Stuart Slade- Development Diary: Or, Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Cat

“Never work with animals or children” said some guy, once – I guess long before civilisation discovered the true marvels of taking an emotional support duck to the office …. or, you know, found themselves totally stuck for childcare.

Wilfully ignoring that maxim, on the last day of her school holidays I brought my 9 year old daughter Lucy along with me to the National Theatre Studio. It was the first day of my six-week writing attachment there, arranged by the brilliantly supportive people at the Bruntwood Prize. I tried to sell it to Lucy as a special end-of-holiday treat – ‘come and see where Daddy works,’ I said, ‘it’ll be so much crazy fun.’ She looked at me with the withering contempt that only a nine year old can truly muster.

‘Watching you write is THE most boring thing on earth.’
‘You can write a play too?’
‘Writing a play is the SECOND most boring thing on earth.’
‘You can have as many chocolate biscuits as you like…?’

Sold. Children are the very easiest people to negotiate with, sometimes – as long as you’re prepared to wilfully sacrifice their dental health, that is.

After being introduced to all the incredibly lovely people here at the NT Studio – who Lucy effortlessly charmed with her sparkly cat ears – we were shown to our Writers’ Room, and left to it.

I had a whole play – a massive play – to write in six weeks, so I really needed to get started. Lucy still had the lingering suspicion that writing was the second most boring thing on earth, but at least she now had a massive packet of dark chocolate digestives, so she grudgingly agreed to give it a go.

I gave her a quick demo of how to use Final Draft on her laptop (it’s just pressing the tab key and cursing, basically) and, like the heinously negligent father that I am, I started tapping away, utterly oblivious to the fate of my only child.

And you know what? Half an hour later she’s giggling at her own scene. An hour later she’s boshed out three pages, and is more utterly enthralled than I’ve ever seen her.

By the end of the day I’d written my five pages, which is the most I can ever do without melting into an insane puddle on the floor. Lucy, on the other hand, had written a full seven pages of her very first play, ‘Cat-Astrophe’ and really, really didn’t want to stop.

 

She was utterly hooked… [and of course totes delighted that she’d beaten me hands-down in terms of page count].

And you know what? Most of the time I adore my job – I love writing plays, and I’m endlessly grateful that people (especially the incredible people at The Bruntwood and the NT Studio) give me the opportunity to do it as a career. But some days I find it really tough – the ideas won’t come, the words won’t come, the self-doubt comes flooding in – but seeing Lucy discover the pure joy of playwriting for the very first time – the crazy endorphin high of creating a world, and characters, and situations – that’ll sustain me for an awfully long time.

I kinda promised myself that, whenever things got tough writing my NT play, I’d remember that look on Lucy’s face as she started her very first play – and remind myself to try and find that same joy in my own work every single day.

On the way home we swapped laptops and read what the other had written. Turns out ‘Cat-Astrophe’ is… well, put it this way, for a moment I genuinely thought swapping laptops permanently – or at the very least letting Lucy finish off both of our scripts before bedtime each night.

If she agrees to this – well, she can have all the chocolate biscuits she likes. Dentistry be damned.

 

 

My Day In the National Theatre, by Lucy Slade

Well, when I got to the NT a nice lady called Sarah showed us round the place and introduced us to loads of people. After that she left us to get started in the Writers Room. So my Daddy sat down and put on the loudest music ever then started typing and I watched him for only two minutes and at the end of that two minutes I was laughing my head off because his working face is the most utterly stupid thing ever.

After that I sat down then thought, ‘well, what should I do?’ Then I had an idea – for inspiration I was going to watch my favourite show Family Guy. When I was watching my Daddy was busy making faces at the computer. The episode was called Brian’s Play (Brian’s the dog in the show). I told you it would be inspirational.

After that we went for lunch I got a Meal Deal and lots of dark chocolate digestives. We ate our lunch in the Writers Room then my Daddy set to work.

Then I said,“Daddy can you teach me how to use your playwriting app?”
He showed me and I tried for a while, whilst doing an awful lot of cursing. I decided it would be called Cat-Astrophe.

Then after a while he said, “Oh Lucy time to go!”
I said, “Just one more minute.”

I wanted to miss school and come again the next day – but of course he didn’t let me, but he agreed to take me to a play at the NT one day after school.

And that is how my day was at the NT. I found out how to use Final Draft and the best thing was how my Daddy made those stupid faces at the computer – one of them was lolling his tongue out sideways with one of his eyes shut.

20 Jan 2020

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