REPOST Charlene James – on going to the theatre

Playwright Charlene James wrote two provocations for the Bruntwood Prize back in 2017. As CUTTIN’ IT plays here at the Royal Exchange Theatre tonight, here’s a repost!

A sensation at its 2016 premiere, Charlene James’ fiercely brilliant play confronts the vital issue of FGM in Britain. Bold and tender, harrowing and heartbreaking, CUTTIN’ IT is  directed by former Royal Exchange Assistant Director (RTYDS) Nickie Miles-Wildin.


Go and see as much theatre as you can.

If you want to write for the stage, it’s a good idea to go and see what theatres are producing. See as much stuff as you can in as many different spaces as you can. Even if you don’t enjoy a particular play, what can you learn from it? Whenever I’m not engaging with a play, I’m usually thinking what I might have done differently if I’d written it or I watch the audience and gauge their reactions. An audience will always clap at the end of a play – it’s social etiquette. That doesn’t mean they enjoyed it. I like to watch out for when the audience is on the edge of their seats with suspense or the moments when they’ve disengaged and are now more concerned with opening their Malteasers packet without making a sound. Have they given up because the scene is going on longer than it should? Are they not able to follow the story?
Read plays. It’s interesting to see what a play looks like written down on the page. Most of the fiction I read is plays. Shakespeare’s works on the page looks different to debbie tucker green’s which looks different to Harold Pinter’s. How do you arrange your words on the page? Do you write the word ‘pause’ or do you leave a couple of lines of space to show nothing should be said for a moment?
Discover which actors and directors you love. One day you may be asked who you’d like to work with.
Going to the theatre can be expensive to do often but there are usually discounts if you’re under 25 or a student and previews are usually cheaper too. Some theatres sell the play text at a discounted price too so you can start reading on your way home after the show.

*Over the next month read or see a play at least once a week. What do you think the writer was trying to get across to the audience? What affect did it have on you and why? It’s easy to say you don’t like something but if there were moments you didn’t connect with, what would you have done differently?

Unheard voices

There have been countless times where I’ve sat in the auditorium of a theatre waiting for the play to begin. I’ll look around and see very few faces that look like me. The play finishes and none of the actors on stage looked or sounded like me. I trained as an actress and in my last year of drama school I found it difficult to find monologues that were supposed to be ‘like me’. I think it’s really important that British stages reflect the people living in Britain. There are so many stories out there to be found. I hope that I can bring my family to the theatre and they can relate in some way to the characters on stage – through their struggles, their age, gender, backgrounds. A disabled actor on stage shouldn’t be thought of as a brave choice in casting but we should know that they were the best person for the job. Actors of colour shouldn’t be a rarity. My sister used to hate going to the theatre for the precise reason that there was no diversity in most of the plays she had seen. I think about her when I’m writing. Is this something she would want to come and see?

*Who are you writing your play for? Who do you want your words to reach? Whose voices aren’t you hearing on stage and think we should be?

Published on:
14 Jan 2020


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