The wonderfully honest and stark interview with playwright David Hare in today’s Observer has prompted me to think about the life of a playwright, and the conjoined pleasure and pain that working in the theatre brings.
It seems to be a strange choice of career – long periods alone, endlessly shifting words around a computer screen; having long conversations with imaginary friends in your head (which is how I once explained what I did all day to a taxi driver in Austria). I even wonder if ‘choice’ has anything to do with it. It is a compulsion; some might say necessity. Financial reward, security, and recognition may come far easier in other fields. It certainly wouldn’t be something you would recommend or voluntarily opt for, Hare claims.
He is unflinching in his depiction of a career filled with despair, at the mercy of fashion which, in theatre, he feels is ‘absolutely savage.’ He cites the late greats who died convinced their life’s work amounted to nothing – Moliere, Bulgakov, Tennessee Williams, Osborne – the list, he claims, is ‘horrendous’ – and yet, rather as the Tony Hancock skit, posterity did indeed judge – and decided them all to be important, the impact of their work transformative. But this is small comfort, I imagine, to the long dead: those who felt their work to be over-looked, out of date, and of no consequence when they were alive.
But Hare is equally effusive about the ‘fantastic’ rewards working in the theatre brings, the sense of community, and purpose.
I personally love the contrasting binaries of my working life: the long periods of quiet, solitary work – research, conceptualising, writing, revising – and then the social, collaborative element when a script is put into production. It is a life that serves the contradictory sides to my personality and changing preferred modes of working, satisfying both the reclusive dictator and the party animal team member. It is frustrating, illuminating, nit-picking, uplifting – it is the best job in the world – and even at my lowest ebb, I feel immensely fortunate.
But would I recommend it as a way of life….?
If you have thick skin, fortitude, determination, optimism, a low, easy to maintain lifestyle, a propensity towards joy, rich, generous or at least understanding friends and family, and a supportive, patient partner or cat, plus none, extra, or all of the above. Yes. Absolutely.