Why I don’t write for the ADC
Willow Wigglesword tells us what’s wrong with the student writing scene
Firstly, I barely have the time.
Writing a play means more than just scribbling down bleary-eyed-post-bop revelations on a Dominos box. If you’re doing it right it should eat you up, disappoint you, break your heart and steal the duvet in the middle of the night. It’s wonderful. And it’s incredibly hard work.
But if you’re meant to write you’ll find the time and I do. I have plays that want to see the spotlight. I have plays that I can picture at the ADC. Except, right now, I don’t want to picture them at the ADC. It’s not the stage on which I want my love’s labours to be lost.
Of course, part of it is that I’m worried my work won’t get chosen for production. I’ve yet to be involved in an ADC show and, before I slip over on that autumnal deluge of flyers—“Everyone is welcome” “Come along!” “We love you!!”—to an outsider, the Cambridge theatre scene can appear to be a bit of a merry-go-round. Romeo has barely taken off his tights before he’s directing The Woman in Black who slips away after curtain call to catch the late-show she’s written.
Let’s hope it’s the same person making all the programmes as they’ll be able to make some very efficient use of copy-and-paste.
And what’s wrong with that? Why shouldn’t an actor rest his legs, if not his voice, in the director’s chair for a few weeks? Why can’t someone who makes shows have a go at writing one? The problem is, to the uninitiated writer—clutching their beloved, printer-warm script to their chest—a play starring Jane and written by John, the same John who has just received fabulous reviews for his performance in a play directed by Jane and written by John (but a different John, I swear) makes the dark curtains of the ADC look quite firmly and invariably closed, whatever the welcoming reality.
Which brings me to my next worry, what if my work does get chosen for production? What if it gets chosen for production when it simply isn’t as good as it could be? It seems to me that the supportive, back-scratching of the theatre scene—whilst it has produced some excellent shows —is letting writers down. I haven’t seen any awful student writing.
I haven’t seen anything outstanding either. In the spirit of last year’s Tab theatre awards, I am now obliged to point out that, no, I have not seen every single student-written production that has ever been performed in Cambridge. But I haven’t seen a single student-written production that couldn’t have been outstanding had the writer been supported, critiqued and pushed a little harder.
There’s nothing wrong with murderous dinner parties, scandalous revelations and killer twists when they’re done very well. But a lot of the plays I’ve seen, whilst clearly the work of talented individuals, have felt just a little bit casual. That funny thing Aaron said about demisexual orgies whilst queuing for The Van of Life or that dazzling thought you had about the nature of infinity five Red-Bulls into an essay crisis are wonderful inspiration.
But creating stories, creating drama, takes blood, sweat and tears, which can’t be the result of a chopped-up onion back-stage. It’s draining. It can be dull. And it requires mistakes. A lot of the student-written plays I’ve seen have felt like very promising first versions. And I wish I could have experienced them at their best.
We need to make sure every writer believes that the ADC is an open and supportive community, even if it can seem like a red, velvet gated one at times. We need to find some way of allowing scripts to speak for themselves so that we are certain works are being selected purely on merit and suitability as this is what will provoke people to challenge themselves, to surprise themselves. We need to keep writing—and writing and writing and writing—until what we have created impresses us, not just until it is good enough to impress the committee when presented with a flashy pitch and a flagrantly expressive director who did last term’s Shakespeare.
Right now, the problem remains that if you are writing outside the theatre circle you have to be extraordinary, or you might never get a chance, and if you’re writing inside the theatre circle then you might never get a chance to be extraordinary.