My Inspiration – Just Write Project | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Local writers Elijah Young, Sam Neale and Allison Davies have each created a short play to be performed back to back as a triple bill, as part of Alphabetti’s Just Write project. Directed by Karen Traynor, Natasha Haws and Stan Hodgson, Three Shorts are three stories that have journeyed from rough drafts to fully formed pieces and will showcase explorations of how we make, maintain and break bonds. They will be performed at Alphabetti Theatre from Tuesday 3rd – Saturday 7th September (Showtime 7.30pm) and tickets are ‘pay what you feel’. We asked the writer of NASA Lie The Earth is Flat No Curve, Elijah Young, writer of Familiar, Sam Neale and director of Object Permanence, Stan Hodgson what inspires them and here’s what they had to say.

Sam Neale – Familiar (Writer)

I told a friend that I was writing a piece for NARC, about my inspiration for writing. I joked that I could easily sum up my inspiration in one sentence – trauma, misery, heartbreak and David Lynch.

He dared me to submit that one line. By including this exchange I have in essence, fulfilled this dare! Anyway.

I have been writing for pleasure since I was about 8 years old when I wrote a rap about Air Pollution and performed it with my friends in an assembly about recycling. (Big up Kelvin Grove Primary!) From then on, I wrote poems, songs, plays and musicals to perform at school and I would make the kids in my class audition to be in my stuff as if it was some sort of “big deal”… for them. I didn’t see myself as a writer then, just an all-rounder. A sort of write-the-theme-tune-dance-sing-and-act-the-theme-tune, middle school variety star! (Big up Lemington Middle School also). Somewhere along the way through, that unbridled self-confidence diminished. Probably around the same time I got spots and started scrawling the names of boys I fancied into my daybook. Boys, eh? The ruin of many a precocious pre-teen!

I listened to Portishead, Nirvana and erm…Dru Hill (?) and scribbled my predictably angst-ridden words in secret diaries and lockable notebooks. Writing was now a private thing. Something just for me.

Throughout my early drama training, I recall writing bits and pieces when I was instructed to. Also starting various projects and ideas in my notebook and then abandoning them. I liked writing but the confidence and drive to finish and share work wasn’t there. I believed my ideas were clichéd, rubbish, boring and most projects were started and subsequently dumped onto some memory stick and lost in a shoebox somewhere. This continued throughout my twenties. So, what changed? What inspired me to write with the purpose of sharing and having my work performed?

Kids – There’s nothing quite like birthing and raising twins to give you that “fuck this, I won’t die in this house!” feeling. I jest. I’m “#Blessed”! No seriously, they really are wonderful boys. But when I think of the early days, the cabin fever and sleep-deprived hysteria. Wondering how you were going to keep two humans alive, let alone find the time to brush your hair and teeth. It’s no wonder I needed something creative to keep my mind from dissolving into paranoia soup. Having children unleashes a world of emotion, fear and love into you that you never thought possible. It’s fucking terrifying. And motivating!

The Flaming Barstools – In 2016 I started a company called The Flaming Barstools with three of my favourite actors and humans: Marti Williams, Louise Dearden and Kev Hutchinson. We received Arts Council funding for our show Last Orders, and we decided it would be a collaborative process with everyone writing and contributing material. I was reticent at first, doubting my ability next to my peers but the encouragement and support I received from them really spurred me on. It was a rough and ready little show, but it was ours and I loved it! We took a hiatus in 2018 but we’re back this year with a re-write and polish-up of Last Orders. Coming to a pub near you in October – stay tuned.

Gez Casey – I attended an Introduction to Playwriting course at Live Theatre after Last Orders had sparked my interest in writing my own stuff for the stage. He said something that really resonated with me. It has since become my mantra and I remind myself of it every day – “don’t get it right, get it written”. Now I don’t know if Mr Casey came up with this phrase, but it was the first time I’d heard it so I’m giving him full credit!

Carla – In late 2016, an old school friend of mine died suddenly. The circumstances surrounding her death were really sad and I was riddled with the feeling that I’d failed her by not being there for her. She got me into horror movies when we were younger, and she always wanted to write her own horror novel. I don’t know if she ever got around to starting it but I remember she told me she was “storyboarding” on her kitchen wall in one of our last exchanges. It’s not like I vowed to devote my life to horror and writing in her honour, because I didn’t.

It’s hard to explain, but it just sort of happened that way. My love for the horror genre just exploded after she died and I found myself gravitating towards that style of storytelling in my writing. I like to think she’s alive in my heart, steering me in some sort of direction. Although, it could just be that watching a reanimated corpse eat a teenager’s face is a cathartic release from real-world shittiness…? It’s likely a mixture of both.

Workie Ticket and Elliot – In 2017 I saw a call-out on Facebook by a relatively new Theatre Company called Workie Ticket. They were looking for short play submissions by women with real stories to tell. This inspired me to dig out an old piece that I began writing in my early 20s to help me deal with the after-effects of a terminated pregnancy. Elliot was deeply personal to me but I could see it had potential to be a story countless women could relate to. I was mentored by Workie Ticket’s AD, Jojo Kirtley, and with her help produced a short play I was immensely proud of. In 2018, Elliot was nominated for the Creative Writing Prize at the London Emerge Awards. It came runner-up! This gave me the confidence to write about things that I had previously considered too painful or taboo. I was galvanised by the amount of women who shared their own experiences with me after seeing the play. It felt like I was part of something.

David Lynch – Right, before I get into it, I just need to say that I’m NOT a film buff. My favourite movies are Strictly Ballroom, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Freddie 3: Dream Warriors. I like schlocky horror, Disney and musicals. However. I have to recognise what this beautiful man has done for my life. Ever since I was five and I would sneak into the living room while my family watched Twin Peaks, obsessed with the music and haunting image of the blue, beauty queen wrapped in plastic! He created that feeling in me. That sickly shiver down your spine when you are at once captivated and terrified.

He allowed you to go to dark places and find beauty, power and magic there. He allowed you to leave your reality and get lost in a dream world with no explanation. He doesn’t want to answer your questions about his art, he wants you to experience it! He wants you to surrender to the sickly shiver feeling. I want to create something that makes people feel that way. It’s the long term goal!

And so we arrive at the point in the story where I can suddenly add “writer” to my CV and my plays are being performed at Alphabetti, Live Theatre and at various locations with Workie Ticket Theatre Company. “It’s both wonderful and strange,” as Dale would say.

In some ways, I still see myself as a glorified over-sharer. Well, you might feel the same after reading this unnecessarily long article! But I’m enjoying it more now than I ever thought I could. And I’m getting better at it…I think!

Come and see my play and you can decide for yourself.

Stan Hodgson – Object Permanence (Director)

I’m Co-Artistic Director of The Letter Room. We make theatre using live, original music. We want our shows to feel like an event, so we tell stories that have a distinct North East voice, but borrow from different eras and genres, mash it together and create something new. Outside of that, I’m a Theatre Director and occasional performer.

Object Permanence is written by Alli Davies. The story is about a woman struggling to stay afloat whilst caring for her dad, who has a degenerative brain illness. That sounds like it’s a tough watch, but what struck me instantly about the script was the amount of humour and humanity and poetry there was in it. It instantly transported me to my own experience of caring for a loved one in that situation, and it made me cry instantly, in both a sad and hopeful way. Caring for someone who feels like they’re fading away is beyond difficult, but there are also moments that you laugh at and cherish. I’ll never forget sitting in my Nana’s care home, getting caught up in an unexpected conga line, or removing a mysterious stuff toy from her room that was the actual size and shape of a Shetland Pony. Alli completely understands those moments, the dark humour, the perseverance you need, and she had tied it into a beautiful story of a Daughter and Dad.

As for starting work on a new project, there are a few things that I always go to:

Music – Alli has written an amazing soundtrack of 60’s rock and folk into the script. We’ve got The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel and Bowie. Music is always a source of inspiration in my work.

It is an old, well-worn cliché but live music has a way of connecting people that’s unlike anything else. From musicals to festivals, those moments where people are performing live music for you is captivating. Years ago, I saw Robyn and Royskopp play at Latitude, and there was a 20-minute period in the middle that blew my little mind, I’ll never forget it.

In The Letter Room, one of the very first things we do when making a show is start building a playlist. It informs so much about the story we’re trying to tell and the world we’re setting it in. There’s nothing we like more than sharing and discovering new music.

Working with young people – I do a lot of facilitation across the region, with many groups of young people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. The one thing that constantly amazes me is how smart and intuitive and kind young people are. I think it should be compulsory to sit and listen to a group of young people for an hour. I’ve learnt far more about the world from doing that, then I’ve ever managed to get from Question Time!

Ultimately, the thing that I try to do in sessions is find that sense of play and imagination; finding a game in everything. It is something that I bring into all of my work, whether for young people or not. Mark Calvert, at Northern Stage, definitely instilled that in me.

Having a good time – I get inspired by the city of Newcastle. People flock from all over the world to come here and have a good time. And as someone who contributes a very small piece of that cultural scene, that makes me incredibly proud. Sometimes theatre suffers from that feeling that it’s a chore. It gets put in the same bracket as brushing your teeth or eating your vegetables – it’s something you should do because it’s “good for you”. You’d never say that about going for a drink down the Ouseburn or going to the match. The Letter Room wants to entertain, to make you laugh, tell a story, play some music. It might be the start of your night or the end of your day, but it should always be a good time because that’s what this city knows how to do.

Elijah Young – NASA Lie The Earth is Flat No Curve (Writer)

Being an actor has definitely made me a better writer. I often like to look at anything I’ve written through a lens of “As an actor, would this excite me?”. I love scripts with intimate dialogue and a set of characters with weird dynamics and lives that seem alien to us as voyeurs. This is something I hope to have created with ‘NASA lie the Earth is flat no curve’. 

I have often said to people that I started writing about two years ago but I recently had a revelation that I’ve been writing plays ever since I was about 11. In school for the end of term assessments in drama, we would have to create a performance and whoever was put in a group with me was either annoyed or felt lucky; I had already written the script for everyone to learn and got the teacher to do photocopies. 

In 2017 I auditioned for a project at The Customs House in South Shields, which has since become a theatre venue I hold very close to my heart. For the audition, I prepared a monologue I wrote myself. I didn’t get the job but I’m now more grateful for the panel’s feedback which was that I should become a writer. Now in 2019, I got my first writing commission from that same theatre for this year’s Takeover Festival. My play for Three Shorts is my second commission and I feel incredibly lucky.

I’m obsessed with titles. I think any good play deserves a decent title. The idea for this short play came about when I kept seeing “NASA lie the Earth is flat no curve” spray-painted everywhere in Newcastle. I was convinced I would write a play inspired by this graffiti. It just so happened at the time my friend worked as a waiter in a strip club and hearing them talk about this world got my attention and I suddenly found myself writing. 

We find and appreciate friendship in intimate moments of night-time philosophy. There is something about being drunk, or in the dark, or under a starlit sky that makes us want to question and solve everything. This play is about two people who try to figure out and fix the world as a way of avoiding fixing their own problems. I was listening to a playwriting podcast before that said “we put parts of ourselves in the characters we create”, and I see myself in both of the characters in this play and I hope the audience does too!

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