Continuing my series on the same 20 questions asked to creative professionals from across the spectrum – from Burlesque to Ballet, poetry to photography. Now as his latest play opens this week, David Laneshares his answers to my 20 Questions…
David Lane is a playwright and dramaturg. As a writer he has been commissioned by Half Moon Young People’s Theatre and Theatre Royal Plymouth, the egg and Engage programmes at Theatre Royal Bath, Chichester Festival Theatre, Forest Forge, Salisbury Playhouse, Theatre West, Travelling Light, Immediate Theatre, Proteus Theatre, Blue Brook Productions and The British School of Beijing. He is Artistic Associate of Part Exchange Co’s interdisciplinary R&D project The Engine House in Bristol and has worked as dramaturg with award-winning devising companies including Fine Chisel, Dirty Market, multistory and with rural touring producer Beaford Arts. He is author of the book Contemporary British Drama, has written published articles exploring dramaturgy and new play development in the UK and writes the weekly playwrights’ information bulletin Lane’s List. His new play Free is at Half Moon Young People’s Theatre from 15 – 18 Oct then on national tour including Plymouth, Bath, Bristol, Portsmouth, Norwich and Canterbury. Click here for a 2-min video preview.
What first drew you to your particular practice?
The Drama degree I was doing at Exeter University started a dramaturgy module in my second year, and it was about adaptation and looking at how scripts worked: I was given an assignment to create a season of plays by Contemporary Women Dramatists that I would then have to justify and ‘sell’ to an executive producer and artistic director (competently played by my two lecturers at the time). I read about 40 plays in two weeks and got hooked on structure and composition and how plays talked about the times in which they were written: it was my first training in looking at all the different maps for crafting a text that could exist, how they could all be different but be equally effective on stage, and why they mattered to the audiences of the time. I then tried to put this sort of studying into practice by writing a one-person Greek tragedy at the end of my degree, slavishly following the dramaturgical principles of a tragic narrative. It was embarrassingly rushed, but that was the beginning of my to-and-fro relationship between the right-brain of craft and dramaturgy and the left-brain of playwriting and creativity.
What was your big breakthrough?
My first commission with Half Moon Young People’s Theatre for my play Begin/End in 2007. Getting paid to write and having a play on tour and reviewed in national press felt like validation and being a grown-up professional for the first time. It shifted my attitude towards what I was doing and I began designing (though I didn’t realise it at the time) my process as a playwright.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work/process?
I find creating characters takes me more time than anything else. Structure and dialogue and language and a sense of the theatrical are all things that I find much easier, but getting inside somebody else’s head and making informed choices about their actions in a story takes me a long time. I’ll often do a lot of research and very often the characters will absorb that information into their dynamics. It can make writing a slow process and I’m trying to challenge myself at the moment by writing quickly, reaching more inside myself than outwards to other sources of inspiration.
Is there a piece of art, or a book, or a play, which changed you?
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was something I read at university, didn’t completely understand, still don’t, but which did that thing that sometimes happens when you encounter a significant text or work of art, of overwhelming you with its complexity – the sheer heft of thought and the reach of its ideas was mesmerising. I’ve gone back to it countless times and would love to adapt it for the stage. It’s just been adapted for radio by Peter Flannery in fact, so I’m looking forward to listening to it.
What’s more important: form or content?
Content. Form can help the heart beat stronger, but if there isn’t a heart, it’ll never live.
How do you know when a project is finished?
When I’m happy to have conversations with the rest of a creative team about it without feeling the need to go back and fiddle and change things: when I can leave the rehearsal room knowing it can speak for itself.
Do you read your reviews?
Yes. I think getting over bad reviews (I’ve had a couple) is a good way of strengthening your mettle and a healthy reminder that you will never please everybody.
What advice would you give a young writer/practitioner?
Create the space where you can practice being a writer: don’t wait for somebody else to give it to you.
What work of art would you most like to own?
If you could resurrect Rachmaninov and have him in the corner of my room to play his third piano concerto on tap whenever I wanted, that’d be great.
What’s the biggest myth about writing/the creative process?
That inspiration will get you everywhere.
What are you working on now?
I’ve a new play for teenagers called Free about to go on national tour, which is exciting. I’m working on an adaptation of a brilliant adventure novel for teenagers called The Savage Kingdom by Simon David Eden for Chichester Festival Theatre; on Earthed, a site-specific audio-story in four parts about man’s relationships with the Earth across 40,000 years for Part Exchange Co; a play about the time-limited annual reunions of South and North Korean family members separated by the war 50 years ago, with director Sita Calvert-Ennals; and a play which is a response to the alleged chemical attacks by Al-Assad against his own people in Syria in August 2013 – a story that has now been consumed by much bigger media noises about Islamic State, but which I want to explore further. It’s about grief, parenting, art, protest and politics: so just a small undertaking. I also continue to work with other writers and companies as a dramaturg and workshop leader.
What is the piece of art/novel/collection you wish you’d created?
I hope I’ve still got time to create it myself!
What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?
What my writing process was.
What’s your greatest ambition?
It would be hard to beat a play at the National at some point.
How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?
I talk to my wife who is still my best cheerleader and first-reader-of-drafts.
What is the worst thing anyone said/wrote about your work?
That it was narrow-minded, unfeasible, illogical and hard to swallow. It was a script-reader’s report on a play I wrote one day (as in, over the course of one day) whilst at university. It was a good lesson: they were right!
And the best thing?
‘We’d like to commission it.’
If you were to create a conceit or metaphor about the creative process, what would it be?
Cooking. A passion to mix up what’s in the world and create something new from it. Trying to perfect a recipe. Some slow cooking, some fast cooking required. Various different sources of heat and energy available. Continually re-invented.
What is your philosophy or life motto?
Whatever decision you make, make it the best decision you’ve made.
What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?
From David Eldridge: ‘at the end of the day, it’s just a fucking play.’
What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask?