Catherine Turner interviews Olivier Award-winning playwright and screenwriter, Michael Wynne.
The Royal Court Theatre in London.
What was it like to write your first play whilst at university?
I wrote my first play at university in a bit of a weird blur. I’d never written anything before, but I saw a poster in the library advertising the Royal Court Young People’s Theatre and inviting anyone to come along to a writing workshop. I didn’t even know what this was and had never been to the Royal Court, but for some reason got in touch and went along. I found the workshops daunting but enjoyable and somehow agreed to write the first draft of a play by the following spring. I don’t know what I was thinking when I started or where the idea came from, but I would write out the play in longhand in a notepad before I went to bed over a couple of weeks. I then gave myself a couple of weeks over Easter to type it up, write and finish it. I also had two weeks to write my dissertation over the four-week break. Who this disciplined, crazy person was I don’t know, but somehow I did it. I delivered the play. It was workshopped over the summer and then produced at the Royal Court the autumn after I left university, revived again the next year and taken on tour. I think there’s something to be said for not knowing what you’re doing and having no expectations. You’re never in that place ever again.
Do you have a set structure/rhythm to how you set about your work, or particular things you like to do to draw inspiration or help you in the process of writing?
I don’t have any set rhythm or structure as to how I go about my work. I do like to get out of the house and be inspired by the world around me, so the new restrictions have been tough at times.
Do you think your writing voice has changed much over time?
I do think my writing voice has changed in some ways, but in other ways there’s a real constant. It can change depending on the story I want to tell and the form. I don’t really think about my writing voice too much – I get more caught up in the characters’ voices – but I do think my use of humour is very much part of my voice.
How do you think the government has handled supporting the arts industry?
I don’t think the government has handled any of this well. I think the money they’ve given to arts organisations is good in principle. However, I haven’t a clue what that money is being spent on by theatres or nightclubs (for example, at Fabric, which received £1.5 million as part of the government’s Culture Recovery Fund) that aren’t open. And the people who’ve been rewarded are mostly the usual suspects who have staff who are good at making arts applications. What I can’t fathom is the lack of support for freelance artists – and this is the responsibility of theatres and other arts organisations, not just government. All their money should go towards the people who make the work – not to pay the bills for empty buildings or to keep marketing people employed when there’s nothing to market.
What did you think of the ‘Fatima’ ad?
I had mixed feelings about the Fatima ad. The arts is a tricky world to work in and no one is owed a living. Most artists have to have other jobs to survive and spend long periods not doing what they’d like to do. It’s no bad thing – especially when you’re young – to do different jobs to support yourself. It can help you to appreciate even more the opportunities to create when they come. We’re also at a very particular extreme time – which hopefully won’t last forever – and I know actor friends who are currently stacking shelves and delivering food. What I feel stronger about is the lack of support for people from disadvantaged backgrounds in the arts – those who will always have to have extra jobs to afford to live or can’t afford to follow their passions in the first place. There needs to be much more support and awareness of this in the arts.
The Government’s ad, encouraging ‘Fatima’ to give up on dancing and ‘reskill’ in cyber security, has been widely criticised for its dismissal of the Arts – especially by Desire’e, the unconsenting subject.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers (specifically, for stage and screen)?
My main tips for aspiring writers is to go towards whatever you’re drawn to and fascinated by. If you’re obsessed with cheese and want to write a play about it, then do it – as it’ll be unique and be something you feel strongly about. Don’t try and be like other writers or second-guess what people want. Find your own path.
Main image: Catherine Ashmore