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Writing, ‘I’m Having a Wonderful Time in BADEN-BADEN’

Student playwright Jenny O’Sullivan talks about writing her first full-length play

If I was going to be flippant, I’d say I got into play writing because I’m dyslexic and anxious.

When I was sixteen, I realised leaving the library with five play scripts for the week was more realistic than leaving with a single novel. Scripts are like the instruction manuals of the literary world, cut down to only what is necessary for the ideas to be conveyed. And what’s more, if it’s designed to be performed in one sitting, it can probably be read in one too.

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credits to Jenny O'Sullivan

Whilst I’m sure that all sounds uninspiringly utilitarian, I think it’s safe to say that accessibility and familiarity play a huge part in inspiring authorship. We spend our whole lives listening to and performing speech. With the amount of time we spend over analysing social situations, planning conversations in our heads, or trying to order our thoughts in an interior monologue, the next step is really just writing it down!

After doing just that brought me an unexpected success at the Downing Festival of New Writing in my second year, the MML third year broad seemed an ideal opportunity to try writing something longer. A whole year in Germany ahead of me, I had all sorts of ideas of the humorous and wholesome adventures that might inspire my first full-length play. On this same wave of optimism, right after I moved into my first sublet in southern Germany, I bought enough postcards to send to everyone I knew.

Three months later, I was living on a mattress in a stranger’s dining room, about to move into a hostel and starting to losing hope. Still with a complete set of blank post cards. So how do you write a miserable postcard? That’s what inspired I’m Having a Wonderful Time in BADEN-BADEN. Whilst a one-handler about anxiety and isolation set in a budget hotel room may not have been what I had envisaged writing, on a personal level, it was maybe what was necessary.

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credits to Jenny O'Sullivan

Yet by the time I was actually in a position where I was able write the play, I no longer felt like writing it at all. I was literally in a better place, specifically on a North-Sea island that was about 90% beach, where I had free accommodation and was employed to teach German school children about starfish and crabs. But the idea had been growing for a long time by this point, so I started out with the parts I had perhaps ‘rehearsed’ the most in my head.

I set myself the target of writing a certain amount after work each week in the lead up to the ADC application deadline. Trying to explain to my flatmates and new-found friends why I was missing an evening at the beach to sit at my desk and dwell on a time when I lived very far from both friends and the beach felt a bit ironic to say the least.

Whilst I’m Having a Wonderful Time in BADEN-BADEN isn’t a play about the Cambridge experience, I don’t think the themes will at all be unfamiliar to a student audience. People spend a lot of time on their own here. And whilst it’s nothing new to say Cambridge is a stressful place, there are all sorts of odd coping behaviours that we normalise, perhaps too quickly. It can often seem like the normal rules of self-care don’t apply, so, you could say, the idea of seeing someone on stage being just as gross and weird and lonely as you might be is about creating community as much as it’s about defamiliarizing these situations. It doesn’t have to be a postcard from Germany. It could have been that first text back to mum after second week, when you spent all night in the library and only ate noodles.

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credits to Ada Günther

Of course, it won’t be ‘perfect’. You’d hope no one would be expecting that, but again, Cambridge is a funny sort of place. All anyone can do is have a go, and it’s ace when they do. The influx of new writing in Cambridge in the last few years has been fantastic, inspiring, affirming. I’m excited.

If people see a bit of themselves in what we’ve put together, if they think the soundtrack or the experimental film excerpts are cool, or even if they go away thinking ‘well I could do that’, I’ll be happy. Otherwise it’ll be a nightmarish hour of extreme over-sharing that I know for a fact my DoS has bought a ticket to see.

I'm Having a Wonderful Time in BADEN-BADEN will be on at Corpus Playroom from Tue 16th October 2018–Sat 20th October 2018.

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