Andy Sheridan was a winner of the Bruntwood Prize in 2008 with his play WINTERLONG, which went on to be produced in The Studio at the Royal Exchange in 2011 and to transfer to the Soho Theatre in London. He recently took part in a webchat for us a webchat at writeaplay.co.uk. Here’s a transcript of some of that discussion:
Hi Andy, did the production live up to your expectations?
I think it did, though there were some things in the script that couldn’t be realised in the staging. Other than that I was really happy.
How has Bruntwood affected your life since you won?
It has opened lots of doors that might not have been opened if I hadn’t won. I now have a writing agent and have quite a few writing projects currently on the go.
How much of Oscar is in you would you say?
The play isn’t biographical. There are elements in Oscar’s character that I share but he definitely isn’t based on me.
What plays/writers would you say influenced the construction of your captivating world?
Simon Stephens, Edward Bond, Harold Pinter, Sarah Kane, Robert Holman among many others. I’ll get back to on the plays. I suggest SAVED by Bond as starting point. It’s a blueprint for how to make a perfect play.
How do you personally go about re-drafting your script? When the first hard copy is done, how do you move on and perfect it?
I think it’s important to just start. Whether it be from a provocative response to an issue or whether it’s from something that more personal to you. The start is always the hard bit.
I have just finished my first draft and I am wondering where I go with it.
I give it to one person I really trust and get them to read it and get feedback from them. Everyone will have a different opinion or things to say about your play. You can’t listen and respond to them all. You have to ultimately be true to what you initially wrote. Getting your play read out loud is really useful. After all you’re writing something that actors are going to have to be able to say.
When was the first time you heard WINTERLONG Andy?
We did a reading of the play at Soho. It was terrifying. I really wish I’d been brave enough to have heard it out loud before I entered the competition but I truly never thought my play would get anywhere near winning.
How do you think we can make our plays stand out to the panel?
Just write really bravely. Don’t write what you think they want you to write. Write for yourself.
What are you working on next?
I’m just finishing my next play. Then I’m on attachment at The National and I’ve got 8 weeks to write a play for them. I’m also writing a Radio 4 play and got other bits and bobs on the go.
You said in a podcast that you changed the title as soon as you had been named as winner – do you think it is important to write for your title or to just write and let the title emerge?
I think the title is really important. The play I’m finishing off had a title before I started writing the actual play. I think a title for me is a kind of shorthand of the world I’m trying to create.
Did you always want to be a playwright? What got you into writing plays?
I’m an actor really. I’ve been doing that for a long time.
How do you see the play as you write?
I hear my characters quite clearly when I write. I also voice the lines that I write as I write them. I can hear when something works and when it doesn’t. Suppose that’s got something to do with being an actor. It changes. Sometimes I’m watching a character in a scene from over their shoulder. Sometimes I’m sat in an audience. It changes all the time.
Do you or did you ever get ‘hung up’ on whether scenes would be transferable to the stage?
I never get hung up on that. That isn’t my problem, that’s for a director to make work. I believe if you can imagine it then it’s possible to make it stagable.
Do you write with a sense of what it might be exciting to see on stage?
Definitely. Sick of going to the theatre and seeing the same turgid grey sameness. Theatre should be exciting and dangerous and massive. I also think that you’ve got to really believe that theatre can somehow change the world.
How long did WINTERLONG take you to write Andy?
It took me about 4-6 months of proper graft and concentration. It wasn’t really finished when I handed it in.
Andy, is there something you wish you’d know when you were writing to that Bruntwood deadline?
I think I was concerned that my play wouldn’t get a fair reading. I thought that it might just get thrown in the bin or something. I now know how much time and effort the readers of the competition take to look at each and every script that gets sent in.