2017: a year in writing

Memory is funny thing. You think you haven’t achieved much in a year but then look back and find out that actually you haven’t done too badly on the whole. So here is my 2017 in writing:

January was the month that Gazing At A Distant Star made its debut in the brand new studio at Greenwich Theatre. So brand new was the studio that we were unwrapping chairs from plastic about an hour before the first show. I was thrilled at how director James Haddrell interpreted my words and the actors (Vicky Porter, Şerin Ibrahim and Harpal Hayer) were brilliant. Audiences came (it’s a bit like hosting a party and hoping you won’t be left weeping into the Twiglets when no one turns up)  and the reviews were really positive with several four stars and even a five star among them. Unbeknown to me Assembly Theatre came along too and made James an offer of space for the Edinburgh Fringe.  I’m hugely indebted to friends and family who all came to see it and for three in particular who propped me up when I had a little anxiety wobble.

Harpal Hayer and Victoria Porter in Gazing At A Distant Star, Greenwich Theatre, photographer credit Warren King (1)
Harpal Hayer and Vicky Porter

February was a quiet month in which I cracked on with writing more stuff, met up with some lovely creative types and sent follow up emails to industry types who had come to see GAADS.

In March I had a short piece on as part of the Women Redressed festival at the Park Theatre. The Park is a lovely space and I was excited that Şerin who was in GAADS auditioned for and got the role in this one. Her performance as a refugee woman really tugged at the heartstrings.

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Şerin Ibrahim in Nami Nami at the Park Theatre

In April I attended a couple of workshops and reviewed some interesting productions for London Pub Theatres. The wealth and scope of new and revived writing on the London fringe scene is phenomenal. By spring people are trying out their new work for the summer festivals so there’s loads to choose from. I also knuckled down to some sketch writing for News Revue. Although it’s been a  crazy year for politics it’s tricky making comedy out of people who seem determined to do that for themselves with no help from writers! I wrote a rather angry sketch about the teacher shortage which seemed to touch a nerve as it ran and ran in the London show, made it into the Edinburgh show and into the two special News Revue performances at the Arts Theatre on the West End.

May was another month for writing, learning and chasing up on people who had expressed an interest in GAADS. One of those was agent Jean Kitson from Kitson Press. After several months of correspondence with her assistant who then left the agency, I had to start all over again. Eventually however, I met up with Jean for a coffee and words like ‘representation’ and ‘signing’ popped up in conversation. But I didn’t dare hope yet…

In June I was lucky enough to get a place on Out Of Joint’s inaugural 24 hour writing course. I learned tons over the Friday and Saturday and Stella Feehily and Catriona Craig were inspirational. As this was before the news about Max Stafford-Clark had broken, he was also a tutor and spoke about his plans for reviving Rita, Sue and Bob Too, the production of which came to be a pivotal moment of the debate around sexual harassment in theatre and beyond for this year. I finished the latest draft of the play I started writing at the beginning of the year and started sending this out to various people.

In July I had a read through of Starving, another new piece I had written and got some great feedback from a helpful actor. I met with Jean again and she offered to sign me a client. I now had an agent! James auditioned a new actor for GAADS as Vicky was heading off on honeymoon during Edinburgh and chose the fabulous Jenny Delisle. After rehearsals we had a preview on the main stage at Greenwich.

August was all about Edinburgh. The GAADS team went up in a van at the beginning of the month and I followed up by train a few days later.  I was only staying for a few days  as James and the Greenwich Theatre gang had everything sorted. It was my first ever Edinburgh and it was crazy. I loved how shows were in every nook and cranny of the city from lecture theatres (ours) to tunnels to attics and basements in pubs. I managed to see loads of things from theatre to comedy, variety to cabaret as well as doing some flyering with the team, a bit of sightseeing and a fair amount of gin drinking. Huge thanks for Fenella for letting me kip in her room and for the Mervyn Stutter team for putting up with me hanging around the place. Edinburgh was a huge learning curve- not all of it good- but all part of the learning journey and we picked up tow more five star and three more four star reviews. DHkspLEXcAA9YLq

After the madness of Edinburgh September felt unusually quiet. I did have one important mission to complete, however. I had a book to write for Jessica Kingsley Publishing by the end of November and while I had written bits and bobs over the year, like leaving my homework until Sunday night I now had to knuckle down and get scribbling. I took a day off to be an extra in a short film which is always great fun and helpful to see another medium in action. I did an interview for Soho radio and am getting better and not saying ‘er’ quite so much.

In October I found out that my new play Learning to Swim had reached the top 100 (out of over a thousand plays) of Soho Theatre’s Verity Bargate Award which I was thrilled about. I booked myself in for a short meeting with Sue Healy, the literary manager at the Finborough Theatre as part of their Introduce Yourself scheme. Sue suggested I might like to have a go at becoming a reader for the Finborough, reading new plays and visiting shows on their behalf. I had to read three scripts and write a report on each and got accepted. The first play I wrote back in 2014 had a revival too! I had sent my comedy Scribblers in to the Oast Theatre in Tonbridge a couple of years ago as I thought it might suit an amateur production. Out of the blue I had an email to say that yes they’d like to put in on as part of a season of new readings. On a vile, rainy night I trekked down and was made very welcome by the Oast team who did a great job with Scribblers. They also had lots of homemade cake. Now that’s what I call a theatre experience!

In November I heard that Starving had been selected for the Twelve Days of Christmas festival at the Tristan Bates Theatre. We were awarded a small development grant and my actor and director were both on board. With some dedicated writing I even managed to get my book finished and sent off by the end of the month. Next step: edits.

Starving pic 2

In December rehearsals for Starving were interrupted by first director being unwell and then me but we got there in the end amid the coughing. It was good to see some new writing up on its feet and to think about which steps to take next. The year ended on a high note with being offered a place on the Greg Mosse writing course at the Criterion Theatre. The Criterion is a stunningly beautiful West End venue in the heart of Piccadilly and the course is conducted on the stage. If that doesn’t get the inspiration going I don’t what will!

Having totted up my theatre experiences from this year I found that I had also reviewed twenty eight shows and been to twenty four for pleasure (including a bit of a spike in August!).  By some people’s standards that’s nothing and I certainly need to pack in some bigger shows in 2018 (I’ve already booked some to get the ball rolling) but in among the writing, the day job, my other hobbies and producing the book it’s enough for me. Here’s hoping for a happy, healthy and successful year for 2018 with many more opportunities for women writers. Oh and politicians- feel free to leave the comedy to writers, ok?

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Countdown to Edinburgh begins…

It’s almost August and that can only mean one thing- the Edinburgh festival is gearing up for it’s 70th anniversary. GAADS GeorgeSq 1x1

The Gazing at a Distant Star team is busy with rehearsals, tech and costume-buying and we’ve got Kim Morgan PR on board to help spread the word.

The preview is this Saturday 29th July at Greenwich Theatre on the main stage and tickets are available here.

We’ve also begun to get some press in advance of the festival itself.

Broadway World did a super interview with director James Haddrell here. and he talks about the play in another interview with Vile Arts here.

We’ve also made the top picks list in several places so here’s to a successful Edinburgh run for Team GAADS!

Edinburgh Preview at Greenwich

Really excited that Gazing At A Distant Star is back at Greenwich Theatre on Saturday 29th July for an Edinburgh preview.

Before the play heads north for the festival (tickets here) there will be a one night only preview back at Greenwich where it all began but this time in the main house.

It’s a chance to see our new cast member Jennie Delisle in action (the lovely Vicky Porter is embarking on the next chapter of her life and getting married back home in Northern Ireland).

The play has also been on a bit of a diet in readiness for its summer debut!

We’ve even made the number one spots in Resident Magazine!

Tickets for Greenwich now booking here. 

Women Redressed at The Park Theatre

While Gazing At A Distant Star was on in January I was busy back at the laptop tapping out a short play which I submitted to Sheer Height Theatre’s Women Redressed festival.

I was thrilled when Nami Nami was accepted and even more thrilled when Serin Ibrahim who was in GAADS auditioned and got the part! The final member of the team was experienced director Eloise Lally and last night’s performance at The Park Theatre in Finsbury park was a sold out success.

The Park is a beautiful purpose built theatre and really suited the eight contemporary plays. It made me want to go back and see something else there.

Women Redressed is on again tonight and is sold out again.

It’s been a real pleasure working with the Sheer Height team and brilliant to add another theatre to my portfolio of places I’ve had plays on!

Meanwhile it’s back to the laptop for new work One. C6gL9UvXQAIebY4

 

Gazing At A Distant Star kicks off at Greenwich Theatre Studio

It’s here! The first night was totally sold out so I’m thrilled that our hard work is paying off. As an emerging writer it’s tricky getting your name out there so I’ve been busy drumming up some publicity and it’s been fun. flyer

I was really excited to be a guest of Yasmeen Khan’s show on Talk Radio which goes out nationally. Yasmeen is great fun and is a very accomplished playwright so it was an honour chatting with her. The Talk Radio staff looked after me really well and I enjoyed being in their busy studio (even though I failed to recognise George Galloway who was sipping coffee and preparing for his show in the kitchen!) You can listen here.

Another radio interview, this time with Ian Barclay from Wandsworth Radio. Ian kindy visited us in rehearsals at the studio and recorded a snippet of the play. James Haddrell chats about the studio and how he programmes work at Greenwich Theatre and I talk about our connection to Missing People charity. Listen here

Helen McWilliams from Break A Leg Review interviewed for her magazine and you can read that here.

We were picked out as one of Three To See here

West End Wilma talks about Greenwich Theatre’s innovative new progamme here

and James talks to Broadway World about GAADS here.

James has also written a  great piece on the power of theatre for Huffington Post here.

Phew! Been a busy few weeks and we’ve only just got started. Come and see us, we’re on until the 29th January and if you’re on Twitter, tweet me @sian_rowland using #GazingStarPlay

2016- a year of writing and learning

2016 has been a pretty tumultuous year in every way and the bad news keeps on coming. Meanwhile, however, writers keep on writing and trying to make sense of the changing world through our words.  To be good at anything takes hours of practice and I’ve treated the last couple of years as an apprenticeship to the art of stringing words together in a coherent and meaningful way.

January: 2015 ended on a low note for me with a couple of rejections that stung. Obviously rejection is par for the course in this business but I felt particularly frustrated by these. Added to this a play reading didn’t work out how I thought it would and I seriously wondered about chucking it all in and taking up basket-weaving or astrophysics. In the end I gave myself a stern talking to, rewrote the play in question and polished up a new play which I submitted to the Red Women’s Theatre awards. Just to get back in the saddle as it were.

Krystel Mendez and Jules Bannister in rehearsal for Subjunctive Mood
Krystel Mendez and Jules Bannister in rehearsal for Subjunctive Mood

February: I rewrote a short play and sent it in to the fabulous Actor Awareness. It was chosen for their scratch night at Canal Café Theatre and I ended up with two super actors (Krystel Mendez and Jules Bannister) and directed it myself. Canal Café Theatre is also home to News Revue, the world’s longest running live comedy show. I submitted a song to them and they added me to their list of comedy writers. I submit sketches, songs and voiceovers and sometimes, sometimes, they get chosen and performed. It’s great discipline writing humorous responses to news stories although the news in 2016 has often been a parody of itself. I’ve written about Danny Dyer, Trump, and libraries closing and at the time of writing my Marmite song is in its ninth week of performance! Bit gutted that my sketch about Honey G becoming a UKIP MP didn’t make the cut but hey ho!

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Alex Appleby and Fiona Whitelaw in Spurn The Dust, Greenwich Theatre

March: The play I submitted to the Red Women’s award got long listed and I was thrilled, particularly when I saw the calibre of fellow writers on the longlist. One week later and suddenly my name was on the list of the four finalists. When I’d picked my jaw up off the floor I was excited to work with director Kate Saffin and actors Fiona Whitelaw and Alex Appleby on the play which was staged at Greenwich Theatre. The night before the performance I picked up a vile stomach bug and barely made it through the show but loved every second anyway. I even blagged an interview on Wandsworth radio.

April: A learning month: I attended a comedy writing course led by legend Dave Cohen and this helped me focus my writing more. I attended a Writer’s Guild on writing for radio and discovered how complicated it is getting a story on the airwaves. Funny Women invited me to take part of a performance masterclass with the legendary Josie Lawrence. While I’m not really a performer, comedy improvisation really gets you thinking on your feel and Josie was incredibly generous with advice and experience. What a legend! I also went to the premier at the BFI of the short film I was in last year. Directed by up and coming director Rob Savage (who will be huge one day- I’lm willing to stake money on it), Dawn of the Deaf is a superbly executed horror film in which I was one of the zombie horde. It was great fun to film and the film is garnering all sorts of awards around the world in various film festivals. Most importantly, I was able to observe how films are made from close by and who wouldn’t want to be a zombie for a weekend?

Dawn of the Deaf poster. Spot anyone you know?
Dawn of the Deaf poster. Spot anyone you know?

May: I submitted a short play to Director’s Cut theatre company. The brief was to write a monologue or duologue of a draft email you wanted to send but didn’t. I went full on comedy and wrote a piece about the perils of wearing contact lenses. It was brilliantly interpreted by Nicola Kill and directed by Edward Land and showed at Southwark Playhouse to a packed house.

June: I started on a play about the four Romanov sisters last year and abandoned it as it just wasn’t working. I always intended to take it up again, however and when I saw a submission shout out from innovative Doughnut Productions it seemed a good fit. They were looking for four plays that used their unique space to tell a story entitled Trapped. They sit their audience on swivel chairs and the action happens around and between the audience and this spurred me on to start the play again. I submitted a proposal, was shortlisted to write the play and then mine was chosen to be one of the winning four to be performed at The Cockpit in August.  I wrote about the process in this blog post.

In rehearsals for Trapped
In rehearsals for Trapped

July: it’s all about the connections in this business and Tessa Hart who directed Life Sentence at Southwark Playhouse last year put together a week’s run of plays on the theme of Alone Inside The Box at her own theatre the Bread and Roses. Tessa directed Life Sentence again and Vicky Porter reprised her role and blew the socks off the audience every night.  While it’s brilliant making an audience laugh at your worlds, if you can make them cry real tears it’s even better! We had a great review which I wrote about here.

August: rehearsals for Trapped were underway with Catherine Lord the director and four amazingly talented young actors. The quartet of plays played three times on one day- it was quite a feat getting the whole kit and caboodle of chairs and staging into the theatre space. It was an amazing experience and we ended the night at theatre hangout the Phoenix Arts Club. I was also an extra in Rob Savage’s new short film Verity. This time there was proper costume, hair and makeup and I can’t wait to see the result even though I looked like a slightly sterner Mrs Danvers!

Simon Desborough in Secret Life of Sally, Southwark Theatre
Simon Desborough in Secret Life of Sally, Southwark Theatre

September: I treated myself to a ticket for the London Screenwriters Festival. While there were loads of pitching events I wanted to just enjoy, watch and learn from the best in the business. It was an amazing experience and I’m still processing all I learnt.  I wrote and submitted another piece to Director’s Cut and was thrilled to be selected again.  The clever brief was The Secret Life of Sally and writers created stories related to her life. I wrote for a man (for a change) and talented actor Simon Desborough gave a warm and sympathetic performance under the direction of Sakia Van T’Hoff. The evening was brilliantly curated by Heather Ward and Director’s Cut and sold the Little theatre at Southwark Playhouse. Such was the demand for tickets that a second evening in October was put on and sold out again within minutes!

October: Earlier in the year I contacted James Haddrell the artistic director of Greenwich Theatre to ask if I could send him my revamped and rewritten full-length play. To cut a very long story short, it turned out that he liked it and offered a rehearsed reading in the brand new studio at the theatre. A bit like hosting  a party, I worried that nobody would come and despite contacting a host of theatres and agents had pretty much no response. I do, however, have incredibly supportive friends who came along and were so enthusiastic that James is taking a punt on Gazing At A Distant Star and putting it on in January for a three week run. My first big break after a huge amount of hard work.

November: I spent a lot of time just writing and working on a spec TV drama created by friends of an actor I worked with earlier this year. Draft one done, I tidied up Gazing and started a couple of other projects.

December: we had a table read for gazing At A Distant Star and talked about style points. I tidied up the play a bit more (it’s an ever evolving life-form) and we start rehearsals in earnest in January. I also attended a panel talk at Soho Theatre with a lineup of superb emerging writers (including Phoebe Waller-Bridge of Fleabag fame and Vinay Patel who penned my favourite drama of the year Murdered By My Father). I was also lucky enough to attend the premier at Bafta of Sally Wainwright’s Bronte drama To Walk Invisible. The woman herself was on hand to talk about making the film and the actors talked about bringing the sisters to life on screen.

In between all the writing I’ve been busy at the day job of course, have attended and reviewed loads of shows for London Pub Theatres and attended a few shows just for fun. I was also commissioned to write an education book for Jessica Kingsley Publications so much of 2017 will be spent in writing that.

If it takes 10,000 hours to master a subject then I reckon I racked up a few more this year. Goodness knows what will happen in next year’s world. In fact I dread to think but I know one thing- whatever form it takes I’ll be writing about it.

The story of a play

‘Sometimes when I look at you, I feel I’m gazing at a distant star.’

Haruki Murakami

I’m really excited that my full length play Gazing at a Distant Star is having its first outing as a rehearsed reading at Greenwich Theatre on 6th October. In the run up I’ve been reflecting on the stories of the three characters and what prompted me to write it.

Remember the three London schoolgirls who went missing a couple of years ago and were found to have travelled to Syria to join ISIS? There was something about that story that really captured my imagination. Three ordinary teenagers doing well at school and looking towards their exams suddenly (it seemed) abandoned the safety and security of everything they knew for an abstract ideology. They seemed so vulnerable, so ill-prepared for the path they had chosen. The thing I remember most about the story, however, was the faces of their families on the news. They were bewildered, tear-stained and confused. How could the people they loved so much have been leading such double lives? It was a lesson for all of us that no matter how close we are to our loved ones we never really know everything about them.

I imagined the agony of the families waiting for news about the girls, the snippets of information gleaned from CCTV or social media. Most heart-breaking of all were the shopping lists the girls had made. The scrawled notes in girlish writing about underwear, coats and makeup made it seem like they were packing for their first girls’ weekend away.

My mind turned to other families. The choir I sing with supported the Missing People charity for several years and over time we heard stories of those left behind and the same themes of loss and utter bewilderment. Not having answers is heart-breaking. Many speak of living in limbo while their loved ones are missing and how they have two lives- the public one where they get on with it and the private life where they rake through every word, incident and photograph in the hope that some answers will appear.

People go missing for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes, like the schoolgirls, they choose to leave their lives, others are forced to and some are missing simply because no one has looked for them.

I started with Karen’s story. When her son goes missing she is left trying to find answers by searching through his childhood. Where did it all go so wrong and who is to blame?

Arun came next: a young man desperate to go to university but hampered by lack of funds. As many are now forced to do (2.9% of the UK workforce and rising) he takes a zero hours contract. Zero hours means no security, no employment rights  and no pastoral system. When a friend and colleague doesn’t turn up for work is he missing or has he just had enough of the system?

Anna tells the story of her sister, of trying to live normally when the person you love has been ripped from the fabric of your life leaving a jagged wound that never seems to heal.

For some a small grain of hope remains but for others where do you turn when that hope runs out?

Every now and then there will be a small article in the paper about the runaway schoolgirls: they’re all married to fighters, at least one has been killed and my heart breaks for them, their families and the impossible choices we’re faced with in such a fast-moving world.

Do we ever really know our loved ones or are we forever gazing at a distant star?

A rehearsed reading of Gazing at a Distant Star directed by James Haddrell will be at Greenwich Theatre studio on Thursday 6th October at 6pm. Tickets are available here. 

Find out more about Missing People charity here. 

Gazing at a Distant Star- new play

I have some exciting news to share. The full length play that I’ve been working on a for the last year Gazing at a Distant Star will have a rehearsed reading at Greenwich Theatre’s new studio on Thursday 6th October and will be directed by artistic director of Greenwich, James Haddrell. This will be an opportunity for me to see and hear it up and running with some creative input from an experienced director.

From the Greenwich website (which says it far better than I can):

Arun works in a call centre, desperately trying to save the money to go to university.
Anna trains for the 5k she never thought she wanted to run.
Karen works at a hardware store and tries to work out where it all went wrong…

Three lives intersect, three people struggle to cope with loss, to reach out and find the light beyond.

For more information on the cast and tickets- which are a bargain £4- have a look at the Greenwich website. 

Five stars for Life Sentence

Alone Inside The box has just finished its run at the Bread and Roses and it was a fabulous week. 9009952 (1)Seven really different monologues with a wide variety of themes and some outstanding acting.

We were lucky enough to have a reviewer from London Pub Theatres come and see us on opening night and he wrote a lovely review. Perhaps the most exciting part about playwriting is when someone really gets what you’re trying to say and the hard work the director and actors put in to really get to the heart of the story.

He said about Life Sentence:

The jewel in the crown of this excellent night and the best piece of drama I have seen this year is undoubtedly Sian Rowland’s astonishing and mature ‘Life Sentence’.
Victoria Porter is perfectly cast as the single Mum mourning her son, sorting through a box of family possessions. Director Tessa Hart uses the space well to wring a performance of startling intensity and grace from Porter, eschewing empty histrionics; understated, observational drama at its very best. Rowland draws fearlessly on herself, as she sets out her story against the absolute passion that is a mother’s love for a son. Every breath, every twitch of the superb Porter is imbued with humanity and humour. The message is delivered without compromise as we’re shown the personal cost of loss to a strong and desperate mum. And, because of the absence of any formal agenda, this story of woman’s tragic loss delivers a political message like a punch in the gut. A merited ***** for this company.

As you can imagine I was a slightly overwhelmed but definitely thrilled.

Read the rest of the review here.