PlayBox: Play Blog from Adam James 11/01/2024

PlayBox, our year long writer-on-attachment scheme, sees playwrights develop a brand new piece of work with our support. This year's cohort are drawing close to sharing their new plays at our PlayMakers Takeover at HOME on 20 January. Read Adam's update on where he's up to ahead of his rehearsed reading...

When I got onto PlayBox, I was overjoyed.

Playwriting is what got me into writing in the first place. ‘Road’ by Jim Cartwright was the first time I read something that wasn’t by Shakespeare or about posh people. So, I started writing bits here and there. Monologues at college, little devised pieces throughout my later performing BTEC. After I couldn’t afford a place at drama school, I went to university to study screenwriting. But when I moved to London to make a go of being a writer, knowing I had to get my stuff seen, and not having any technical capacity or know how, or want to make a short film, I went back to playwriting. Scratch nights. Short plays. A course with Soho theatre. In summary, it’s playwriting that started it all for me.

And now, here I was, an actual writer on attachment at an actual theatre company, who had chosen just four writers out of a load, and loved my pitch, right through to my first draft treatment. Suddenly, with a whole year ahead of me, it was all happening.

And then, just as suddenly, it didn’t. And I wasn’t overjoyed anymore. I was petrified. Because in a matter of weeks, I convinced myself I had no idea how to write a play. That I had no right to write about the things I was planning to write about. That what I was aiming for wasn’t even a play. I was wasting everyone’s time and the opportunity in front of me. I was paralysed. And even after many conversations with my fantabulous director Hannah and dramaturg Billie – which were ALWAYS inspiring and enthusiastic and filled with genuine praise – when it came to getting something on the page… nope. Still nothing. And this went on for months. Maybe it was better for me to quit altogether and just focus on the day job.

Luckily for me, Box of Tricks wouldn’t let me quit.

All of my above ramblings are to say, my PlayBox experience has largely been about learning to get out of my own way. To embrace my many panics and negative thoughts as part of the ‘process’. That elusive bloody ‘process’. To realise that that first draft, or second draft or even third draft, is not supposed to be perfect, and just get any old thing down. Hell, the reading at the end of PlayBox is just an R&D script in hand, but I’d managed to convince myself it was make or break. The play to end all plays. And this is just not the case.

The exact moment that these realisations started to form in my battered little self-deprecating brain was on our workshop day, where BOT organised a group of actors to sit down to read the beginnings of my silly little play aloud. I’d never had this experience before, PlayBox has been a lot of firsts for me, and so naturally, I was dreading it.

And though I ended the day full of angst, and as ever, doubted that my play wasn’t a play or worth any sort of hassle for anyone ever, Hannah and Billie couldn’t have been more positive. And neither could the actors. They ripped my play apart, but with such rigour and enthusiasm and care that it suddenly hit me… they wouldn’t be doing this if they didn’t see something there. Something worth it. And after two pints, a bath and four doughnuts, I finally let it hit me that I had just had one of the most fun, supportive and creative days of my entire life.

To be honest, I’m still not sure about my play. But I am sure I am feeling better. Because of Hannah and Billie, because of that magic workshop and those magical actors Matt, Matty, Paddy and Stefan. Who all made me believe in myself and my writing again after some pretty dark few months.

Writing’s hard. But please don’t convince yourself you can’t do it if you’re only ever being told you can, and that people want you to. Because you’ll still have to get it done, but it’ll have cost you more than it needed to.

I hope this hasn’t been too a depressing read, but personally, I love it when writers admit that this magnificent job is actually pretty testing and makes them question everything about themselves / cry into a glass of wine on a semi-regular basis. You’re not alone, so keep going.

And do yourself a favour and connect with Box of Tricks.

Adam James

Adam James - a young white man, wearing a white shirt and cream best on top. He is smiling, and wearing red glasses

Adam is a queer writer and script editor from the West Midlands, now based in Manchester. He is currently on 4screenwriting with Channel 4 and was part of the Soho Theatre’s Writers Lab in 2019/20. In TV development, he currently works with Wall To Wall North and previously SISTER. Read Adam's honest account of his process over the course of the programme, a recipe for realisation (spoiler: this does include doughnuts), and how he's feeling now.