Writer Simon James answers some questions ….
What’s your play about?
Three primary school friends have found themselves split onto different tables, all because of their teacher’s new ‘minibeast’ labelling system: they are now Butterfly, Moth and Worm. But while the trio are working out how the hierarchy of their new learning groups could have a negative impact on social order, there’s a much more immediate threat on the way, creeping ever-so-slowly from the corner of their lives. Will they spot it before it’s too late?
How have you found being part of the Actor Awareness Festival has been beneficial to you ? Actor Awareness’s writing brief for their ‘class’ scratch night elicited my short play ‘Minibeasts’, which I’m not sure I would have come up with otherwise. Steph and Tom being so kind about what I’d produced asked me to make a version four times the length which caused me to write another play I would never have thought of without the prompt – ‘The Toad in the Hole’. So thanks to Actor Awareness, I now have a piece of work I am incredibly proud of which is two steps removed from anything I would have done flying solo. Even more significantly though, this is the first ‘long’ play I’ll have had performed on stage. I’d say I’m excited but my bladder’s not what it was; I’m now regretting not making room for an interval.
What have you done to prep for the festival ? I wrote a script, checked it for typos and saved it as a PDF because PDFs are the best. Nearer the time I may also prepare by having a shave, ticket-sales-dependent.
Your biggest challenge? Turning what was only ever intended as a fifteen-minute piece into an hour-long play. I’m one of the untrendy few (or at least one of the few admitting this) who comes up with a story first and then builds characters to authentically inform the beats. Butterfly, Moth and Worm were characters originally constructed for quite a narrow scenario, so reimagining them to each have a larger throughline was indeed a challenge and took a couple of weeks’ chin-scratching as to where exactly I should take them. The result is a story radically different from the one the characters were originally built for. This has proven to be a very rewarding challenge for me as a writer, and one which I think has made the play much more layered than if I’d taken my usual direct approach.
Your hope for the play in the future ? A Level syllabus. It’s about time poor old Woyzeck was put to rest.
As there has been a surge in new writing nights how do you think Actor Awareness is different to other new writing nights ? Actor Awareness doesn’t shy away from the nice meaty themes. ‘Women’, ‘class’, ‘LGBTQ’… I think the potential of such expansive topics encourages writers to rise to the challenge and find new stories to tell, as opposed to smaller, perhaps more trivial briefs like ‘the theme of sunset.’ Or you know, ‘write a play about a sausage.’ You’re aware as you go into an AA night that it’s going to be challenging, and that, if you’re lucky, a piece of work will try and politicise you. If you’re double-lucky it’ll be a great story to boot.
Book to see Toad in the Hole. TICKET LINK : https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/actor-awareness-new-writing-festival-tickets-46395174215