Our latest Behind The Scenes post features talented playwright, Sara Clifford. Her latest play, which she was rehearsing for in the studios, is about exploring the lives of the super rich. We wanted to find out how she got on.
Your experience in the field of play writing is immense, what would you say is your favourite thing to create and why?
I have been writing for over twenty five years, including ‘mainstream’ plays for theatre spaces; participatory work in site specific locations; collaborations with other artists, including a musician and a visual artist; and work rooted in local people’s stories, such as dancing in the 50s and 60s. I enjoy working in all these contexts for different reasons – I like to challenge myself as a writer, whether with the subject matter e.g. writing a play about a woman ex-offender who becomes a stand up comic (Chasing the Dragon) or about the first woman in space ( I see the Horizon); or through form e.g. mixing factual and fictional characters (Vasco da Gama meeting Sinbad the Sailor in The Cinnamon Veil), or including verbatim text collected from participants ( Our Dancing Feet); or researching via another art form, e.g. working with a mixed disabled/older people dance group for Head Over Heels, a play about growing old; or writing about another time, that maybe corresponds to ours, e.g. the English Revolution in the seventeenth century had so many elements that affect our lives today ( A Thousand Days). So overall I think I like to keep challenging myself and to learn lots of things about lots of different topics! I’m a bit of a magpie..
What do you find most rewarding about your job?
Again, I like different elements – I love the research part, where i have the time to read and watch and mind map and not be under pressure – then the thorny bit of actually writing a first draft, hewn from the rock as it were, which is rewarding but difficult! But the best bit is always in the rehearsal room heading for production – the excitement of seeing it come to life, the input of the creative team, the point where really you let go and see where it’s going to fly to.. Very exciting! And I’d be lying if I didn’t say the applause as well!
Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re working on at the Copperdollar Studios?
Myself, together with Terry O’ Donovan the director, and a fantastic team of actors, have been working on the R and D for my latest play, Family Offices. I wanted to write something about the super rich – the obscene fact that 8 people own the same amount of wealth as 50% of the world’s population, for example – and to explore different ways of portraying this. We worked together for a couple of days on what was already a third draft and a rehearsed reading for a small audience of critical friends. I already knew that i was having problems imagining a really super wealthy character – I simply could not think myself into her head!) and what I then discovered that i was trying to write at least two plays in one! I have now been able to separate this out into the family drama that has been lurking there, exploring a cross generational conflict around wealth, as well as a political satire about the super rich ( forthcoming!)
What is it about participatory arts that you find most important?
I have always worked in community arts alongside my writing work,leading drama and writing workshop with all sorts of community groups and ages, and i find it grounds me in the real world – as writers we love to hear people’s stories and are always retelling them one way or another – so for me, developing participatory projects is a natural progression of telling those stories and finding ways of getting people involved. I am especially keen to find ways of making theatre accessible ( not in an expensive theatre for a certain audience) and to create work that takes place in and is shaped by a community and/or a location, for example, and so brining in an audience that might not normally go to the theatre.
Lots of your work has revolved around children and young people, if you had to give advice to them about their writing, what would it be?
Usually people say write about what you know, and this is a good starting point – tell the story of you, your friends, your town – but also think about how you could tell it – is is just one person speaking? Is it lots of people taking on lots of different parts? Could you place it in a different space, like a skate park or a school out of hours? Once you can convey those stories, you can imagine yourself into other settings, times and scenarios – that is what writers do after all, tell stories – no one ever said they were necessarily completely true! – but what an audience wants to hear or see is what rings true for them ( which is the bit about what you know making its way into the script). You can write a story about an alien for example, but the alien might actually be someone you know who doesn’t quite fit in whom you have cleverly disguised…
How did you hear about the studios?
Our wonderful producer Judith HIbberd found it!
What do you like most about the Copperdollar Studios and what would you say makes it different from other studios you’ve used?
We needed a space that wasn’t too big but was also interesting ( and friendly! ) and it fitted the bill. Once I came to see it, I loved the shabby chic look spiced up with Mexican and Day of the Dead imagery – its really interesting, feels really creative and inspiring. People really enjoyed coming into it, and it’s also very central.