When I was growing up I was really focused on being an actor. I think quite often it’s the first port of call when you’re thinking about going into theatre. I mean, what seven year old says they want to be a director or a lighting designer? They don’t, because they never see it – we all know the names of our favourite actors of the telly, we probably don't know the name of the DOP or the Sound Engineer who all contribute towards the end product.
So I went to drama school and trained and spent a couple of years after I graduated auditioning with little success. I couldn't get an agent. I couldn't get enough paid work. I suspect I was probably wasn’t much good! Around this time a friend invited me to go to the Young Writers course at the Lyric Hammersmith, (which if I remember rightly was only three of four quid a session).
I had never thought I’d be a playwright.
I started writing my debut play Yous Twos on that course in 2012, and although it’s not exactly the same as it was then, it’s not far off. Ella Hickson (Boys, Oil) who taught the course, was really encouraging, she pushed me to finish the play and then directed a reading of it. I've always found writers to be an exceptionally generous breed.
I used the play like a calling card, it got me my agent and a bit of other work but I'd resigned myself to it not being produced. In 2015 after the play was shortlisted for Soho Theatre’s Verity Bargate Award, the now director Chelsea Walker contacted my agent asking to read it. We worked together on developing the play and on finding a theatre to produce it - which took another two years. It's now running at Hampstead Theatre downstairs, but getting it to production took six years, a bit of persistence and a lot of luck. Timing, I have found, is everything.
Working on the show has been a great learning curve. For this job, this play, this venue it felt really important to work with a predominately female team. One of the female actors we had audition for the show said to us that she’d never had an audition before where it was all women in the room. I hope ours will be the first of many for her.
I'm really pleased with how the production's turned out. Chelsea directs with real care and respect for the text and there's a fantastic cast of young actors in it too so its worth a look! I had never thought I’d be a playwright. I loved reading and drama classes, but it was only when I was a teenager I discovered modern play texts, that weren't Shakespeare or musicals. I auditioned for NYT when I was 15, and it was that process of having to go to the library and look for a monologue, that really opened my eyes to what was out there.
NYT was the first youth theatre I found that felt serious and professional
I did a few projects back when I was a member, I did a show in Manchester, Shakespeare in the Square, and a project about domestic violence. A lot of the faces I see around now I first met at NYT - it really feels like it’s an ongoing community.
NYT was the first youth theatre I found that felt serious and professional, and that treated me like an artist. I like how NYT treat their young people with a lot of respect – they’re like ‘we’ll give you a play where you can swear because you all do anyway’ – it didn’t feel patronising. Brighton, where I grew up, is a lovely artsy area and even there it was hard to find anything for kids to do that wasn't musicals.
I think it’s important to keep going if you want to work in the arts. There’s quite a lot of misreporting that happens in the press which is unhelpful. An example - I recently read an interview with an actor. He trained at a respected drama school, his parents work in the industry. But the article was full of how he ‘had no idea what acting was when I was younger, had never watched a play blah blah bulls**t’. None of this is true. It just makes a better story. We've all watched too much X Factor, me more than most. But here's the boring truth of it - most people who you see on the telly or who have their names on books or plays or whatever have tried. And failed. A lot. The plucked from obscurity magic wand moment is fun to day dream on but it shouldn’t replace hard work.
Make sure you access all of the opportunities around you
If you’re thinking about being a writer, try it – if you’re in London in particular you’re spoilt in the sense that you have loads of access to free opportunities like the playwriting courses at the Lyric and Hampstead Theatre. But even if you’re not, there's loads of free stuff online from the BBC Writers Room, to Bruntwood Prize tutorials. I’d also recommend submitting to Scratch Nights because they give you a deadline and an incentive which can be really important when motivating yourself.
Make sure you access all of the opportunities around you. If you’re an NYT member, you probably already have loads of friends who are actors – ask them to read your stuff out, or organise a rehearsed reading. If a theatre has an open submission window then send something in, and share your work with other writers.
What’s great about playwriting is that it feels like quite an open door, people want you to write a good play because they need to stage one.
Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of ‘no’s, but there are also loads of opportunities out there so don’t give up. You don’t have to have done everything you’re ever going to do by the time you’re 21.
Alumna Georgia Christou joined NYT when she was 15. Her debut play Yous Two is playing at The Hampstead Theatre until 24 February 2018.
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