‘The Bell Curves’ by Keisha Thompson
In the last of our insights into the writing process, PlayBox playwright Keisha Thompson reflects on the process of ‘learning to share’ as she prepares for a rehearsed reading of her brand-new play at the Push 2020 PlayBox Takeover at HOME on 18 January.
You always want what you don’t have. I was so relieved when I received the PlayBox commission from the lovely Box of Tricks family at the start of 2019. I had been touring my solo show, Man on the Moon, for over a year. It was getting some great responses but I was admittedly tired. Working four days a week for an arts organisation whilst still juggling freelance work and touring is no joke. I had been thinking about how to start my new project, The Bell Curves, and this commission gave me the space to do so.
Now this is the bit where I’m supposed to say that I slowed down, did less, took time out of to write…Yeah kinda…Maybe don’t look at my Instagram. The key thing about this commission was that I knew I was writing for others. The work would be performed by someone else. Now when I’m writing solo work I think in this way anyway. Treating my “performer self” as a whole other person (who will end up cussing the “writing self” when they get on stage no bet). But this was different. The Bell Curves is a multi-role piece with loads of dialogue. It had been a while since I had to think about other people having to deliver on my behalf. I’m used to collaborating but in the end with a solo show, I know that it essentially all comes down to me on the stage.
As I wrote it felt liberating but daunting in equal measure. Am I being clear? Is that realistic? Is this even interesting? In order to perform something, I need to feel connected to it. Was I giving enough information so they could do the same? How prescriptive do I want to be? Have I written enough so they can get in my brain? Should they get in my brain?
I really appreciate the devising process. There is no good in thinking that I know it all. So whilst I wanted to be clear, I also wanted to make sure I was leaving enough space for the actors to bring their ideas and mannerisms to the table. But I didn’t want it to seem like I didn’t know what I’m doing… Urgh!
As the calendar edged towards the read-through date I felt more and more nervous. This was the first time I would have a group of professional actors reading my words back to me. I would be under scrutiny from people who read scripts all the time. Imposter syndrome anyone?
I turned up feeling very small. My voice was nestled behind my tonsils. I got into the workshop space first and started setting out tables and chairs. Was there anything else that needed doing? Tea anyone? But Max from Box of Tricks was already on hand. I had stepped into my “producer self” in order to avoid… then one of the actors, Laura, came straight over and starting talking about how interesting the script was and how excited she was to get started and hear it come to life. And breathe.
The read-through was great. We read. We laughed. We went off on massive tangents. We shared articles. It was exactly what I needed. The actors were so caring with the work. Their questions showed how interested they were in the topic and how much they wanted to help me to make it better and more ambitious. I am always so grateful of how generous people can be in those situations. It was a good reminder for me that it’s good to share.
The irony is there was a tiny part of me that did feel left out. Not being on the performing side of the table. As much as I’ve felt relieved about the fact that I won’t be acting in this piece, the process has confirmed that I still need to perform. I have a range of appetites. I’m grateful to say that I have opportunities lined up to do both this year. But I know that the actors we have picked for The Bell Curves reading this month are going to smash it. I’m looking forward to seeing them play. I’ve always known that it’s good to share but this process has made me understand and experience sharing in a completely different way. Thanks again to Box of Tricks for giving me the space to learn something new.
– Keisha Thompson
PlayBox is a year-long writer-on-attachment programme with Box of Tricks offering bespoke residencies and support to three early career North West playwrights.
On Saturday 18 January 2020, Box of Tricks launches a day-long takeover of HOME’s PUSH Festival 2020 to showcase new plays from our current PlayBox playwrights and connect with local writers and theatremakers. Come join us!