For his plays playwright has been awarded with four “Fringe First” awards in famous theatre festival “Fringe” in Edinburg. In his plays writer is analysing human behaviour and questions the biggest problems of our society.
British writer spent last days of February in Vilnius helping upcoming playwrights to perfect their social dramas for the third play reading festival “Dramokratija” which took place in April, 2017.
Chris, you are both an actor and a playwright. How did it happened?
was an accident that I studied theatre in the university. I accidentally put theatre studies on the list and I got in. It was very academic - English literature and theatre studies. In general, it was analysing plays as literature. But also in our faculty there were three theatre spaces and we were expected to make theatre. But there were no theoretic teaching of how to do it and how to write it. We were fostered to constantly create and learn. For three years every two weeks we were presenting a performance. Also, we were working with post-graduate students. They had come there from all over the world, widely loved artists. So, since I was 18 years old, I was working with people from different countries, constantly making mistakes and learning from them. This way I met people, we became friends and wanted to keep making things together. We decided to make something of our own, not something others written, so somebody had to write it down. I was the last one to say no and I wrote a play. It was successful, we brought it to Edinburgh (“Fringe” festival) and it was awarded. Then more people wanted to work with me. And so it began. All this was just an accident. Just a huge fucking mistake. I mean, that’s what it is for everyone. It’s the process of making mistakes. And that’s what I love about it. I’m more a product of the mistakes that I’ve made than an artist, than anything else. Which I think is great and exactly the way it should be. You should always do that. You should always try things that might fuck up.
Being an actor, how does it affect writing process for you?
I would say that it allows me to free myself from things like character and only use them when they are necessary and the most effective thing to use. Because I have an insight into what it feels like to be in a room with other people and what can I do to them and with them with language outside of a framework of narrative. So it gives me more tools in my toolbox. But also I think, especially when I’m writing for myself, it allows me to be freer with the purpose of a particular section of the text. And I can write in the space to be responsive to what is going on in the room. And make the text flexible in a way that maybe it’s harder to do if you’re writing as a playwright. It works against it as well and sometimes you can be too free and too flexible and you have to bring yourself back. If you’re an actor and you write, you can be tempted to be lazy because you think “Oh, I can use my performance and that will get me out of this.” And yeah, you have to fight on one side to be flexible but you also have to fight the impulse to be lazy.
How do you choose subjects for your plays? For yourself and when working with others?
Well, to tell the truth, it’s always the same way. It must be something what can’t be solved in a normal way. A question which cannot be answered by information or learning, you know. If I would like to learn to build a motorcycle, I wouldn’t write a play about it, I just would learn to build a motorcycle. If I would like to know why volcanoes exist, I’d just go and learn why. Writing and theatre belong to this category of things which have no answers. Also subjects have to make me angry. Or really really intrigued. But often angry. I have to see that inability in society and see that all the other people feel it too and that it makes us and that it makes us behave in the ways that are problematic or destructive. And that helps me choose subjects.
What is your priority in choosing a subject - social context or personal experiences?
Both. I think that social context is very important. I like to feel useful. One doesn’t have to always be socially useful but there must be a reason for your play to exist. And that reason often is connected to fundamental dissatisfaction of society. Social phenomenon describe feelings of a larger group of people. If I don’t like jam, well, there’ll be also a few people who don’t like jam. But it’s not a useful thing to write a play about that I prefer or don’t prefer something. It’s more useful to think about the plays' reason for existence being to examiner something that we all have a dissatisfactory relationship with. Plays can also be, and that is very important to say, and should be, and performance pieces, fun and funny and as well as useful.
What is a good play in your opinion?
It is the one which reaches its goals and at the same time knows how it affects the audience. Which affects your conscious and unconscious and emotions and intelligence. In my opinion, form is not as important as effectiveness. Like music. I love music and many styles and genres of it. . But I noticed that all the performers I like have uncompromised way to channel their ideology and it effects me. Both on emotional and intellectual level. Effectiveness isn’t a form. Form must suit the poetics of communication so there is no one right way.
How do you see theatre today? In which direction is it going and where do you think it should be going?
I think there are good things and there are hopeful things and there are sinful things. That’s a very brief answer cause it’s a huge question that requires you to define theatre. If we think of theatre it is the way theatres and companies operate and artists operate and you relate to the society. I think there is in Britain, I can’t really speak for all Britain, I suppose, really welcome openness coming to a lot of those organizations and institutions to allow society and different types of our artists and there are a wide range of artists and the wide range of forms out of them. I think they have a long way to go, these institutions, before they fully and usefully integrate into their societies. I think they can become a lot more activists as institutions in the way they reach out to their communities, they could be a lot more responsive to the immediate problems in their area. Or sudden changes in the world. But they try to do that and there are institutions and their show. I think there is problem with support that we have, younger artists and the companies, I think there is a particular problem with our changing relationship with Europe, that we have to keep encouraging those artists. Me, I have already established links with people, but we have to keep encouraging younger artists to talk to each other and to talk to institutions within and outside Britain because it’s gonna be harder for them to have those conversations that allow them to grow. And some of those artists are already better than I am and I would take it as a tragedy if they didn’t have the opportunities as I had.
Do you think playwriting workshops are important? How and why?
I think they are very important. I think that workshops like in terms of the structure of the workshop that we’ve been just to, "Dramokratija", where a bunch of a very early in their careers playwrights get together with me and we talk and we talk about playwriting are important and I have an experience that I can bring to them that can help with their individual work and help the group to think about more ambitious ways of structuring their work and how it relates to the audience. So it was very practical element. And the fact that I am more experienced than they are, doesn’t mean that I am better than them. I’ve just made more mistakes which was useful.
But I think there’s also a very important element with that which has nothing to do with me, it’s about bringing those people together to share their experience in those people who might not know each other and to form a kind of mutually supportive network of people going forward. Even if those people don’t agree on ideas politically or have very different ideas about how to form, can recognize in each others or engage in the same process of relating to society or helping the society to relate to itself. And I think it’s very important today to go places and spend time with people in order to challenge and re-energize your own and their assumptions about the world. And it is very easy to get convinced there is only one way to do things. Whether you’re in a group or you’re writing as an individual playwright. And I think this is one of the most useful ways to challenge that. It’s also fun to see each other’s work and to share each other’s work. The ideas that we’ve been talking about at the end of today, the final day, were so different and so wonderfully different in terms of their ambition, form. But they were all about the same subject. Which is who we are as a nation. What is justice and how we construct that and how we talk about that and if it’s just as present here in Lithuania or anywhere else and certainly in Britain. And it’s so important as a playwright for us all to sit in that room and realize that there’s that plurality of voices and approaches. And also, how rarely do we get an opportunity as playwrights to sit in a room with the people who are struggling with the same problems and to talk about the different ways we can do it. And also, on personal level, it still helps me to feel European which is something that is very important to feel at the moment.
It was your first time in Vilnius. What are you bringing home with you?
A copy of "Vilnius poker". And a desire to come back to Vilnius. And some new friends. Although, I’m not taking my new friends with me, that would be weird, that would be kidnapping. But I’m certainly taking those friendships with me. And the curiosity what happens next.
Does social context, ideas or working ways here, in this workshop, were very different from what you are used to?
Yes. Well, what I mean is of course, there is a different relationship with nation, with Europe, with each other, with morality, with religion. All those things are different in every country but actually what one of the peculiarities of being Lithuanian that I do not face being British, and we talked about this, and that, and people talked to me in a very interesting way, and it made me think a lot, actually, is the smallness of the country and the uniqueness of the language and the relative smallness of the population. I don’t mean that’s short, there aren’t many of them. And then I think it contributes to the mindset that I cannot say is peculiarly Lithuanian, in which people need very firm place to stand and the very strong sense where they’re standing, what they are. But they also realize that from that firm place they need to be able to actively look out with and I think there’s something about. And there is particular history of Lithuania that is newly independent nation, relatively, in the last twenty odd years. That makes that need to stand strong in that place even stronger and it makes that need to look out even more acute. And I think coming from a large country that has a different relationship because it hasn’t been colonized, it’s actually been colonial power, I think it’s easy for me to be lazy and forget that or in a very liberal way to say that it is not necessary to have a strong place to stand at. And what I like about it, this Lithuanian sense, is that there is a strong place to stand for Lithuanians. But also there is awareness that the world is made up of more than Lithuania. That’s certain with the people that I’ve met. That you need to acknowledge what you know contained more than your country contends in the terms of the use and perspectives.
What made the biggest impression for you here in Lithuania ?
I haven’t been here long enough for any bad impressions. And I didn’t really try to dig underneath them. Although in political way there are a lot I don’t agree with this society but that is true of my own. I think good impressions of being in Vilnius. I love it, I think it’s a wonderful feeling. The main impression that I’m taking away because it’s the main thing I’ve done is the dedicated group of people who turned up everyday and engaged and were alive and responsive in discussions that we had and in discussions that we had about the world and about their work. And if that’s an indicative of what’s brief of Lithuanian people then I am… It’s been an amazing pleasure. And I want to come back. I am inspired by those people. We need to inspire each other because fucking hell, the world is not doing that for us at the moment.
In Lithuania we still have only a few playwriting initiatives, "Dramokratija" is one of them. What do you think about importance of such events? Was it easy to decide to become part of it?
Yes. That was very easy and that’s a privilege to be asked to do that. And I’m very lucky even to get an opportunity to do that. And the choice is not about desire or money or anything like that, it’s mostly for me about time. And I’m lucky that I was asked to come here at the time that I could come here. You know, if it has been four days later or four days earlier, I just wouldn’t be able to come. It was really lucky. So, there is no choice for me, there is just the necessity to come and meet people when you can and to interact with them.
And the importance of the readings and the initiatives, yes, it’s really important as long as they’re not focused on the idea that the playwriting is special and being in the gateways into the mode of the higher society and the way you get to be an artist. I think they need to be able to create their strong individual voices some of who may become well known and some of who may not become well known but they also need to be dedicated to promoting the idea that playwright is not just a part of cultural experience but also a valuable part of social tool for investigating and effecting the mental health of the nation. So I think they’re in just about creating kind of the next generation of successful playwrights, then fine, but that’s only less than a half of the story. They need to be fostering the idea that a play whether you write it or interact with it in some other way is a valid and wide, it should be valid and wide spread and challenging way of keeping your society mentally healthy.
What aspects, situations of social and political areas touches you the most at the moment? And you mentioned Brexit, are you thinking of writing about it?
I'm not going to write specifically about Brexit but although I would argue that at least a couple of things I’ve written have been very informed by it recently. It stands for or anything that I am fascinated by or worried by stands for me from the fact that we are not as aware of how we think. Not what we think but how we think. And the strategies and the biases that we both used to hide information from ourselves but we can’t recognize a purpose in a different way to think critically and talk to our society. I think I am still very concerned promoting dialogue between the people who do not think that they agree and at least try to forge new channel for them to begin to have a conversation. I’m not interested in them agreeing, it’s not my job to make them agree but I think a lot of things that I’m concerned about come from that. And I’m also concerned by specific events in the world but I don’t feel that I am the kind of playwright who would write a topical piece about those events. So for me it’s about the method of communication as much as it’s about that we need to look at that.
What is your usual writing process?
I try to start early, I try to start at 10 o’clock in the morning. I try to dedicate a whole day for doing one thing. At least one day. So if I have two projects I try not to work on them on the same day. I do it on the same week but not the same day. I try to have idea of where I’m going but I try not to overplan. And I try to really balance to the following my instinct to the investigation where I’m going. And other than that is rather mysterious. Other than that sometimes I lock up and I’ll be writing for like an hour and I wouldn’t realize there was something there and sometimes I would sit and write for six hours and I would write a hundred words and feel like crying. I wish I knew a better answer to that. But what happens is eventually the thing is done. And I find it hard, no matter how many things I write, I find it hard to imagine the thing to be ever finished while I’m writing it and then the thing is finished and there I am.
Do you believe that theatre can change the view on the world and in that way – the world itself?
I see it all the fucking time. Otherwise I wouldn’t do it. I think even if it’s only for five minutes or it is a timely change that last three years or it’s a profound change that will change another group of people or a personal problem or a life decision. I have seen theatre over and over again to give people a totally different perspective of their lives. And I’ve seen it and we know that has changed in all countries. I’ve seen that happen in a way what people has said about my own work and watching them all the way to experience it. But I also have seen more of the gratifying work by other people to change other people’s lives profoundly and make them determined to refuse to accept the things that the world tell them are fucked are the truth of how human beings are. I’ve seen them rebel against being defined by the world and I’ve seen them making decisions about their own situations and what they should do about them to make themselves happier or make them effective as human beings. And I’ve seen people leaving the room just smiling when they were not smiling when they walked in. And those things are to some degree profound things that in human beings theatre can change. Because there is no other reason for us to do that. Because it’s much easier to stay at home and watch Netflix. But yet we still come to theatre. Not enough of us and not as wide variety of us as there should be but that’s always true. But we still come. And we still turn up. And we still make it. And we still turn up there to be with it. So it must be doing something.
This interview was first published on Menų Faktūra website.
Interview by: Teklė Kavtaradzė and Živilė Zablackaitė