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Writing From Experience

January 8, 2018

I wanted to spend a bit of time writing down my thoughts on "Writing From Experience". 

 

A lot of thoughts from producers when thinking about work is about "authorship" but "authorship" but it's important to differenciate between authorship and writing from experience. One is your viewpoint the other is autobiographical and they do not equate to the same thing.

 

In early works playwrights tend to write from their experience and there is nothing wrong with that it's absolutely great and the vast majority of writers did it and it's the easiest way into the craft. When it becomes tricky is when people say things like "hold on she isn't a man from this world so why is she writing this?" and demand that writers be writing from a place of experience. My answer is authorship.

 

If we assume our writer, lets call her Sarah-Jane, wants to explore that her Mdopu gets treated at work by her white male boss, then what are getting is an empathetic view point from white Sarah-Jane about Mdopu's battle with black prejudice and exocistcm of the black body in the white read workshop. Sarah-Jane's gesture of calling out people with the same skin colour as her via a black protagonist is extremly useful socially so why would we attack her for not being black? The reason is often because Sarah-Jane hasn't lived this experience and I completly understand this argument how ever what we would expect Sarah-Jane to have done is to earn the right to take the corner of Mdopu. If writers aren't writing autobiographically then they have to earn the right to tell stories and this means more than research through books; this means Sarah-Jane seeing herself as someone with a skill and that skill is going to be put to us putting Mdopu's concerns to the wider public in the hope of a cultural change in Mdopu's favour. So what the ultimate goal of Sarah-Jane's task is is her viewpoint (Calling out people who look like her on the way they treat black people) done via (using her skill to put her friends concerns to the world) and she earns the right to do this via investing emotionally and physically in the world and being clear that it's her staging the views of the world rather than her speculating what they might be at her desk. This is my argument when people say but X isn't Y and doesn't have the right to do this.... X should EARN the right from Y and be selfless.

 

Also I think a number of writers in the past have gone mad trying to make a career out of writing auto-biographical work. Think of Andrea Dunbar who wrote two plays (The Arbour and Rita, Sue and Bob too) about Buttershaw in Yorkshire. She had producers, directors, dramaturgs going round trying to force her to write plays whilst she adamentally said that her head was fucked and a whole host of young writers (who I won't name) had hit first plays and we're hailed as "The Voice of X" but couldn't follow up with a second play because they'd said everything in the first.

 

If we look at the greatest writers in history who have sustained the greatest careers in Theatre: Caryl Churchill, William Shakespeare, Lucy Prebble, David Hare, Duncan McMillan, James Graham, Arthur Miller, Simon Stephens, G,B Shaw, Tanika Gupta, debbie tucker green... All of them eventually shifted out of the self referencial autobiographical and into the global humane social and cultural. Often this is because people become writers and stop living lives that start stories but that's fine. The world exists around you if you engage with it. It is essential if we want art to be useful to step out of our immidiate experiences and look at who we are in the context of others and the greater world. We can't write our own expierences for ever but we can fight the battles of others that need to see a world change for them to persue their freedom: we just have to see ourselves as writing from our viewpoint and staging the concerns of others in the hope to see a change... and earn the right to tell that story on their behalf.

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