Writing any play can sometimes feel a bit like doing a 5000 piece jigsaw – messy and overwhelming and a bit like ‘where the hell do I start?’ I learned a long time ago that the best place to begin with a jigsaw was by looking for the pieces with the straight edges and to focus on getting the corners in order first, before slowly filling in the middle. It feels a bit like that with writing this play. The ideas are huge, the material and research is potentially never ending and always shifting, and as such in order to start writing I needed to delineate, to lay down some markers and a framework within which to start creating characters, dialogue, dramatic scenes and scenarios. I am now at the point in the process where I have started to ‘get my dramatic corners in order.’
In order to do this I have started to review the huge amount of research that we’ve undertaken thus far, and am in the process of spreading it out, like bits of a jigsaw across a table to see which parts jump out and demand to be written. I have large pieces of flip chart paper and sharpie pens out all over the floor, have taken a highlighter pen to notebooks and reports, and am trawling through the enormous Google Plus page to which I have been adding links, articles, memes and sound bites since April. The most important bits of research for me though have been the days we have spent working and engaging with other people. We have opened discussions with people across the country and it is these sessions that have been instrumental in shaping the way forward for this piece.
YORK THEATRE ROYAL WORKSHOP SESSION
We began our process by running a workshop at York Theatre Royal and put an open call out to members of the public to come to a workshop to share their experiences of engaging with politics with us. The session focused on storytelling as a way to open up discussions of micro and macros ways of engaging with politics, advocacy and being outspoken and we had a big response from people across all ages and backgrounds. As part of the session we included a short fun quiz on some common parliamentary procedures and phrases, as a way to take a straw poll on how much we in the room knew about the processes of government that inform our country and our lives. The answer overall, was not much! This day was fun, eye opening and often very moving as participants generously shared their own experiences of moments in their lives when they had spoken up for something they had believed in. At the end of the session we invited people to tell us how politics made them feel. Here’s some of what they said:
‘Often disillusioned. Occasionally inspired. Enraged. Aware of gender and class.’
‘Weary, cynical, powerless, exhausted, frustrated, thwarted, disadvantaged, excluded, uneducated, fearful for the future.’
‘Thick. Embarrassed. Stupid.’
‘Frustrated. Worried. Rebellious.’
‘Angry. Hopeful. Female.’
WESTMINSTER TRIP #1
In October director Eleanor Rhode and I made our first trip to Westminster to look round the Houses of Parliament and make contact with some of the MP’s who work there. The day was sponsored by Rachael Maskell MP for York Central who is a mentor and supporter of our project. After El and I had completed the public tour of the historical part of the buildings, Rachael and her aide Kate led us around the warren of tunnels and showed us some of the backrooms away from the drama of the chambers. It is here that the nitty-gritty of government happens, in the committee rooms and the many bars and restaurants. Spending the day at the houses of Parliament was exciting, exhausting and fascinating in equal measures and there was so much we took away from the day it would be impossible to type it all up here. As well as seeing the buildings, we sat in the public gallery for Prime Ministers' Questions, spent some time in the debates in the House of Commons, sat in on some of the committees, ate lunch together in a busy restaurant, and then held a drop in session for our MP’s. These included Tracey Brabin MP for Batley and Spen pictured here in this Westminster selfie.
Later in the month producer Tara Finney and I attended the Debate Mate launch at the impressive Emmanuel Centre in Westminster, where we watched empassioned young Debate Mate students and graduates go head to head on the issue of lowering the voting age to 16. Debate Mate are an organisation who run debate clubs in schools across the country and the world, as a way to foster social mobility and help young people find their voices and reach their full academic and personal potential. The atmosphere of the launch event was electric and it was so inspiring to see and hear young people standing up and making their voices heard and articulating their views on a current live political topic. We are delighted to be continuing our relationship with Debate Mate as we develop the Maiden Speeches project, and are really excited about visiting one of their Saturday morning debate clubs in the new year, and cannot wait to host a demonstration debate alongside one of our script development readings in the spring. Watch this space!
Next it was off to Lincoln University as part of the Vote 100 project. This is a parliamentary project consisting of workshops, exhibitions and other events to celebrate the Centenary of Women’s Suffrage in 2018. Director Eleanor Rhode and I ran a workshop for year 11 students on our Maiden Speeches project as part of the Getting Selected Day that looked at the ways that women can get more involved in political life. You can read about the day in more detail here, in this blog post by Eleanor.
As part of the workshops I performed a spoken word piece that talks about the history of women in parliament, and is a call to arms for women in all walks of life to raise their voices in formal and informal spaces. The piece references the night of the 1911 census that Emily Wilding Davison spent hiding in a broom cupboard in order to legitimately cite a woman’s place of residence as the House of Commons. The poem also references a secret ventilator shaft that provided secret access for women to listen in to debates. This piece of fascinating history is discussed in more detail here in this Vote 100 blog post which inspired the poem. As part of the workshop we also invited the students to create their own manifesto poems, by asking them to reflect on the things that they wanted for themselves, their families and their communities.
After the workshops I spoke on a panel alongside some of the incredible women whose work I had delved into as part of my research, including Lesley Abdela whose book Women with X Appeal documents over 300 interviews and gives an insight into women’s experience of political life in their own words, and also Professor Sarah Childs whose report The Good Parliament makes clear and no-nonsense sensible recommendations for ways in which to improve diversity across The House of Commons and The House of Lords.
KM8 ANTI - FRACKING SITE
Keen not to just engage with establishment politics, I have also made a few visits up at the KM8 anti-fracking site in Kirby Misperton in Yorkshire. Interested to see where activism and the state intersect, I was keen to visit (and support) the work of the people taking action and speaking up in the most direct manner imaginable. The KM8 site is a short drive from where I live and the environmental risks of fracking is a real concern for the people of North Yorkshire. I visited at the end of summer and performed some spoken word poetry with friends from Say Owt poetry slam and more recently went up to show support as part of their Green Fridays, where the Green Party are hosting weekly support at the gates of the fracking site. On this particular day Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley was visiting and his speech was interrupted by a vehicle wishing to enter the site. His refusal to give way to the lorry and to stand united with the crowd who also restricted its access, led him to being kettled alongside us protestors and being dragged away by the police. You can read more about that incident here. And you can learn more about and find ways to support the efforts of the KM8 anti-fracking activists here.
WESTMINSTER TRIP #2
In November director Eleanor and I returned to Westminster and spent the day in the modern part of the building at Portcullis House speaking to some more MP’s who had kindly agreed to share their experiences of their working life in politics with us via some more in-depth interviews and we are still following up some of these meetings throughout December and January, some in the MP’s home constituencies.
NEXT STEPS – SORT YOUR CORNERS OUT DAVIES!
All of these trips and development days have been instrumental in feeding into the content of the script, which still remains to be written. While visiting, talking and interviewing I have kept my writers radar switched on. I have been waiting for the moments where my curiosity is sparked, and a part of me says ‘I could write that’, while at the same time not actively pursuing or chasing down a rigid plot structure, story or framework. Although playwriting experience develops tools, strategies and approaches, writing each play demands a different way of engaging with the process. No two scripts come into being in the same way, and what works for one play and story and idea, won’t necessarily work for another, which is probably one of the reasons that writing them is so excitingly addictive. In the case of writing Maiden Speeches I have chosen to live with the many and varied possibilities of the piece for as long as possible, but now that time is coming to a close. The jigsaw pieces are spread out, and I am looking for my corners.
Next steps include reuniting with collaborator Barbara Marten who has been off performing in People, Places & Things in New York and who is very much looking forward to getting stuck back in to this project. Together the Maiden Speeches team will be shaping the research into scripted material to play around with in a week long workshop at York Theatre Royal in February 2018.
Thanks for reading the blog post. More soon. Including dates and booking details of our script readings in Spring 2018.