A Q&A with Joe W
Ahead of The Bare Project's 'Scratch' performance of On the Outskirts of a Large Event we present a Question and Answer with the playwright: Joe W
Tell us about your role?
I wrote the play. This involved trying out ideas and characters with the cast and wider creative team in two very different phases of research and development (‘R&Ds’). The first R&D centred on a narrative monologue, and was easy to get into; the second experimented with fragmented images, shifts in time, and very stylised dialogue. It was rewarding, but harder. When I sat down to write the rehearsal draft of Outskirts, I realised I had unwittingly set myself the task of persuading two unlikely parties that they should be together. So, I felt like a match-maker with a tricky case. It took a little while to find an interesting way of combining them. But I am pleased to announce that the final script is very much the child of the two R&Ds. It has inherited good traits from both, and escaped some undesirable ones too. As I write this, we are a week into rehearsals. I am not sure that what I am about to describe constitutes a role, but it is what I do now: I keep away, and I wonder – anxiously – how it is all going. I stopped by briefly yesterday, ate a chocolate biscuit and agreed that a scene needed to be a little bit shorter. Next week we will be doing more detailed work (progressing from broad to narrow brush strokes) and I will be around more often, listening out for places where the text can be condensed further.
Influences for the play
I don’t have intellectual reasons for writing plays, and it’s only when I’m writing copy or things like this that I wish did. I see playwrighting as a break from all of that. I’ve been in writing workshops where it has been suggested that a writer should try to have a question that their play is asking. I didn’t even have that. I write my way to themes and ideas (in the same way that as I am writing this, I am learning what I think: I didn’t have any answers to these questions before I started trying to put them down on paper/screen, but they do appear). All that being said, I have had several experiences that I now realise have been helpful for writing this play. What follows is a scattergun approach to describing them.
Last year I was in St. John’s, Newfoundland, with a few hours to kill before a connecting flight. It’s a place that is famous for icebergs (and dogs), and I saw hundreds of bits of floating ice at the mouth of the harbour, which were the leftovers from iceberg season. It occurred to me then that I would like to see a play with an iceberg in it, so I decided to write one. After making this decision, I remembered that Tove Jansson has a beautiful story about an iceberg in ‘A Winter Book’, and that Gabriel García Márquez begins ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ with a trip to go see ice for the first time. This validated my decision: ice is clearly a good literary topic.
Visual art inspired the play, too. There is a painting by Peter Doig that is on the front of a book about his work, called ‘No Foreign Lands’. It’s of a translucent figure stood on a snowy shoreline. The figure is made up of the same colours as the sky in the upper-third of the painting. It has its hands on its hips, and is looking out in the direction of the sea. It’s a haunting scene, and one that somehow makes me think about memory. There is a lot of tension between remembering and forgetting in the play, and I would look at this painting from time to time whilst writing it. I also think that parts of the text are a bit like paintings, in that they are image-heavy, and still.
I read a lot about abnormal psychological events (I hesitate to say ‘mental illness’). I grew up in a household that thought and talked about psychology a lot, and I continue to study it, informally and formally. The idea that we create and maintain our sense of self through the story that we tell about ourselves has really struck me, and I have subconsciously experimented with it in this play: in the second act a buried story about the protagonist, Lucian, is unearthed. (Lucian is named after Lucian Freud, the grandson of Sigmund Freud). It is a destructive story to tell to himself, and one that he has gone to great lengths to forget. But aspects of Lucian – that have a physical form on stage – trick and cajole him into telling it.
The text was also hugely influenced by the work of The Bare Project team in the R&Ds. If they can’t make a line or moment work, then it does not work, and it is either changed, or amputated.
You can see On the Outskirts of a Large Event here at the Nuffield Theatre, Lancaster on 13 February. It will then commence a North West tour. For more details see their website: https://thebareproject.co.uk/
On the Outskirts of a Large Event is touring across the North from the 13th Feb – 15th March 2018
13 February at 8pm Lancaster Arts – Scratch Performance
20 February at 7.45- York Theatre Royal
21-24 February at 7.45- HOME MCR
14-15 March at 7.45- Sheffield Theatres