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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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!
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.
‘Sometimes when I look at you, I feel I’m gazing at a distant star.’
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.
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.
Alone Inside The box has just finished its run at the Bread and Roses and it was a fabulous week. 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.
Innovative theatre company Doughnut Productions put a call out for proposals for plays on the theme of Trapped. I submitted a proposal, got short-listed, wrote the play and was excited to hear that mine was one of three chosen for performance at The Cockpit on 28th August as part of Camden Fringe.
I’m particularly excited because Doughnut Productions puts the audience on swivel chairs and the action happens around and through them. It was fun to write for such a unique set-up and I can’t wait to see what director Catherine Lord does with my script.
The second reason I’m so excited is that this play is a bit of a departure from my usual stuff. It’s about the four daughters of the last Tsar of Russia. Following the revolution, the Tsar and his family were moved to Tobolsk in Siberia and then to Ekaterinburg. For over 18 months they were kept there under house arrest while the authorities decided what to do with them.
I’m fascinated by the idea of four young women being trapped together in such difficult circumstances and was inspired by author Helen Rappaport’s brilliant book Four Sisters which served as an invaluable research tool.
Book here– there are three times on the 28th August to choose from. Come and have a play on a swivel chair!
Kate and Andy from Doughnut Productions explain more in this video: