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 Saphena's update on where she's up to ahead of her rehearsed reading...
Getting to be a part of the Box of Tricks' PlayBox 2023 cohort has been so impactful to me. It has given me the much-needed permission to put my arse in a chair and write…(can I say ‘arse’ in a blog?!)... It has given me structure, deadlines, and feedback. All of the practical things an emerging playwright needs. But, more than that, the team has given me complete creative freedom.
The play I thought I was going to write is not the play I ended up writing and I’ve never been given any pressure to ‘stick to the plan’. I always knew I wanted to write about women in their 50’s and beyond and under the guidance of Hannah, Adam and dramaturgical mentor Pad Hughes I have been able to do that even when my confidence dipped during the process. In some Arts Council data that I got hold of (yes I’m one of those people that reads things like that), I saw a statistic that basically said older women comprise a large percentage of theatre going audiences but that statistic drops dramatically when it comes to older women being actors on the stage. I realised that women in their late 40’s and beyond were regularly seeing work on stages on which they weren’t represented and when it came to older women of colour I’m sure the statistic would drop even further. I knew that the data would influence my work and to work with a team who knew my intention and respected that writers can ‘emerge’ at any age is wonderful.
The characters I have written, like myself, are all in their 50’s, they grew up in the age of punk & disco, the rise of hip hop, new romantics, ska and the 90’s club culture. I thought music would play a larger part in the play I would write but instead it is part of the characters’ biographies. In my next play, I’ll put much more music in it. I say next time because that is what this process has done for me. It’s given me huge amounts of confidence to keep writing more scripts.
Before I digress let me get back to saying more about the development of this play. Its title is The Space Around and Between. It took me a while to find a title for it, but my main character has a background in painting and the title came from the concept of negative space – a term used in painting. I’m a bit of a research geek and tend to do lots of reading whilst writing. No bad thing but can become problematic when it stops me from actually writing the play. Another good thing about having the external deadlines was that they discouraged my tendency to procrastinate.
From blank page to complete draft took me quite a few months but I challenged myself to hit all of the deadlines given to me. The final deadline for an early draft was given for October as 3 actors had been hired to run through the script and even show some scenes. That was nerve wracking. I was beautifully reminded that a play isn’t a novel or a poem…that it only makes sense when the words on the page are spoken by actors. Just observing and listening to them gave me so much new information about characters and story and plot. Invaluable. I am now hunkering down to get the final draft ready for January 20th and the rehearsed reading at HOME. I’m back on the learning curve as I learn to let go of things in the script that don’t quite work anymore. So, for now, I am a playwright in search of an ending and it really is not a bad problem to have.
Saphena is an alumnus of the Liverpool Everyman Theatre Playwrights Programme and the BBC Writersroom ‘Write Across Liverpool’ initiative. Her writing, creativity and consultancy skills have been used by BBC Television and Radio, Victoria and Albert Museum, Southbank Royal Festival Hall, British Council, Tate Liverpool, Tamasha and Eclipse Theatre Company.