good old Zoom…god I barely recognise myself   

Nationwide Voices – The First Blog

Posted on: November 26th, 2020 by ettEditor

John Rwothomack is one of the six writers participating in the inaugural year of our Nationwide Voices programme. This is a blog post with his thoughts and reflections on the first two Nationwide Voices sessions that he experienced back in August and September… Enjoy!


So it might be useful for me to start by introducing myself. I am John Rwothomack from Uganda, now based in Sheffield and proud to belong to both. My journey to being part of this incredible initiative that ETT has put together, I guess began when I went to drama school. After graduating as an actor from Rose Bruford in 2015, I moved back to Sheffield. Where, although I trained as an actor, thanks to Theatre Deli I found myself directing Bad Blood Blues by Paul Sirett. Having somehow successfully managed this, the next challenge was to write a play. A challenge that was overcome by the completion of Far Gone, a one-man show that follows the life of a child soldier which I both wrote and performed. I very much enjoyed writing the play and it made me want to write more. Not being a classically trained writer – if theres such a thing – the opportunity for Nationwide Voices could not have come at a better time. I applied with a hope of course to be chosen, but being actually chosen is very humbling. Thank you Sheffield Theatres for trusting and putting me forward.  

The first session, which now seems like a century ago, was such bliss. It flew by so quickly. Of course, as with any first day in the theatre scene, we cracked the day open with meet and greets, coffees, teas, nervous laughters and zoom etiquettes. Then came one of the moments I was looking forward to most: getting to know everyone. From Sheffield, to London, to Leeds, to Wales, to Watford we introduced ourselves. The first ever playwrights of ETTs’ Nationwide Voices. It did feel honourable to be part of such a great team of talented and diverse people. I will not say much, but from the people Ive had the privilege to meet in this cohort, I am very excited to see what plays will be manufactured by June. Theatre, you are in for a treat.  

I didnt really know what to expect in terms of the first session. Prior to it I was thinking – this is going to be an introductory session, get to know everyone, and the plan for the scheme. We did do all that, but what was quite a pleasant surprise was that after that, course leader Chris Bush jumped straight into it with an exceptional session on structure. I am predominately coming from an acting background, and as such I am used to following through the journey of my character from the beginning of the play to the end, working out what their purpose is in that particular play. I have written a play, which was done out of necessity as it was felt and advised by a playwright I approached that I was the best person to write it. The writing process was rather straightforward in terms of structure. A beginning, middle and end. Like any other story right?

No, said Chris Bush, theres more to it than just that. For example, there is a five points system/five stages that form the frame of a well structured arc of a three-act play. These are like: 

  1. Everything is Normal – this is where we establish the daily normality of the world and the introduction of main character.  
  1. The World Changes – an event/s occurs that changes the norm; challenges and forces the main character to go on a journey. 
  1. The Plot Thickens – more challenges arise on this journey. 
  1. The Cards Are Shown – the height of the challenges, the point of highest drama, solutions have to be found, the moment of change, discovery. 
  1. The Dust Settles – the new normal; how different is it now having ventured on this journey?

As somebody who is not traditionally a writer, it was great to be walked through this structural method that someone with Chris’ experience has. I was introduced to a system of structure that not only made my understanding of the arc of a story much clearer, it was also lovely to know that I had applied some of those techniques in my writing. However, it was done unknowingly.  Here lies the difference between skillfully applying the necessary ingredients to a storys structure and arriving to it accidentally. I left the session feeling much better equipped with the understanding of structure, which Ill definitely be applying to my next writing project. Well, lets wait and see how it turns out.  

The second session was quite exciting. We had none other than guest speaker RebeccaLenkiewicz rock up and grace us with her knowledge, experience and some incredible advice. Filled with laughter and absolute honesty, this was a session that gave a wider understanding of playwrights’ professional life beyond the creative aspects. From navigating your way around companies as big as The National Theatre, to TV, to smaller theatres, I personally took so much from Rebecca. One thing that stood out particularly was an exercise on character she offered. The exercise:

Without spoken lines, describe a character getting dressed in the morning, and undressed at night. And then without words again, put someone else in the same space watching them dress and undress. The idea here is that people are both body and mind, the two work in conjunction, but we often describe what actions we do differently with someone else watching us.

If the character is not a child, put them in a scenario in their childhood and describe what they do as a child.

This proved to be a very useful exercise for a particular character Im working on at the moment.  Having such a vibrant, transparent and giving writer with such vast experience as Rebecca was beyond perfect for this.  

Writing in any capacity is challenging, but to make a career out of it, that calls for a certain type of person crazy enough to venture into it. Having Chris lead us through these sessions, and hearing from writers like Rebecca, makes it seem possible; hard, but not impossible. It has been a great few sessions so far. Im very much looking forward what the next ones bring. Whatever they bring, I am certain that six new exciting plays will emerge out of Nationwide Voices. 

Interview with Jonathan Watkins 

Posted on: September 10th, 2019 by ettEditor

What is your earliest theatre memory? 

My earliest memories are all dance-based as I come from a dance and ballet background. Northern Ballet’s A Simple Man by the late choreographer Gillian Lynne was based on  L.S. Lowry and his paintings that feature industrial landscapes. When the curtain goes up, it’s a freeze frame like his paintings and then it all comes alive. It was dance, but it was theatrical with storytelling, and that’s very much like what I do now. 

Growing up in Barnsley, Yorkshire there is such a specific way of people talking and reminiscing. Sitting around a dinner table with my family, they’d paint pictures of what they were like at school – it was very vivid and imaginative. So it didn’t really start with theatre but at home with storytelling, and specifically a sort of Yorkshire way of storytelling.  

The structure and elements that go into telling a story translate to a theatrical setting because all we’re doing is gathering people in a room and trying to express and communicate a story, narrative or concept. That’s really what theatre is to me. 

What was your route into the industry? 

I left home in Yorkshire at 12 years old to train in classical ballet at the Royal Ballet School, Richmond Park. I started very early creating my own work based on ideas that I’d read in books.One of my first pieces was called Suppressed Expressions responding to the feeling that we were all made to learn ballet the same, every move was the same and there was no room for individual expression.  

I was fortunate to join the Royal Ballet Company for 10 years, I danced and created work there, but I always knew I wanted to expand and tell stories in my own way. Some stories call for words or texts, like what we’re doing now with Reasons to Stay Alive, some don’t. 

I left the Royal Ballet and branched out into choreography and movement, working across film, theatre, and dance to understand how different genres tell stories and play with combining them all into a hybrid form. 

I created Kes, an adaptation of A Kestrel for a Knave, at the Sheffield Crucible, a dance/theatre production with no spoken word. It’s a story very much from the North, that’s really owned by the people in that area. So that for me was a learning experience but also the beginning of really trying to hone the kind of craft and theatricality that I wanted to express within a production.  

I was then searching for another project I could do that would need words and would benefit from all the different elements that I was learning and experimenting with to tell a story. I read Matt’s book in 2015 and was totally inspired. 

What advice would you give to emerging artists now?  

Believe in yourself. Be passionate about what you’re creating and find people who can see the same thing, who believe in your idea and can help you along your way. Personally, I can’t do things to the best of my ability unless I believe in it as an idea as my best work comes from those ideas 

Who or what inspires you? 

Inspiration can come from anywhere, and there shouldn’t be any prejudice about where it comes from – it could be Socrates dialogues, a beach read, Eastenders, or a pop song – whatever spurs thought or thinking about things in different ways, is absolutely fine. 

What has it been like working on  Reasons to Stay Alive? 

When I first read Matt’s book I was really inspired by him sharing his personal truths and own experience with depression and anxiety. He is very clear in the book that all minds are unique and can go wrong in very unique ways. I was always upfront with Matt himself and the company that the story we are sharing on stage is Matt’s very personal story in the hope that by being specific we can also find the points where this experience overlaps with others and resonates with lots of different people. We are not trying to say we have the answers but trying to express in a visceral, theatrical way what Matt’s experience was and what helped him. It was important to also impart to an audience the things he had learned for example the ‘weapons’ he discovered as a way of coping along the way. 

Reading the book, I was struck by its theatrical potential. Matt’s descriptions of the shifting relationship with time, the mix of personal story with practical advice and stories and the notion of Matt talking to his younger self all felt like they could be explored and shared theatrically.  

It has been vital working with such a talented group of actors to mould, craft and take ownership of this story. It’s exciting to take what April’s given us and imagine it with a collaboration of set and movement that informs the flow and structure of the play. Matt’s book is then our own manual for the play to stay truthful to. 

For anyone starting out in the industry as a director, do you have any words of wisdom? 

Jump on any opportunities that you are offered or can create for yourself. Try to create opportunities by finding the people that believe in what you are passionate about. It doesn’t need to be big scale, it can be any scale, and those opportunities become stepping stones not to success but to our growing and evolving practice 

An Interview with Nancy Medina

Posted on: August 31st, 2019 by ettEditor

Nancy Medina, director of Two Trains Running

What initially drew you towards Two Trains Running?   

I loved the characters and location in which it was set.  It is 1969 in Pittsburgh, PA, and we meet seven African American characters in a restaurant which is in danger of being torn down due to the city’s urban renewal plans.  All the characters in the play are invested in this restaurant and its future.  Most of the characters have come from the South and as the story unfolds we come to understand the reasons why many fled, escaping terrorism and seeking better opportunity up North. The displacement of a people is a theme I am very much interested in, as a child of the diaspora, I too am constantly searching to understand my past and roots and for a place to belong.  Two Trains Running is an extremely layered play which looks at a complicated American history through the prism of everyday life. The characters are familiar to me, the unsung heroes of normal daily living, trying to get by, who have strong, important voices and opinions that only get aired in private. That aspect really spoke strongly to me in wanting to direct this play, as I grew up with these people all my life.  My family is from the Dominican Republic and my parents emigrated to NYC in 1966. I have met all these characters either as members of my family or people in the neighbourhood, to be able to amplify the voices I grew up with is an immense privilege.  What I find to be most profound is that everything the characters speak about in 1969 is still relevant to us in 2019, issues with police brutality, a rigged economic system, housing inequalities, crime, poverty, trauma, mental illness, race hostilities.  This play is very political in very subtle ways and I found that to be very powerful.  The element of protest is one I wanted to draw out and put a focus on because these people’s lives matter.  The humour in the play also drew me to it, there is no better resistance to fighting oppression then to embrace joy, laughter and the beauty in humanity. 

August Wilson is a celebrated and award-winning writer in the U.S., why do you think that Two Trains Running has so rarely been performed in the UK? 

The play premiered in the UK in the 1990’s at the Tricyle Theatre, now the Kiln Theatre in London.  This current production is the first time the play is being performed regionally.  Our current theatrical climate is begging for untold stories. Many stories are out there, they just need to be produced and staged.  I feel partly that theatres have safeguarded their spaces for financial and pragmatic reasons and have sheltered the public by mainly staging productions that are risk adverse or falls in line with what they deem as entertainment or high art. I think we’ve lost sight of what art is meant to do, that risk isn’t always negative and that there isn’t just one way to tell a story or just one story to tell.  The legacy of slavery and how all, even today, are complicit in that history seems to be a much tougher conversation to have in the UK than in America. 

What do you hope audiences from around the UK will take from the production? 

I hope that audiences will engage with a story that at first may feel foreign to them but at the heart is universal.  A story in which human beings fight for self preservation, dignity, self worth, love, their dreams, their right to just be.  I hope people leave the theatre and have deep conversations on history and how many of the themes are still being played out today.  And I sincerely wish that the conversations move on to action, that people ask themselves serious questions on what they can do to decolonise their minds and make a better future for our children. 

How has it been working with the cast on this?  

There is something very special about having an all black cast.  There is an ease to speak freely and candidly.  We can all relate to the material in significant ways that comes from having a shared lived experience of racism and growing up under racist structures.  We’ve shared many personal stories and have also had huge laughs.  It’s a beautiful thing to feel seen, heard and recognised. 

The production relies heavily on jazz influences, how will this present itself in the play? 

August Wilson named one of his biggest influences to be the Blues.  You hear it in the musicality of the language in which he writes.  The characters all riff off each other at such a pace in conversation that it sounds like my music to my ears. The pace is very important in the piece because it taps into the Blues and Jazz elements of the dialogue.  In the play the jukebox is broken, so the sound designer, Ed Lewis and I talked quite a bit about how we can tap into the music of the time coming from the outside world.  We hear the outside buzz and music played in the community almost constantly throughout the piece.  The background noise not only helps us be in the world but also underscores many of the speeches in the text that directly relate to protest songs of the time. 

Has any of your previous work prepared you for the process of directing Two Trains Running?  

To date this is the biggest show I’ve worked on, thanks to the RTST Award, Royal & Derngate and ETT.  Previous work has helped me have confidence in myself that has allowed me to slide into a larger scale of making work, have the skills I need to deal with all departments and keep the integrity that is essential to the work. Every play is different and demands its own method of storytelling.  The themes in Two Trains Running are themes I have come across before as they are ones I choose to continue exploring.  Research I have done for other plays have really come in handy for this as its set in the 1960’s.  It’s always a joy to reread James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Angela Davies and others of that generation.  

What’s next after Two Trains Running

After this big plans include settling back into Bristol life with my family, organising after school activities and catching up on laundry.   I will be doing some teaching with young people for the Boomsatsuma Professional Acting Diploma and directing a play for the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.  2020 has some exciting theatre projects I’m looking forward to but can’t say just yet. 

Interview with Ned Bennett

Posted on: February 10th, 2019 by ettEditor

 Ned Bennet, Director of Equus

What is Equus about? 

Among other things, Equus is an incredibly sophisticated, visceral exploration of why people commit violent acts.  

We are told at the beginning, much like a true crime podcast, what has happened; a boy (Alan Strang) has stabbed six horse’s eyes out. And then it is as much about why he did it as it is about how this case affects the physiatrist (Martin Dysart). 

Peter Shaffer said he didn’t think Equus had a genre. What genre do you think it is? 

What’s special about Equus is that is goes between different genres. At one point you think you can pin it down as a ‘Why dunnit?’ thriller and the next moment it becomes this profound philosophical meditation on religion and society. The play examines how religious worship can be transferred into someone’s own idea of what a deity is to them.  

The next minute it becomes a theatrical, expressive, mercurial beast. The script manages to go between something incredibly sophisticated and cerebral and something visceral, exciting and suspenseful. 

Why did you want to this project? 

I’m fascinated how the play explodes open our understanding of our primal drives. One of the central conceits of the play is that if someone exhibits what might be described as abnormal behaviour, are they to be listened to or controlled? To this end Dysart falls under the R.D. Laing school of anti-psychiatry; these questions were widely discussed when the play was first produced in the early 70s and feel still resonant now.  

How did it feel to take on such a well-known play? 

It was exciting to be able to draw on the rich history of how the production was put together originally and marry this with this our creative team’s personal response to the text.  The original stage directions contain a mix of practical notes and poetic expressions of how the play was first articulated. 

The play relies heavily on movement direction, what was it like collaborating with Shelley Maxwell? And how did the cast prepare for their roles as horses? 

It was joyous collaborating with Shelley Maxwell, she has such a rich vocabulary of a wide range of movement and choreographic styles, coupled with an extraordinarily lateral imagination. The guiding principle for this work was investigating how Alan Strang’s relationship with Equus shifts with his endowment of Nugget the horse and Equus the God. We workshopped a multitude of versions of the horses and did the obligatory visit to some stables to observe, groom and muck out the horses.  

Did any of your previous work prepare you for the process of directing Equus

When I started out directing I worked part-time for as a Learning Support Assistant in Primary and Secondary Schools with young people with Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties. I drew on these experiences in trying to understand these characters.  

What’s next after Equus

I’m looking to create an outright horror play! 

Interview with Richard Twyman – The Stage

Posted on: September 25th, 2018 by ettEditor

Richard Twyman: ‘I’m intent on taking English Touring Theatre on a journey’ 

By Tim Bano 

As the company celebrates its 25th anniversary, the award-winning director tells Tim Bano the occasion is giving him a chance to take stock and strike a balance between looking forward and looking back, and that his vision is about celebrating diversity, connecting audiences and putting English identity at the heart of everything ETT does

On the face of it, moving from a job as associate director of international work at the Royal Court Theatre in London to artistic director of English Touring Theatre may seem a bit odd. With the Royal Court, Richard Twyman travelled the world: Chile, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Palestine, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, India, China. At ETT, he’s barely allowed out of England into Scotland and Wales because of the terms of the Arts Council’s funding. 

But Twyman took the role in 2016 precisely because of that remit: one country, many people, and getting to grips with a national landscape. In his first year, the company visited 39 different cities, each with its own theatre and audience – a far cry from the Jerwood Upstairs space at the Royal Court. 

After training at Birmingham University, followed by a few assisting jobs, Twyman found himself working at Hamleys over the Christmas period demonstrating toys. He got talking to a woman who wanted to buy a cyber dog, and mentioned that he was about to leave to try to become a director. “That’s funny,” she said, “because I’m a theatre agent.” 

It turned out to be Julia Lintott, an agent with Stella Richards Management and former wife of director Terry Hands, who became “something of an angel” to Twyman. She got him a meeting with Gregory Doran at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and he eventually became an associate there. He left in 2008, freelanced for a bit, then joined the Royal Court in 2013 as associate director of international work. 

Then in 2016, the week of the Brexit vote, he was offered the job at ETT. “Like a lot of people, I woke up that morning and had a real shift of perspective, like the ground had changed. And actually, I’d been playing to an audience who probably already believed the perspective of what was being spoken about on stage before they even came to the theatre,” he says. “But with this job I feel, as an artist, it’s about the most useful thing I could be doing.” 

So Twyman’s focus, as the company moves into its 25th anniversary year, is on the word ‘English’. He wants national conversations on a national scale; he wants to find out what’s going on in the country in terms of identity, “because I have no idea”. 

What has he found out so far? “When I joined I was bumping into a lot of received ideas about what theatre outside of London is or isn’t, what audiences outside of London are or aren’t. But audiences will really go with you. I think that’s been the big lesson.” 

On top of that, despite funding challenges that Twyman calls “severe and real”, he argues that the creative environment is much more diverse than in London. That’s partly due to the fact that all of ETT’s shows are co-productions, a decision made by his predecessor Rachel Tackley, with different artistic visions feeding into the programme. 

But Twyman’s own vision for ETT productions is about three things: celebrating the diversity of the country, connecting audiences nationwide – “there’s something extraordinary about that culture pollination effect, with us as with bees” – and placing an examination of English identity at the heart of everything the company does. 

Looking at the 25th anniversary programme, that examination of Englishness is clear in Twyman’s production of Othello, which has the title character as a Muslim in a deeply racist country, and is conceivable in the upcoming revival of Peter Shaffer’s Equus, although details of director Ned Bennett’s take on it aren’t available yet. But how does it feed into Chelsea Walker’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire – one of the all-time American classics? 

“Streetcar, Equus and Othello are all on the syllabus,” Twyman says. “Predominantly we have a much older audience, and there was this essential need to diversify the audience. One way is getting more young people in.” So in that sense it’s about examining what audiences in England are. 

“If we had done that production with just our core audience, it might have been too much. But we also had auditoriums full of incredible school kids responding to it on a really immediate, visceral level, which meant the rest of the audience totally were allowed to go with them. If we want to move forward and we want our work to genuinely be contemporary and genuinely about the world we’re living in today, we have to get different audiences to see it.” 

But there’s a bigger question, too, about why ETT might programme a revival of an all-time classic play. Which is that, without a building, it has to call up hundreds of theatres across the country and ask whether they’d like a week’s run of a particular play. A recognisable title might sell it where a new play wouldn’t. 

“There has to be a really good reason for them to programme it because they’ll also have got a phone call that day from someone else offering something that has a star off the telly.” 

Twyman is adamant that a well-known play should still speak to today. “It has to be about who’s been telling these stories historically and opening that up in terms of who’s telling them now,” he says. So for Streetcar, he wanted it from the view of a young feminist female director post #MeToo, and he promises similar things for Bennett’s production of Equus. 

Where does that leave new work? After all, it’s always been a part of the company’s stated aim. Twyman has no definite answers. “I am determined to find out how we do it. It’s about how we’re commissioning and working with writers to find stories that we can tell on the mid-scale canvas, and then it’s also being more playful and flexible on scale so that we can do new writing in small spaces.” But, he admits: “It’s taking time. I wish it could go quicker, but we’ve done a fair amount of commissioning and I hope by next year we’ll have our first mid-scale new work.” 

As for the 25th-anniversary season, there’s only one piece of new writing, Rose Lewenstein’s Cougar, which is also the only play by a woman across 2018 and 2019. Compare that to 2017, which had four plays by women under ETT’s aegis. Two were new plays – Silver Lining by Sandi Toksvig and Nell Gwynn by Jessica Swale – one nearly new in Sam Holcroft’s Rules for Living and one an adaptation: Purva Naresh’s Pink Sari Revolution. “There has been a bit of a dip,” Twyman says, “and that’s a real problem. We’re really working to address it in terms of our commissioning. And it’s also where we need to get new writing in, because of course the canon is skewed.” 

The anniversary is giving Twyman the chance to take stock, striking what he calls “a careful balance” between looking forward and looking back. “At first it felt limiting not having a building, but it was a big mental shift to think, actually, the opposite is also true: that you have total freedom. We can work with anyone in whatever way.” 

Almost two years into the post, he is clear that he does not want to lose sight of what ETT is, its core belief in the powers of collaboration and partnership, and its advocacy for touring. As for the rest, “I’m someone who just likes to question everything,” Twyman says. “I am really determined to go on a journey and, you know, ETT might end up being unrecognisable from where it is now.” 

Q&A: Richard Twyman 

What was your first non-theatre job?
Bar work. 

What was your first professional theatre job?
Assistant director, Dead Funny, York Theatre Royal. 

What is your next job?

What do you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?
The most exciting projects are the ones you don’t know how to do yet. So just be sure that if you turn down a job it’s not out of fear. 

Who or what was your biggest influence?
I’ve been fortunate to work with many wonderful artists, so there are too many to name. But two particular groups stand out. Firstly, all the incredible design and creative teams I’ve been fortunate to work with. Secondly, the many international artists who’ve challenged me to revisit ideas of what theatre can be and what its purpose is. 

What’s your best advice for auditions?
Try to see them as an opportunity to work on the material, a mini-rehearsal rather than a space to sell yourself or be judged.  

If you hadn’t been a director, what would you have been?
I love the sea, so a marine biologist. 

Do you have any theatrical superstitions or rituals?
I have a ritual with various director friends the day before rehearsals for a new show start. We text each other and say: “How do you direct again?”  

CV: Richard Twyman 

Born: Peterborough (age undisclosed)
Training: Birmingham University, BA in drama and theatre arts
Landmark productions:
• Harrogate by Al Smith, Hightide/Royal Court, London (2016)
• You for Me for You by Mia Chung, Royal Court, London (2015)
• The Djinns of Eidgah by Abhishek Majumdar, Royal Court, London (2013)
• Henry IV Part II, Royal Shakespeare Company (2007/8)
• The RSC’s Histories cycle 2006-08 (in which he directed Henry IV Part II) won Oliviers for best ensemble and best revival (2009) and the Evening Standard Editor’s Award (2008)
Agent: Curtis Brown 

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Interview with Georgia Lowe

Posted on: February 17th, 2017 by ettAdmin

Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to be involved in this production of Othello?
I got into theatre through performing, I always wanted to act. However, a degree in Drama at Exeter University opened my eyes to other opportunities and I began to direct, write and, unknowingly at the time, design. I made solo performances in old buildings and became fascinated by bodies in space, light and atmosphere. I got my first design job whilst waitressing in my local restaurant; a musical version of A Clockwork Orange. I then trained on the Motley Theatre Design course and went directly to a yearlong design assistant role at the RSC.

What does your role as designer entail and how do you work with the rest of the creative team?
Initially I do a lot of reading and thinking, both about the play/text and also more widely. Meetings with the director then move onto concept discussions – how we want to stage it, what configuration of audience (if this is relevant) and wider decisions about the space. Instincts play a big part and there are always discussions about how we want an audience to experience the piece. I like to start working inside a 3D modelbox relatively quickly – playing with shapes/proportions/architecture. It’s lovely to have the wider creative team present for meetings from the beginning of the process but this isn’t always possible. As soon as they are involved I love to bounce ideas around – sound designers/composers/lighting designers and choreographers are integral to completing the vision and assisting with making the design and space work from all angles. Collaboration is key.

The production is set in the modern day, how have you approached the combination of Shakespeare and the contemporary world in your design?
I think it’s so important that Shakespeare and other classic texts can reach out and speak to modern day audiences. We shied away from realistic depictions of military uniform and so have designed something more ambiguous. We have also stripped away many of the naturalistic trappings of Shakespeare- we are seeing this Othello in it’s barest form and I think by doing this we retain the essence and energy of the play without getting dragged down by too many modern day props/weapons/other references. Othello is so relevant and poignant right now – it can withstand the modernisation and in fact, in my opinion, grows stronger for it.

You designed the original production at Tobacco Factory Theatre, what kind of changes have taken place to the design for the touring production?
The Tobacco Factory is an in-the-round theatre and designing for end-on is a very different creative exercise. The main elements of the original design still exist, but have been reincarnated to fill and shape the space differently. The strip lighting for instance was inspired by the Tobacco Factory which has a number of pillars in the space – we used strip lights on these in the original design and so they became something we explored further this time round. The main difference here is theres A LOT more lights!

Touring offers a unique opportunity for a vast variety of audiences across the UK to experience the production, what do you hope they will take away from the show?
It’s fantastic that this production can reach a wider audience, and I mainly hope that people come away from this having understood and connected to it. It would be great for audiences to engage with the characters and themes in a fresh way and come away excited and moved by the play.

What advice would you share with someone hoping to start a career as a theatre designer?
See as much theatre/dance/performance and art as you can. Find directors/companies/other designers and artists that you admire and write to them – try to meet people and make connections. Always be front footed and brave – have opinions and don’t be scared to share them (at the right moment).