A welcome to the ‘Letters to Fellow Writers’ series by Chinonyerem Odimba
In an introduction to a brand new six part series in partnership with tiata fahodzi @TiataFahodzi Artistic Director and Chief Executive Chinonyerem Odimba to invites us…
Hello fellow writer,
I include below three things I’ve come to learn as a Black writer. I hope that these points will be helpful to you as you navigate the industry and grow and evolve as a writer.
1. I have never stopped learning as a writer and artist about the craft and artistry of writing but also about who I am as an artist. Positive and negative developments in my writing journey have always offered me opportunities to reflect on what it is in the work that is being responded to. Constant reflection on the type of writer I am (and that is ever evolving) and what each piece I have written says, how it says it, and the response to that, allows for continual work on aspects of writing craft that need improvement and further development.
Part of that continual learning has included the careful study of playwrights whose work inspires me through either subject matter or form. I cannot stress enough how much I feel we have to learn as writers from those who have come before us and also those who are writing today. My initial learning as a writer focussed solely on Eurocentric notions of form and theatre. However, in recent years, this has given way more and more to the exploration of diverse theatre forms, particularly those originating in Southern Africa. I think it is essential as writers to explore as much of what theatre has to offer (and this certainly involves not limiting ourselves to only Eurocentric forms of theatre making). In relation to this particular aim I am still at the beginning of my journey and look forward to how this develops and changes my writing choices as my work progresses.
2. A phrase I have heard a lot is “consider the audience” or “the audience will think or feel X”. I definitely agree that the audience must be considered when writing work. However, I have come to question how useful it is to think of the audience for your work as a homogenous entity. Much discussion has been undertaken on considering the theatre audience as heterogenous. However, I have come to wonder how much of that discussion is being put into practice when dramaturgs are working with writers (particularly writers from the Global Majority). I suggest that it is vital when asked to “consider the audience”, writers and all on the creative team automatically include considerations about what the effect on and response of Global Majority audience members might be to the world and story being created. Might it cause pain? Might it perpetuate a stereotype? If so, address this head on, make necessary changes. Also, what I think is key here, is to also honestly consider why, if theatre is for everyone, the thoughts and effect of the work on Global Majority audience members might not be as automatic a consideration as for those considered the typical theatre goer (usually White and Middle Class people). If theatre truly is for everyone then that idea of the typical theatre goer has to shift in many ways, and one of those ways is to automatically include Global Majority members when asked to “consider the audience” for your work.
3. Build a support network of other writers and theatre artists who you can reach out to when you need support. Be there for each other during your ups and downs in the industry. This network is vital because there may be times when characters and stories you have worked on, with all of your heart, that form a perspective from the Global Majority that you feel needs to be shown, are not considered in their entirety. In a situation like this your support network will help you to find the words and actions that will help you to fight for a consideration of the entirety of your play’s vision and see a way forward.
All the very best to you fellow writer, as you continue on your way.
Lorna French’s play Jacaranda, a co-production with Pentabus and Theatre by the Lake, is currently touring rural venues in the UK. She is a past two-time winner of the Alfred Fagon Award (winning for Safe House in 2006 and City Melodies in 2016). Earlier this year Lorna wrote for Hear Me Now 2 monologue series (Titilola Dawudu and Tamasha Theatre) and co-wrote the binaural audio series Pangea for Limbik Theatre. In 2020 Lorna presented her short play I See You Now, produced as part of the 15 Heroines plays at Jermyn Street Theatre. Also in 2020 the short radio play No Further Action was written for Menagerie Theatre Company and Cambridge University. In 2019 her play Esther was developed via a Developing Your Creative Practice grant from Arts Council England. It is a play about Black women of Birmingham and the West Midlands, inspired by oral history interviews with several local women. It was shortlisted for the Theatre Uncut Political Playwriting Award 2020 and longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Playwriting 2020. She also co-adapted Jane Eyre with Janys Chambers for Bolton Octagon in 2018 and co-wrote The Last Flag with Chinonyerem Odimba and Selina Thompson for BBC Radio 4 and Eclipse Theatre.
Lorna has also presented work at Birmingham Rep, Theatre 503, Young Vic, MAC, Belgrade Theatre, New Wolsey Theatre and Oval House. She has also written for Eclipse Theatre, Menagerie Theatre, BBC Radio 4 and BBC Asian Network.