Afsaneh Gray on being a PLAYwright...
Afsaneh trained with Orange Tree Theatre Collective and Royal Court Studio Group. Recent credits include The Long Swim (Juicy Bits, Orange Tree), Octopus (Camden Peoples Theatre) and EverWeather (Papercut/Theatre503). Afsaneh is currently under commission from the Unicorn Theatre and St. Mary's University, and with the Paper Tiger Collective, Associate Artist at Ovalhouse. Afsaneh is writing PLAY 11.
1. Who are you working with in the PLAYroom?
Director Oliver Dawe and a fab cast - Lowri Palfrey, Rosie Sansom and Anyebe Godwin.
2. Has anything surprising happened so far?
Lots of things! Because we came into the rehearsal room with no idea what we were going to create, everything's been a surprise. Olly's been leading mysterious exercises that have somehow ended up inspiring a theme and a form. And bits of things the actors have told me about themselves have bled into the script - which I think was definitively a surprise for them!
3. What have you liked most about the process so far?
It's a privilege to get to know the company you're working with before you start writing. You have a sense of the kinds of characters that might suit the actors and the kind of tone the director might enjoy. Normally you write a script and then try to find somebody who gets it, in this case you're all on the same page from the beginning, even if I'm the one who has to put the words on it.
4. What are the challenges of working in this way?
It's a bit scary as a writer to walk into a rehearsal room and know people have already booked tickets for a show you haven't written yet. You have to trust that as a team you'll make something exciting - I'm lucky in that it has felt very much like we're all in it together (which is how the process is designed) so it's not just a question of go away and write us a script now.
5. As a writer, what kind of ideas are you interested in exploring?
At the moment I'm obsessed with identity and Britishness - what makes somebody British? What makes somebody feel at home, or, more importantly, be treated like they're at home? It seems that citizenship isn't just about having a British passport, it's constantly being revised with all the anxiety about immigration and radicalisation. Some of those themes are in this play, but we also ended up looking at the way the mediated world (news, adverts etc) ends up being background noise, leaving us distanced from the people behind the news and also feeling weirdly secure - somebody else is dealing with this, I don't have to.
6. What are the benefits of working with actors in the room to develop material and narrative?You can nick their lives! I mean that in the broadest sense - I'm writing characters still - but you do take bits and pieces. Even the way somebody carries themselves or uses their voice can inspire something. You also have the advantage of constantly trying out your words as you write them - figuring out what works as you go.
7. How has it been working so closely with the director in the room?
It's great. You get a lot of input - somebody to bash your ideas around with right from the beginning. Plus it makes me feel more brave because I know we can experiment together, we can be brave with the staging, which means I don't have to define as much in the text. It's a chance to leave more space for, er...play.
8. If PLAY 11 were a day of the week, which day would it be?
Monday. All the unknowns of the beginning of the week, but also the excitement. You have to get out of bed. But then anything might happen.
9. Favourite moment of PLAY so far?
When I had all three actors shouting headlines at me at the same time.
10. Could you describe PLAY in three words?
Open, brave.... playful (but I guess all the girls tells you that)