Fighting out of the Fringes: When can you call yourself a playwright?
“You willy-wally wobbly words…” says Major Robbie Ross in Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play Our Country’s Good as he berates Ralph Clark, a young Second Lieutenant attempting to put on a play. But this could easily be a cry against a playwright. This could very easily be a cry against a playwright by him/herself. Dealing with this idea of uselessness or imperfection is something we all have to go through in one form or another: for some they emerge stronger with greater confidence, for others it just feels like a disease. When you get physically sick though it does test some of these thoughts in greater magnification. Like many tens of thousands of unfortunate UK residents this Autumn, I’ve recently renewed my friendship with my lavatory and it does give you time to question.
Maybe it’s only in illness we truly know ourselves: stripped back and shivering, useless, dependent and left really only with the power of observation? These might just be the right requirements to be a playwright though, who knows? But who am I to even indirectly call myself a playwright? Until true fame strikes isn’t that act a bit too much like bragging that you’re amazing at a sport you just happened to beat your Dad’s mate at once, before finding you’re 6-0 6-0 in a tennis match with someone in the year below you at school in front of a giggling crowd of adversaries?
I’ve written shows my company has produced. I’ve written shows that others have produced here and there. I’ve written a piece I’m proud to say appeared in the Northern Exposure season thanks to the ever-supportive and fantastically innovative West Yorkshire Playhouse. Am I a proper playwright? I know many, many people in a similar position, some with more or less luck than I’ve had, that struggle with the same question. Why ask it? What does it achieve?
In it is contained a sense of identity, self-worth, community; knowing you’re not trapped in a vacuum crying out to yourself; you know there’s something that needs to be said and you want to say it. Is this somehow noble? Egotistical? Presumptuous? It’s difficult not to think all three and difficult not to be laying yourself open to harsh judgement as a result. Maybe this is why we face the test of failure at nearly every stage, often judged on our last efforts rather than track records, often on who we know not what we know, often on being predominantly salesmen not artists. I don’t claim to be working in the only industry where all this is true. What I can say is that in this industry this deep fear of being mere willy-wally wobblers of words is a remarkably successful way of whittling down candidates. And that can weigh heavily, like an illness (if you let it) if you can’t let any positivity in.
Second Lieutenant Clark successfully directed the play in Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good and in real life Australia. However, it was one of the cast, Robert Sideway, who is credited with founding a Theatre company. Maybe it is useful to willy-wally wobbly words now and again if that’s all the Major Rosses of this world think you’re doing. If not for yourself, but for the Robert Sidewayses. Ultimately playwrights may often write alone but we’re surely trying to write for someone’s good.
(Credit: Getty Images)Tagged in: Fighting out of the Fringes, funding, theatre
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