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Nationwide Voices – Blog Three

Written by Sonia Jalaly

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.