10 year-old Joey wakes up on the day of his team’s big match. But everything seems to be going wrong, and the universe seems set on stopping Joey and his mum getting to the game. Through their adventures to get to the game they find ways to play football in all sorts of places. Audiences can expect a fast-paced, joyful, soulful, silly show. It’s a really physical piece – which is driven by the movement of the performers far more than the words.
How do you capture football – an energetic, active sport played outside – on stage?
You avoid trying to do it too literally. There is absolutely lots of cool football moves in the show brought to life by the very talented performers. But the key was trying to capture this through interpretive movement, and through language. The play is written in rhyme to try to capture the pace and energy of the sport – so that it can hopefully be captured in the minds of the audience when it can’t be shown in a literal visual way.
How did you become a playwright, and what led you to writing plays for young audiences?
I went to a performing arts school – I thought I wanted to be an actor. But my teachers hated me as an actor so started getting me to do things behind the scenes; I had a go at writing a play and my school put it on and I fell in love with that side of things. And I knew that’s what I wanted to do. There’s no other feeling than seeing your characters and words come to life. To support myself when I was starting out as a writer, I was doing lots of work with young people – working as a Learning Support Assistant in a school, teaching drama classes to kids, running outreach programmes at theatres; and it was only when the Hampstead Theatre offered me a commission to write a play for their youth theatre that I realised how much sense it made for me to try writing for young audiences – combining my two interests and skill sets. And from there I kind of just fell into TYA projects; each one led to another.
You have written plays for all ages and covered an assortment of different topics, from ADHD to teenage sexting. What is your creative process, and how do you think about, or tailor a piece to, a particular audience age range?
I try to change my creative process for each play I’m working on so I’m responding to what that play needs rather than getting into ‘habits.’ But I always tend to begin with some sort of hands-on research. For example, for WiLd! I met with people with ADHD and also a leading scientist in the field; for Pronoun I worked with trans young people; for Holloway Jones, with prisoners and ex-prisoners. I try not to go in with any set ideas/angles right from the start so I can be responsive to what I’m discovering. It’s also through this process that I can figure out where to pitch it depending on age. The best way is to test it out with audiences – it’s only there that you know how audiences of different ages are going to respond to it. But the main thing in a way is to try to forget the age of the audience. The subject/characters/world/story usually comes out of their age in some way, so then it’s just about focussing on telling a story. And at that point I don’t approach any differently to how I approach writing a play for adults.
What was your experience of theatre growing up?
I was really lucky. My mum loves theatre and took me to everything. EVERYTHING. She fostered my love for theatre. I auditioned for a performing arts school at age 8 and got in – so from then to the end of secondary school I was at the arts school; so half the day was academics and half creative arts. So I was doing theatre, dance, music and visual art every day. Mime, modern dance, national dance, band, choir…etc. I wouldn’t be doing what I do now if it wasn’t for the opportunity I was given at a young age. Not many people get the chance to go to a state school like that.
Do you have any advice for playwrights wanting to create work for young people?
Spend time with young people! Like young people! Think about the plays you saw that you loved as a kid. Or the plays you wished you’d seen. Write those.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on a show for families, and a bunch of plays for ‘adults.’ I’ve also turned my hand to screen so am in the middle of my first film screenplay and various TV scripts. And even though the TV scripts are not for ‘kids’, they interestingly all have at least a few key young characters in them.
Keepy Uppy is for children aged 3+. The show tours from 5th May 2018, for further details click here.