Andrew is an actor and writer, his new play He(art) is running at N16, with 4 star reviews! I catch up with him here to discuss his roots and his work!
Growing up did you aspire to work in the theatre?
No. Theatre wasn’t really an option for me growing up, my access was limited, I was always interested in acting, but it was always discouraged in favour of getting a ‘real paying job’ which I think isn’t just limited to someone from my background, i just think that it’s obviously a tough industry to be in and the people around you just want what they perceive as the best for you. I still think about the rare trip we made to see Rufus Sewell play Macbeth and moving from the back of the stalls to an empty seat at the front by the end. I didn’t understand a word at the time, but I knew I was watching something really special. It’s a shame really that my enthusiasm wasn’t picked up on at the time as English and Music were probably the only things at school i paid any attention to, but no point dwelling on it, I found my way here in the end!
So Andrew, how long have you been writing and how did you come to end
up doing so?
I spent a majority of my early adult life mucking about to be honest, floating about, doing what you think the world expects of you, but it wasn’t the path my life should have been going down and I was simply wasting away in an office somewhere, living for the weekend. Then I got made redundant and I discovered an acting course with the National Youth Theatre called Playing Up which was designed to help people not in education, work or training and get them an access to higher education qualification. I had no degree, and barely any decent GCSE’s besides English and Music (See above). The whole course taught me so much and gave me so many skills and the confidence to realise things about myself that I never even understood existed, it also helped me realise all my passions, which includes facilitating, giving back the same way the tutors who gave me their time did. It’s funny because even today I’m realising stuff they taught me five years later that I simply shrugged off in immaturity at the time, and knowing that it’s about that time for some of the young people I’ve been lucky enough to work with having the same lightbulb moments all those years later!
A tutor on that course named Cathy Owen who is an amazing person read some of my writing and encouraged me to keep at it, so I did, I challenged myself to write a ten minute play and gave myself a year to get it on a short play night, and that happened and then I set another little goal and eventually got there and thats what I continue to do, set myelf little personal goals and work hard to make them happen.
What excites you about theatre?
The fact that there’s still a whole heap of stories that need to be told from the perspective of individuals from all walks of life. The challenge of getting a bum on a seat. The challenge of making theatre special for everyone. The ability to make someone feel something if you write something they can connect with. The communities that can be formed, the people I meet, the pub theatres where I’ve had some of the best times of my life. The enormous level of talent available.
What is your process to writing that first draft of a new idea?
Just write. When I get an idea I start, and I don’t stop until the taps dry. Then I put it down for a few days, I print it on a sneaky one at someones gaff (shhhh), and I sit on the tube with a big pen and I absolutely tear it apart. That’s where the real first draft begins.
You have written several plays that have won some Offie’s. What would you say is your biggest achievement so far?
I’ve had two plays nominated for Offies which was a great honour, the list 2016’s IN/OUT (A FEELING) is on was unbelievable. Theres obviously no chance in hell of me making that shortlist, but it was lovely to know that it resonated with people.
My biggest achievement I feel, well there’s two. Selfishly, it was self-producing my The Me Plays in 2014 at The Old Red Lion and acting in them. I asked for no kickstarted money, no public funding. I worked three jobs to pay for it and I got a proper crew involved including my directors Ryan Bradley and Anoushka Bonwick to be able to call me on all my BS. That three-week run was my acting school and I’m forever indebted to Stewart Pringle than AD (And now at the Bush, being a legend) for taking a chance on me, even though he knew I wasn’t a big gun with a massive wad of cash. It was his first season as well. I’ll never forget it.
My more personal achievement has been the work I’ve done with a company called Generation Arts (http:www.generationarts.org.uk) it’s run by an amazing practitioner called Ali Godfrey. And the Future Stage project she developed and allowed me to tutor on has changed the lives of so many and it’s CRIMINAL that the funding for their work is not as forthcoming as other bigger organisations, and that’s not a knock on them, but I feel funders look for a brand name, but if they looked a little harder, there are people out there doing work just as good that need the money a little bit more. I feel terrible singling a couple of people out because there have been so many amazingly talented young people I’ve had the pleasure of seeing grow but I truly believe these names, Ace Ruele, Unique Spencer, Joeseph Junior Arthur, Florian Rafuna, Chay February and Helder Rodrigues Fernandez will be absolutely massive. IF they are given the opportunities to shine. Ace bless him is now working heavily in motion capture and did Tarzan recently which i was dead proud to watch him in avatar form on the silver screen. Junior has just graduated from ALRA and he’s going to make it. I can feel it in my bones. Unique, Florian, Chay and Helder are currently still in training and I really know they’ve got it inside themselves to do big things.
How do you keep motivated?
Seeing people do well. Everybody has made some form of sacrifice, in my opinion, nobody is handed anything in this world, you graft, even if the perception is they just got it for nothing. So when I see someone do well, I know they’ve worked hard. And I want that same level of success. So I try to step up my game.
At Actor awareness we are all about being proactive and helping people
to get their work done and not sit around and wait, what advise do you
give to other writers/actors, theatre professionals?
Just that. Work hard. Get it done. Find a way. It’s easy to say if you’ve got no money, but honestly. My first play started out as me booking the Etcetera Theatre for 150 quid for one night, hoping I’d sell a few tickets so i didn’t completely lose my arse, I was working for Generation Arts at the time who treated me fantastically, but I was working term times only and was moonlighting at a pub to stay afloat. I had the theme and an idea of a beginning, a middle and an end. I invited my mates, I spent 3 months in a room with the director and Junkie was born, I performed it, I got a laugh and some murmurs, I got pissed, I waited a day and I called the people I trusted the most and got them to break it down for me, I asked them to hold nothing back and I took it on board and I wrote another monologue called ‘Hi life, I win’ and it became The Me Plays.
I knew nothing about putting on the play, but I found a way, I met people who had, and I asked them for a coffee and I picked their brains, I got good, honest people involved, who weren’t my mates who weren’t just going to tell me something was great. i took my large ego out of the room and instead of waiting for the phone to ring, I played three parts, Writer, Actor and Producer and I played them all completely separately.
Also, NEVER FEAR THE REJECTION. This next play HE(ART) started as a ten-minute Theatre503 Rapid Response Play which was turned down, so I turned it into a 30 min play, had that produced at a few venues before eventually Lincoln Centre of Performing Arts kindly did some development on it with me and gave it a run at the Paines Plough Roundabout when it was in town which I very much appreciated. Theres so many factors that get things to where they are and so many reasons why things are turned down, so if you have a belief in something then don’t stop.
I call self-producing the most expensive business card you’ll ever make. So make sure you make it good. Get people on board who are going to help you make your art better, not just tell you it’s great. (Though that is nice)
Your new play heart is being produced under Lonesome boy who you
worked with before? How has this process been?
Amazing, Niall is a genius. I met him during my run of The Me Plays, which shows you how glad I am to taken the risk. He terrifies me, he respects the writer, but also wants the freedom to do whatever the hell he wants in the space, which I prefer, if I’m not in the play, i don’t want to be at rehearsal. I’ve written a blueprint and now it’s time for the company to make the chair, though I do like to know if they decide to put in an extra screw!
We watch a lot of plays together and our taste in theatre is usually completely polar opposite, but one thing we will agree on is good acting, and I feel the cast we’ve got for our play is bloody incredible. He just has this way with actors as well to make them feel at ease and not take the process too seriously, his company is built on ‘you can’t fail’ and positivity and i’m all for it. I can be a negative Nigel sometimes so he does brighten up my day. Plus he’s a Vegan which I can never do so that makes him a massive lad.
Tell us about your upcoming play?
HE(ART) is story of two couples. A boyfriend and girlfriend from two different walks of life dealing with a health situation and a brother and sister who are planning on robbing an art gallery in order to sell an expensive painting to pay for experimental treatment for their sick mother. It’s about class and the things we do for the people we love. It was inspired by a real story I saw where the NHS had turned down a treatment for a pair of brothers mother as it was deemed too expensive, so they robbed a bank in order to attempt to pay for the treatment privately. Niall was drawn to these characters and the fact that one of them has been written with EBD in mind. Emotional Behaviour Disorder is something we’ve both seen in the young people we’ve worked with in our careers and I’m really excited to see what the actors do with the text.
The play has been continually developed, in the final draft I made the decision to turn the two brothers into a brother and a sister as I’ve really been educated over the last few years to the lack of roles for women in Theatre, my last two plays have been completely gender balanced in cast and crew and I didn’t want this to be the exception. I know I wrote the thing, but Flora who plays Sam I already know from the reading is going to make this a better play. The gender swap has shifted the dynamic of the piece completely. I’m giddy.
What is your goal for 2017?
Get a short film made. The script is there, I’m just a rebel without a crew. But touch wood.