This is a picture of me when I was 19. My hair changed colour a lot more then so I thought an ‘in-between colours’ photo might be the most representative image to give you. The usual things have happened since then, I no longer have Rage Against the Machine and Animatrix posters on my wall, had my heart broken a few times, took my lip piercing out and forgot to put it back in so it healed over. Put weight on. Lost it again. Moved to Wolverhampton for a bit. And Birmingham. Actually you can’t really see the Rage poster because it’s covered in scraps of writing. That was a thing I did then, you see. Slightly compulsively and with middling to angsty results. I was at a uni that I’d just stuck on the bottom of my UCAS form to fill it up because all my other applications were to drama schools and of course I was going to get into one. I was actually right on that, I got a place a Mountview, but only half a Dance and Drama Award (the grant which is the only way I could have afforded it). So instead I rather bewilderingly found myself back from a year spent working in a kitchen and doing lots of canoeing in the south of France, and at Loughborough University studying English and Drama.
I dropped English pretty swiftly; it was only the poetry I felt breathed when you studied it; Great Expectations wasn’t really my thing. And then one day I saw a poster on the wall of the student foyer. Something called ‘Theatre Writing Partnership’ was looking for pitches for a play. Write a play? Fuck it, I’m 19, I can do anything! So I sent something in. And they accepted me to be mentored by a playwright as part of a group of 6-7 others. I went to Leicester for the first time, wandered around the big city like a proper Lincolnshire girl who thought Loughborough was already quite big, thank you. Got lost in the Shires (a shopping centre), and found my way to the Haymarket Theatre, where Amanda Whittington led the first of several sessions of writing exercises and I began writing my first original piece of theatre.
Theatre Writing Partnership were a new theatre writing initiative based in the East Midlands. They worked in schools, with 18-25 year olds and ‘grown ups’ and older people to develop theatre writing in the area. Though based at Nottingham Playhouse they weren’t connected to any main theatre as a subsidiary ‘literary department’ – rather an active and independent force seeking out and developing writing talent in a very large and very culturally empty region. And in their first year of being established, I wrote a play for them.
My first proper play took place in the final second before the end of the world. The final endless second where all time is stretched and everything falls apart and a girl in Lincolnshire has taken her dog for a walk. It contained presences in a tree that become a man called Olu, and that tune into that moment to plant a seed for the next world to begin. Here are some of the actual stage directions.
The world is ending,- it is a second away from ending. But at 00000000yrs.00mnths.00days.00hrs.00mins.01secs it was paused. Or not paused- as no one has the power to pause time, but rather slowed down, so that the ensuing action takes place in one second. If you spend a lot of time around trees, you learn some things about time- hundreds of years can be squashed into a 2mm line, for example. So, the ensuing action, takes place in one second
Anyway, it swears a lot and is that first thing everyone writes; a play with actually only one character, and only one voice, yours. Oh, and also I think at one point there called for a stage full of dogs. I wonder why they didn’t choose to stage it? It got a reading though. 20 minutes, at the 3 day Momentum Young Writers Festival. With Actual Actors. In an Actual Theatre (Lakeside theatre in Nottingham), and I was on the Nottingham uni campus with other 18-25 year olds from similar sessions run in Northampton, Derby, Nottingham (later festivals would even get an outpost into Lincoln, no mean feat).
This is what the last two pages looked like if you fancy a giggle:
I learnt an awful lots on the Theatre Writing Partnership Young Writers Programme, and at the Momentum Festival, more than all the mentoring sessions put together. I worked with a director and two actors, they asked me questions I had never even considered, they challenged assumptions I didn’t know I’d made, but most of all, they treated me like someone who had written a play that they were working on. That doesn’t sound like much, but the fact that they did their jobs on something I had written was the best lesson TWP could have ever given me. I learned, I responded, I toughened up, and being treated like an adult gave me the strength to take the criticism.
I didn’t always listen to the advice. I seem to remember faintly impressing the ‘pitch panel’ exercise at the festival in answering ‘isn’t this a film?’ to my pitch with a flat ‘no’ and then detailing exactly why the theatre should be dealing with a near future nighttime maglev suspended precariously over a bridge after a huge EMP detonation, containing 3 passengers, two of whom had fallen in love online but not met in real life and were intending to elope but they guy hadn’t like the look of the woman so had stayed quiet and she thought she’d been stood up, and the other guy was mysteriously holding a goldfish.
And actually that wasn’t such a bad idea for a play. I wrote it on the next Momentum mentoring programme, and also sneakily submitted it to my second year uni ‘playwriting 1’ module. I learnt to write actually different voices with the second year of mentoring, and it got me a very high first at uni. Then and my playwriting tutor took me aside and gently pointed me towards doing the third year module (I wrote a play about a boy with amnesia who had been kidnapped by what turned out to be an angel who had fallen in love with him (Icarus) as he fell to his death and saved him and so the Gods had punished the angel by hiding Icarus in all of time and space and to save them both he had to find him and convince him to love him within the time limit. He turned out to be in Birmingham in 2005.), and then onto the Birmingham Playwriting Masters. I was accepted onto that, and two years later was sat in another playwriting mentoring course, this time at the Royal Court.
The Royal Court weren’t quite ready for my love story set between an investigative journalist and a trafficked woman set in a near future where there’s a single child policy throughout Europe and although prostitution has be legalised, the black market trade in healthy white male babies in which they are both inculcated, is illegal. That one was quite mild, I thought. It contained a lot more lithuanian than I actually speak (any, that) but the ending was straight out of Ibsen.
Anyway, shortly after that I did have a full production. Box of Tricks put on four 15 minute new plays at Theatre 503, and my short piece ‘Awake’ (the meeting of a MMORPG player and her avatar in a strange liminal space that neither of them recognise) was one of them. Shortly after that at a writing workshop at the Soho I discovered the work of Duncan Speakman and actually find a *form* for my fucking weird ideas, and it turns out being formally inventive lets me tone down some of the other inventiveness, so I write about a future drowned London, but for the headphones of someone on the top deck of a night bus (for example).
Since then I’ve returned to work with TWP, with a different team, but still the same brilliant aims, and never standing still. I’ve worked to develop their online presence, run a bit of social media for them, and worked on a writing adventure-come-game across the city of Derby. I’ve been to sit in on interactive shows in development and actually apply some of the expertise they set me on the journey to get. And I still have got some of the best and most useful advice from them. One of my first ever freelance contracts was with them (as digital comms officer for a summer) and Bianca, on my calling her my ‘boss’ said ‘Hannah, you’re freelance, you’re not working for me, but with, you’re here because you have expertise we need’. I never looked at freelance work the same again. And it did the way I work and see myself a power of good.
And then there are the friends. I could only find one photo of me at the first Momentum festival, it’s this one, below. That guy is my good friend @alexanderpwalsh, and I still regularly hang out with him and at least 3 others from that group of 6 or 7 from Leicester. More than half of them still write brilliant stuff. And Bianca and Kate (who are the last general manager and artistic director) are ace contacts and friends, too.
I sat down to write about Theatre Writing Partnership. Actually it just looks like I’ve mostly written about myself. But really, I think that’s the thing; they are a fundamental part of how I got here and because of that, who I am. My proper-theatre career can be seen to have begun with that first workshop I went on. That was also their first year, so they and I have been doing this thing for 8 years, thereabouts.
In the last funding round the Arts Council delivered Theatre Writing Partnership a 100% cut in funding. Not being connected to any theatre meant they had no other means of funding to fall back on. This summer they stop. There’s nothing right now to fill the gap. No new writing spaces at any of the regional theatres (though certainly room for new performance work in organisations like Hatch, and my small intentions to start a scratch night as part of Performance in the Pub for less live-arty more solo performance type stuff).
So I just wanted to write this, and let the TWP lot know, and you, too, how important those 8 years were.
And, equally, you should know, guys, that writing this blog post made me smile, a lot.