This week I caught up with Alun Saunders, whose play ‘A Good Clean Heart’ is on at The Other Room Theatre (Cardiff) until mid-May. In this interview I found out a little bit about his work and the inspirations behind his current play.
1. Could you tell us a little about your journey in to writing for theatre?
I’ve always, always enjoyed performing and, growing up, I was fortunate enough to become a member of the National Youth Theatre of Wales, which changed my life. How dramatic…
I’d never really thought seriously about writing, and didn’t even think I could do it (probably something many Writers think every day!), but after training as an Actor at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, I worked pretty constantly for a year, before hitting a really quiet period. Sat a desk, temping in a quiet office one day, I just started tapping out ideas for projects & stories, and it went from there.
Somewhat bizarrely my first writing commissions were two TV comedy episodes of Teledu Eddie for S4C – this gave me a huge boost. Since then I’ve written a show (in two languages) for Theatr na n’Og, and a few short plays for Dirty Protest Theatre, with one even being taken to their take-over evening at the Royal Court. Whilst that was unreal, the experience of seeing this play come together has been mind-blowing.
2. What are your current interests as a writer? What are you keen to explore?
A Good Clean Heart is inherently bilingual. I live my life bilingually, being fortunate enough to speak a mix of Cymraeg and English every day. Fiction Factory’s ‘Hinterland/Y Gwyll‘ (for S4C and BBC4) is brilliantly ‘cashing in’ on this amazing source of material – something I’ve been dying to see happen for a very long time, and it works beautifully. I’ve been wondering why we’re not doing that in the theatre, and thought I’d make a start. There was always an element of risk that fluent Welsh-speakers could be ‘put off’ by the fact that the production is 50% or more in English (yes – they’re out there, folks), but there was also the risk that non-fluent-Welsh-speakers could be scared off, that they’d fear not understanding enough to follow. I’m really, really buoyed by the response, that the audience have generally just taken it in their stride. I was always hopeful (and had faith) that this would be the case, but we kind of had to write up the Risk Assessment form. This is 2015…!
As a gay Welsh Writer I want to write plays which shift people’s perspectives, which offer up a new take on the familiar and unfamiliar. Just when we think we ‘know the type’ of person we’re seeing on stage, I want to surprise, to excite, and above all, to do all this with a laugh.
Whilst some of my work will centre around LGBT issues, hopefully exploring them in a new and exciting way, there are also lots of other themes to explore and stories I want to tell.
3. When does writing happen for you? (Ie do you fit it around other jobs? Late night? Writing days?)
I am totally and utterly a night-time working Writer. Daytimes are so full of distractions that I… Ooh the Election coverage…!
I work best to a clear deadline and target. Some people are amazingly disciplined and just manage to spend hours writing… The internet is both an endless source of research and information, but a hideous distraction also. If I know I need to be writing during every waking hour (i.e. deadlines) I’ll get out of the house, usually to somewhere with a bit of atmosphere and wi-fi. Chapter Arts Centre here in Cardiff is quite a favourite, and even though it’s a little too sociable for some (lots of nice people passing through/meeting/eating), I think it’s great.
4. What advice or tips would you give to those that want to go in to writing for theatre?
When you think you can’t write any more… Write some more.
As an Actor, you’re almost wholly reliant on the productions which are happening; whether you’re right for parts; whether you can get through the door (as in, your name on the list, not… Y’know…); whether a Producer or Director likes what you can bring – so many factors, most of which are out of your control.
As a Writer you can be so much more proactive – if you’ve got an idea then get it written. Whilst there are commissioning ’rounds’ or ‘seasons’ with many companies, if you’ve got a great script/idea then it can be put in the queue in a much more feasible way than an Actor’s contribution.
Tim Price of Dirty Protest gave me the simple advice of: “You’re a Writer… Write!” It can be frustrating to spend a huge amount of time, energy (and love!) getting something written when you’re not even sure it’ll go anywhere, but believe me, the investment of time is so worth it when somebody asks to see your work, and you have something – especially something great – to show them.
Write a first draft and DO NOT be satisfied with it. If I’d given up redrafting A Good Clean Heart four drafts ago, when I thought I had nothing left, then we’d have been left with a much weaker play than the one we have. Be determined and listen to people… Like, clever people.
5. Your play, ‘A Good Clean Heart’ is on at The Other Room Theatre, without giving too much away can you tell us a little what audiences should expect from the piece?
Audiences can expect a bit of a roller-coaster, action- as well as emotion-wise. It’s the story of two brothers, separated through the adoption process fifteen years ago, and how/whether they’re able to rediscover their sibling relationship, having spent most of their lives with separate families, in separate countries, speaking separate languages.
6. What was your inspiration behind it?
Having spent almost three years going through a challenging adoption process, I’ve sort of shifted my focus to my writing – mainly in order to take control. With an unexpectedly drawn-out process which has been pretty painful and hard-going, the beautiful, amazing thing to have come out of it has been this play. Not only have I had the time to really throw myself into the writing, I’ve also learned a vast amount about the adoption process and the kind of stories, experiences and people involved in all aspects of it. I’ve also had to access some deep (and sometimes painful) emotions. However difficult it’s been, Kate Wasserberg (Artistic Director at The Other Room) and Mared Swain (one of my best mates and Director of the play) have pushed me and pushed me… Then pushed me a little more, but always to get the very best play we could get out of this process.
7. Have you got any new work in the pipeline?
I was lucky enough to be offered a Seed Commission from National Theatre Wales a couple of years ago, which I used to begin developing another play. This has been hanging around on a USB (the 2015 equivalent of ‘in a drawer’) for some time, but thankfully Gary Owen, as one of NTW’s new group of Dramaturgs, is going to be working with me to really move it forward… That is, when he can squeeze me in between y’know the Royal Court and all! I’ve been a massive fan of Gary’s work for a long time, so getting to work with him will be really exciting.
I’ve also got another idea for a two-hander play, which I spent a few days developing with Sherman Cymru a little while back. Along with writing an episode of the brand new ‘re-booted’ S4C Drama series Gwaith/Cartref, I’m really excited to be able to (hopefully) just spend time developing, writing (and yes, redrafting) new material. Excited doesn’t actually come close.
8. Any additional comments?
Writing is tough – some opportunities had kind of landed at my feet miraculously, but it’s always worth chasing the next opportunity. Aim high, you never know what may happen.
Thank you so much for this brilliant interview Alun!
Interview Questions (C) Amie Taylor @spoonsparkle 2015
Alun Saunders: @alunsaunders
For our Welsh readers, you can catch Alun’s show, ‘A Good Clean Heart’ is on at The Other Room, in Cardiff until Sat 16th May.