I had no expectations at all when I first submitted a piece of writing to Manchester ADP. I’ve had experience with these kind of things in the past and as general rule, you send a piece of writing off, and that’s pretty much the end of it. Most of these things start out with good intentions. But good intentions can only get you so far. Good intentions are pretty worthless without some professional commitment to turn them into something more.
It was something of a surprise then to find that not only was my first submission ‘Caminada’ acknowledged pretty much straight away, it was read, given feedback and chosen for the inaugural night of short plays.
Since then I’ve had four of my short pieces performed as well as one full length play, The Script. I have at least two more submissions that have been accepted and are in the pipeline and I’m probably going to submit another full length play any time now.
I remember when ADP first started I said to Diana that one day she would make me famous. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to appear on Andrew “Top Techie” Glassford’s excellent podcast and be interviewed about my writing and Scripts Aloud on local radio station, All FM. I’ve also had the aforementioned The Script long listed by the BBC and have been approached by a potential producer. On top of all that I am also staring into the dark, cavernous abyss that is the Arts Council of England grant application process, where all artistic hopes and dreams go to die and remain forever buried. If the BBC is the silver lining, the ACE is definitely the bleak and unremittingly grey cloud. Of course, none of this constitutes anything like being famous but it gets me out of the flat and talking to people, which is a start. It also gives me the impetus to just sit down an write. ADP is in a constant battle with my own sloth and indolence. Right now, ADP is winning.
Writing is meaningless until it finds an audience. Any piece of work is just an unwanted foetus that gestates in a draw or on a hard drive until somebody else decides to drag it kicking and screaming into the harsh light of day. Diana, Hannah and Lisa are the midwives. Some of the pieces I’ve had performed I’m quite proud of, some are unloved brats I would happily see taken into care, and some of them I think might grow up one day and turn out brighter than I ever hoped they could be. (I’m going to stop with this birth/child analogy now because even I’m getting bored with it.)
Initially, I didn’t care much for the Q&A after the performance. I thought it unnecessary and a waste of time for the writer. But over time I’ve come to look forward to it. Being a little argumentative and belligerent by nature I enjoy the challenge of the questions and I find the prospect of live criticism gives my writing a little more of an edge. I always believe in writing to the smartest person in the room and there are some very smart people indeed in the ADP audience.
Same with turning up for rehearsals. At first, I didn’t mind popping my head in and saying hello for a few minutes, and prior to ADP I’d found getting involved in rehearsals tended to suck what little joy I have in me away. I positively hate the word ‘creative’ and tend to run a mile when someone mentions collaboration but thanks to ADP I’m now warming to it. Watching the process of directing is endlessly fascinating and I’m happy to just sit and watch what some truly great directors and actors can do moulding and shaping a piece of work.
But that’s the thing - writing something is easy. It really is. All you need is a half-arsed idea and access to a keyboard, and who doesn’t have that? Writing something that actors and directors will have some faith in, and interpret it and represent it the best they can, not because it’s a bit of a job that might look good on their CV, but because it’s something they think is genuinely good, is far more difficult. Because a writer can only get to his audience by using the actors and directors as a conduit. The investment of faith has to be mutual. Without them the writer is impotent (I’m back on that baby/birth analogy again, aren’t I?)
One thing I didn’t expect when I got involved ADP is the debates that spill over into the bar afterwards and sometimes this is my favourite part of the night. Subjects such as: does theatre have a responsibility to be be political? Does theatre do enough to reach out to the working class? and is theatre still valid as a viable art form?
Long may those arguments continue and long may they remain unresolved.
Writers have a responsibility. More than anything they have a responsibility to tell an audience something they don’t know and not to treat them like fools. Or to tell them something they thought they knew but tell them in a way they’ve never thought of before. Or just to make them smile. They have a responsibility to let the audience go home and think it was a fiver well spent on something they couldn’t get from anywhere else.
All writers think that everything they write drips with the honeyed wisdom of the ages and only they are in possession of the keys to the kingdom of all knowledge. But that’s not true. The process of writing may be a solitary business, and so it should be, but it’s all for nothing unless a group of people are willing to take a chance on them and give them an opportunity to get whatever it is they want to say out there. ADP are the forceps that pull the ….. (Oh, God, I’m doing it again…..)
Best I just finish by saying this - Everyone at Manchester ADP does everything they do the best they possibly can. And they are very, very good at it.
Anyway, that’’l do for now, I have to get off. I have a half-arsed idea and new batteries in my keyboard.
See you next time.
*Photos credited to Mark Russell. Above - Robert Pegg and Esther Dix working on 'The Script'. Below - Zoe Iqbal.