During rehearsals we asked our Advisor Maya McFarlane, who attends Sydenham School in South London, to sit down with playwright Glenn Waldron and ask him about his inspiration for writing Natives and how he became a playwright. Here’s how it went:
Maya: My name’s Maya and I’m 15 years old and I’m part of the Advisory Group at Boundless Theatre and today I’m here with Glenn who is writer of Natives and I’m just going to have a chat with him about the play and where he wants to go with that sort of work in the future.
Glenn: Let’s do it!
Maya: How and when did you get interested in writing theatre about young people?
“Being young now […] you have an amazing power literally at your fingertips because of social media”
Glenn: This play’s been developed over about a year and a half now. It was really kind of thinking about where we are right now and thinking about things like social media and how different it is and how different it’s made the experience of being young now in terms of you have an amazing power literally at your fingertips because of social media and looking at what’s changed, what are the new opportunities and what are the new challenges if you’re growing up as a teenager now.
Maya: Interesting. So how did you find it getting into the teenagers’ heads? Because obviously you’re not a teenager – so how was that for you?
Glenn looks offended, then laughs.
Glenn: That’s an interesting question – I mean, I’m not a teenager, I’ll put my hand up. But partly through talking to a lot of young people; doing research in that way. Also it is a work from my imagination so it’s not going to exactly replicate your experience of being a teenager. But hopefully there’s an understanding there of what it’s like now so really to be talking through lots of different conversations and then taking an imaginative leap.
Maya: And did you see any of yourself in the characters when you were writing it?
Glenn: Yeah. I think probably like in all the characters. I think as a writer there’s always elements of you threaded through everything that you write. It wouldn’t really matter whether it was a ten year old or an eighty year old. I think you’re always writing a little bit from your own kind of experience, more from your own kind of feelings. You’ll have to be the judge but hopefully there is a reflection there of young experience and what it’s like to be young today.
Maya: Cool and can you briefly outline the story for us, like what the play’s about generally?
Glenn: It’s got three different stories in there, and it looks at three different lives, three different young people who are experiencing ordinary but also extraordinary days in their lives. They’re three different people around the world so it’s this big global experience in there. And their stories come together in some ways. And really playing out what happens to them on one day and all these different kind of events that can happen and things that can change your life for the better and the worse on that day.
“I think as a writer there’s always elements of you threaded through everything that you write. It wouldn’t really matter whether it was a ten year old or an eighty year old. “
Maya: You came from a non-theatre background so for you what was it that made you want to go into writing for theatre?
Glenn: My background was in journalism and being a magazine editor and that’s what I did before this. And really I’ve always had a fascination with storytelling and different ways of telling stories and as a journalist you’re doing that to some degree. But I wanted to explore new ways of telling stories and I guess stories that are a little bit more made up. And I started going to a lot more theatre and seeing a lot more things and then gave it a go, started writing different bits and pieces and that eventually led to my first play.
Maya: Nice! You’ve had a play produced in Plymouth and now you are coming to London.
Glenn: Like Dick Whittington…
Maya: So how do you think your playwriting is evolving?
Glenn: This is my second play that’s going to be produced and then I have a third play on quite soon as well. With each play I’m trying to push myself and explore new worlds. I don’t necessarily have one particular theme or idea that I keep on coming back to. I like the idea of producing work that’s unexpected and that challenges me as well as challenging the audience.
Maya: And for you, how important is it to make theatre for young people?
“I think it’s really important that theatre […] is relevant and talks to young people because you’re the people that matter right now.”
Glenn: It’s a really interesting time that we live in right now. For me, the generation that I’m from and the generations above have really messed things up essentially. There are a lot of people that blame young people and accuse young people of all these different things but actually now you have the opportunities to change things. The future’s in your hands. So I think it’s really important that theatre – which is this amazing art form – is relevant and talks to young people because you’re the people that matter right now.
“I like the idea of producing work that’s unexpected and that challenges me as well as challenging the audience.”
Maya: And what is it about theatre specifically that you think is different than social media or youtube – what is it about it that you think would be an asset to young people if they got more involved in it?
Glenn: I think there’s something amazing about coming together. There’s something incredible – if you’ve ever been to a gig for example – it’s the difference between hearing a bit of music through earphones and hearing it live. There’s something about the live experience. People coming together to experience something that’s really exciting and amazing and brilliant and does something to stories. And a lot of theatre is really boring, it’s really dreary and I find a lot of theatre that I go to really unexciting so the challenge is to make theatre that’s brilliant and alive and emotional and scary and gross and serious and silly and stupid and really has some kind of emotional effect. And that’s what we want to do essentially through Natives.
Maya: Cool. Now about deconstructing what theatre means for young people. We hear a lot that young people don’t really go to the theatre; they’d rather play on their X box instead of going out. But what is it that we can actually do to get more young people through the doors of theatres?
Glenn: I think it’s telling interesting stories and telling relevant stories and thinking about how we can communicate today and what we connect with. I think there’s a disconnection between what theatre does at the moment and the lives that we lead and it’s bringing things together a little bit more and trying to make those connections.
Maya: Is there any advice you could give anybody who’s thinking about going into theatre or playwriting in particular?
Glenn: I would say see as much as you can – and that can be hard because it can be expensive to go and see stuff, you know you might not live somewhere where there’s lots of theatre but just go and see whatever you can. You can also go on youtube – there’s loads of theatre that you can watch – it’s not going to be live. For me I read loads of things – I read lots of new plays, borrowed stuff from libraries and as a playwright that was how I tried to train myself up a little bit. But really it’s kind of like, be engaged with the world that you live in. Think: what are the stories that I want to tell? What are the stories that aren’t being told right now? Who am I as an individual and what are the things that are important to me and how can I communicate those to the world?
Maya: And so how did you find that thing that’s important to you, that thing that you wanted to write about, that you wanted to explore?
Glenn: It’s always changing. I think a little bit’s getting on and writing stuff. If you’re not sure just start writing, start jotting down some little scenes, imagining people, imagining conversations. And sometimes by that process that will tell you what you’re interested in. For my first play I ended up writing about this teenage lad based in my hometown. When I started it I didn’t really know what it was about necessarily. It was only through the process of writing that I found what it was I wanted to say. Some people have really strong opinions and then some people you have to kind of tease them out a little bit more.
Maya: OK, so, you’re in the theatre. It’s opening night. And Natives is about to come on. You’re watching it: what are the three words that sum up how you’re feeling in that moment?
Glenn: Scared, thrilled and excited. I’m really excited for audiences to see this work and hopefully to feel a little bit empowered by what they see as well. What do you anticipate the play will make you feel in three words?
Maya: I think it will be ‘challenged’ but I think it’s going to be something that I haven’t really seen before. As a young person, theatre can be quite patronizing and quite simple. People are really tempted to make it simple so you understand it and you get the message.
So ‘challenging’, ‘adventurous’ – I think it’s a bit different to what you usually see and I think ‘mesmerized’ – there’s so much going on onstage. You can’t help but be completely transfixed in the story and be invested in the characters.