Interview with Joanna Laurens

 On Writing and Not Writing

Joanna Laurens 

I’ve just written a column for Exeunt Magazine. One of the playwrights I mention is Joanna Laurens. Her first play, The Three Birds was on at The Gate in 2000 and won her the Critics’ Circle Theatre Award for most promising playwright, the Time Out award for most outstanding new talent and a special commendation from the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.

Her next two plays Five Gold Rings (The Almeida, 2003) and Poor Beck (RSC, 2004) were ripped apart by the critics. Charles Spencer wrote in the Telegraph ‘could she now do us all a favour by taking a prolonged vow of silence’ which is precisely what happened next. Her fourth play, Queen of Hearts is published but un-produced.

I was introduced to Laurens’ writing a couple of years ago during a writing course with David Lane. I immediately loved the way she uses language in The Three Birds and have been curious about her work ever since. I’ve discovered a few connections between us. We both started out as trained musicians. We’ve both been mentored/supported by playwright Colin Teevan. And we both play with language and form and find it hard to write to order.

After a lot of searching and wrong turns, I eventually found contact details and I thought I’d publish a section of our correspondence here, in case there are others who want to know what happened next.

You stayed in bed.
A mirror by the window
brought the outside in:
A refracted, fractured olive tree.
A single shoe left on cobbles.
A child’s music box;
in reflection, smashed.
The street in pieces on the floor.

And what did I say? What did I say, do you remember?

FATHER continues counting. (Joanna Laurens Queen of Hearts)

JL: It is hard to say anything about this subject, from the position I am now in. Anything I might say runs the risk of sounding embittered; resentful; hard-done-by. I’m not saying that I won’t speak out, just that it is hard to speak out in a way that people will hear…

The critical reception to my second play (Five Gold Rings) killed my career – ten years ago, when I was 25 – after my first play had won many awards, had been translated into many languages and had been produced in many countries. I’d already signed a contract with the RSC for the third play (Poor Beck), before Five Gold Rings opened – so that didn’t happen after Five Gold Rings: After Five Gold Rings, no one wanted to produce anything I wrote.

After Poor Beck, I went on to write two more plays – The Postman and The Queen of Hearts. We sent these out to many theatres. Sometimes, someone wanted to produce them – or co-produce them – but then, when it came to move forwards on it, some other person stopped it all – almost always because they didn’t believe the language would work, or because they thought the language made the play a ‘risky’ financial venture.

From the perspective of ten years on, I do think that Five Gold Rings was flawed. The plot was problematic and far too complicated. Not all the language worked. Some of it was naive. I also think: Like it or loathe it, it was not like anything else. I was stamped right through it and fully invested in the writing. I took a risk. I did something different. I learnt a lot. I wish I could have had a chance to use what I learnt – because it made me a better writer – but no one would give me that chance. I also think that Michael Attenborough was brave to produce it, and that it was a small miracle for it to be on a stage with the profile of the Almeida.

I am angry about the vicious quality of many of the reviews, which were decimating for a young writer. They mocked the language, belittled, and shamed me, publicly. Some of the reviews were bordering on slander. At the time, I read them alongside the reviews for The Three Birds and it was hard to believe they could be referring to the same writer. I mean, how can I be [quoting a selection of reviews] an ‘audacious, rigorous, talent’; a ‘distinctive new voice’; a ‘writer to treasure’; ‘an extraordinary voice that deserves nurture’; someone who writes with ‘murderous beauty’; with ‘depth and maturity’, in ‘an extraordinary new language’ – AND ALSO be a writer who produces ‘freshly squeezed bullshit’; a ‘piss poor’ writer, ‘immature’ – who produces work the same standard as ‘a bright sixth former’ – someone who should now do them all a favour and take a ‘prolonged vow of silence’…and so on?? I was only 25.

I struggled to integrate all of that and to make any sense of it. Everyone gets bad reviews – but there is a bad review, and then there is a review whose agenda is your annihilation. The latter is not common, not from multiple critics at once. (According to Damian Lewis, Helen McRory said it was the worst reviewed production she had ever been in.)

I was unprepared for it, especially after the raves for The Three Birds. I read the reviews standing in the newsagents at Gatwick, waiting for a flight. I was so ashamed, I buried my face in the paper to hide from other shoppers. In the coming weeks, I had several other writers contact me to express concern and support. But it was very hard for anyone to say anything to me which I didn’t experience as evidence of the publicity of my humiliation: If unknown people from across the UK were writing to me, everyone in the world of theatre had read these reviews. It felt like a public shaming – I was in the stocks, for the whole world to see.

I tell this in such detail because, if I had written a play using naturalistic language that had not been a success, I can’t imagine that the response would have been so extreme. And this is part of the story which doesn’t often get heard: We see the plays, we read the reviews – but then what? And what is the role of a critic? Can we say that they should have a duty of care? Do they play a part in shaping the direction in which theatre goes? Do they exercise their power responsibly? I am glad to hear that Helen thinks it is the worst-reviewed production she has been in – because it helps me to know that this was not me, distorting the reviews and experiencing them as harsher than they were. They really were that harsh.

I didn’t read the play for a long time after. I took on the perspective of the critics towards it. There were many of them – how could they all be wrong? I was ashamed to have written it, this awful, embarrassing and immature thing. Even worse: Not only had I written it, but I had then displayed it for approval, believing it to be good.

Then, after a few years, I picked the play up and dared to read it again. And, yes, some of it was naive and didn’t work. But, I made allowances for that – because I’d been so young and just been trying things out. The writing surprised me; I surprised myself. I thought it was interesting, curious and often beautiful. I thought ‘who wrote this?’ for a split second – before I realised that I had.

Strangely, this whole experience happened ‘in miniature’, when I wrote The Three Birds: I wrote it whilst I was a student at university. I brought it along to the (fantastic) Queen’s Writers’ Group which I was a member of at the time. Luckily the group was run by a playwright – Daragh Carville – and he suggested I do a reading of it, so we could hear it. So: I got together some actor friends and rehearsed a reading – as best I could.

But not everyone I wanted to invite could make it to the reading – some people I looked up to, and whose opinions I respected, couldn’t make it. So we decided to do two readings – one a small, private reading for these few people who couldn’t make the ‘real’ one. This private reading was first.

One of the people I’d invited said it was ‘too wordy’ and I got my first experience of that ‘pretentious’ ‘affected’ ‘conceited’ response which I was to encounter again – although, being kind, they didn’t use those words. I came close to cancelling the remaining reading and giving up on it. It was only because the actors had spent so long rehearsing it, and it seemed unfair to cancel at the last minute, that I went ahead. That audience responded very differently to the play. It reached them. And that was the reading where Colin [Teevan] saw it, and passed it onto Mick Gordon, at the Gate.

So, you know, perhaps I should have foreseen these extreme responses… they have been there from the start.

HS: It’s astonishing that with the success of The Three Birds the critical reaction to Five Gold Rings was enough to stop theatres commissioning you.

JL: Many critics sent to review The Three Birds were not the ‘number one’ critics of the various papers, but were probably ‘number two’ critics: I was an unknown playwright, the Gate does not have the same status as the Almeida, we did not have any stars in the cast… And I seem to remember there was another press night on that evening, where the top critics would have been. Whereas the Almeida was a much higher profile, with the all-star cast – and so the top critics were sent. They then had no experience of The Three Birds, or where I’d come from, as a writer, and were just viewing Five Gold Rings cold – with no sense of the evolution between the plays.

From my perspective, I’d ‘done’ Three Birds (Greek myth) and I’d intentionally taken a risk and done something more strange, what with the setting of Five Gold Rings being something much more naturalistic and closer to today – to offset the non-naturalistic language further.

It was a bigger ‘ask’ for an audience to swallow, and I don’t think I would have dared to make that ‘ask’, if it hadn’t been off the back of The Three Birds – you kind of bring an audience along with you. At the time, I made the mistake of assuming the critics at least would be vaguely familiar with The Three Birds, and would know where I’d come from – but it turned out afterwards that they weren’t.

I also think that unfortunately everything became about the language and that somehow gets in the way of seeing the plays in and for themselves. This took me by surprise, since, to me, the language was just part of what made the play – it wasn’t the focus. To remain so acutely aware of language itself, is to stand in the way of what it carries, so you can’t be reached.

Even here, we are talking about non-naturalistic language as a thing, in itself. For me, I just write plays. The language they use is part of ‘who’ they are; the flavour of the piece. I don’t intentionally or deliberately try to write something in non-naturalistic language. I wish this aspect had not become such a defining feature – overshadowing everything else. Just like any other aspect of a play, the language has to work to serve the whole.

HS: What happened with Poor Beck? Did it have a shorter run purely on the basis of the criticisms of Five Gold Rings?

JL: At the time, recovering from Five Gold Rings, I was grateful for being overlooked. I don’t think I could have dealt with public character assassination twice in as many years. After Five Gold Rings, I just wanted to crawl away into a dark hole and for everyone to forget about me. Which is close to what happened. I didn’t tell anyone I knew that Poor Beck was being produced; I didn’t want them to come and see it. I didn’t want to go through the shame of Five Gold Rings all over again.

The story of Poor Beck’s production is that it was originally supposed to have a full run, for a full season, at the RSC in Stratford – as new plays did. Then the RSC created a ‘new writing festival’, which meant that instead of being the only new play on at the time, it would be one of many – all the other venues in Stratford would also be running new writing. Then, a few months later, it emerged that the run would only be for a week and at 2pm/3pm in the afternoon. (I think there might have been a couple of evening performances, but most of them were afternoon.) So it kind of got whittled down from this full scale production for an entire season, to a week of being at 2pm.

Of course I was disappointed, especially on the back of Five Gold Rings. When I protested, I was told that I could pull it. But, after Five Gold Rings, I didn’t think anywhere else would want to produce it – so I didn’t really have a choice. It did later transfer to the Soho in London and ran in an evening slot, but by then I’d just emotionally walked away, the goal posts had been moved so many times.

I don’t believe any of this whittling down was due to the response to Five Gold Rings, it was just circumstance. However, I got pretty cynical about the whole business side of writing and I would not trust anyone I could perceive as having any industry-related agenda. I would meet with them and of course be polite to them, but I would watch them very closely.

Being creative involves taking risks. And not all risks work. You can’t know if something will be successful before it is produced. You need to feel safe, to take risks – both the writer and the theatre/producer – and when the funding of a theatre is jeopardised, that undermines that needed basis of safety for the theatre.

Any new play is risky, but there is a widespread belief that something in non-naturalistic language is even more risky, in the Riskiness Stakes. Is it?

HS: Did you ever look into other ways of getting your work performed?

JL: No, I’m not sure why. I think perhaps because I hadn’t struggled starting out, I just had no idea how to do all that. I had no idea who to approach for funding, why anyone would want to give me money for free, who would want to be involved in producing anything I wrote (or why), how it all worked and so on. Everything had fallen into my lap with The Three Birds and I didn’t even know the difference between a director and a producer at the time, so understanding the vagaries of funding was far beyond me. I don’t come from a theatrical background and I hadn’t grown up being involved in amateur theatre. It was just all so foreign to me.

HS: It’s interesting, because in the world I make my work in – with funding, without big audiences….my work doesn’t make anyone any money. Hopefully everyone gets paid, but it’s really not a commercial model.

Another thing I’m doing is writing librettos – with contemporary opera, there is much more space for playing with language and writing non-naturalistically. Is this something you considered?

JL: I would have been very interested in this, yes. Given the way I write, many people suggested writing librettos. However, I wasn’t asked and I had no idea who to approach or with what to approach them. After Five Gold Rings and Poor Beck, and the critical responses to them, coupled with being unable to get the next 2 plays produced, I didn’t have enough optimism to keep trying in the face of so much rejection. I just concluded that there was no market for what I did.

HS: It is genuinely upsetting to read this. I think it’s a fear that many writers/artists have – that if it doesn’t work out, at some point we’ll have to make a decision to try and do something else…

JL: I don’t think that writing hasn’t worked out, so much as it’s very quiet at the moment. I would turn back to it, given the right circumstances. But I am also happy not to turn back to it, if that’s how things pan out.

HS: There are other ways of writing outside of the new writing theatres, for instance I’ve just written a play with Colin Teevan for Radio 3, and I’ve been commissioned to write a play by a girls’ school. Surely with the success of Three Birds there would have been opportunities you could apply for?

JL: Well, in my eyes, writing a play is really tough. It is a slog and it is hard work to nail something of yourself to the page – to invest yourself in a piece of writing. It hurts, to write. And the payoff, for me to do that, needs to be some sort of acknowledgement and to know that enough people are going to hear what I write. I did write a piece for The Verb on Radio 3, a very experimental piece which was a hybrid between music and language. (It was called ‘Exodus’.) And it aired. And that was that. No whisper of it in the press. No one I knew even heard it. I’m sure they have gazillions of listeners, but if I don’t know any of them and if I can’t be alongside them to experience their listening to it – if there can be no personal contact – and if there is then no repercussion or public acknowledgement or (dare I say it) review, then it is as if it never happened. And all that slog feels like it was for nothing. (Since the money is nothing in radio, too – as for writing for the stage – it’s definitely not for that!).

Plus, as I’m sure you know, you have to put something forward to be commissioned for radio. Which means submitting plans and ideas and concepts and all of that. And I can’t do it. I’m really crap at that kind of thing. I can’t sit down with a detailed, sale-able plan before I begin to write. And if I try to do that, what I write will be dead. It will be dead because (for some reason) I won’t be invested in it, at the moment of writing. I’ll be too busy following a pre-decided plan – someone else’s agenda has impinged on what I’m making, too early in the process. I’ve failed to complete commissions, in the past, because I’ve known that what I’m writing is dead and, after repeated attempts to make it come alive, I’ve given up.

The other alternative is to ignore what I’m asked for and to write the play I have inside, anyway. That doesn’t usually please the commissioning theatre, though: My last commission was to write a play with a strong female cast – strong in terms of numbers and in terms of presence – and a ‘big’ play with a large cast, happening on an epic scale. God knows why I accepted this commission, but when you’re a struggling writer and this is what you’re offered… Anyway, I wrote a play with one female character and four men – and a small chorus – of more men. All the action takes place in only a couple of locations. No sense of anything ‘epic’ (however you define that).

I can’t make myself write something my heart isn’t in – I know it won’t be emotionally true, that I won’t be invested in it, that I will be ‘going through the motions’ and that this will show in the result.

Some writers manage to survive and thrive and write-as-a-business. I think you know if you can write-as-a-business or not.

HS: How much of a struggle was it to stop writing?

JL: It was difficult in that I continued to struggle along for far too long, hoping that it would all come together again at some point. After the success of The Three Birds, it was even harder to stop trying than it would have been without any success at all. But when I finally turned elsewhere, it was strangely liberating.

HS: I tend to think, if you’re a writer, you have to write, there’s no choice, and if there is a choice, if there’s something else you can do, then go do it.

JL: Yes – in some ways. When I write, from the right(!) and passionate place, then I am driven: It has to be done and it gives me great pleasure to see the result. Sometimes it feels as if something is writing through me, as if it’s not even me who is doing it or responsible for it. (And so, I shouldn’t be praised or blamed for it.) It can come very quickly and very fast and easily. Things come together and feel right –without me even knowing consciously why they are right. (I might realise it, looking back afterwards. But if I tried to work from this conscious point, I would only make something dead and overly thought-out.) Yes, this is the sort of writing which I have no choice about and I will actually want to stay up all night, producing.

However, that sort of writing doesn’t happen on tap. It is not there when I reach for it, always, on any subject someone gives me to write about. Sometimes I may just have nothing to say. Yet writers have deadlines and they have to produce work….

It is said that you need discipline to be a writer – you need to be able to write, despite not feeling like it. I can’t do that. This is not self-indulgence or some sort of Romantic notion of waiting for inspiration to strike: Will, intent or effort, on my part, make no difference. And I’d rather write nothing than dead writing.

The truth really is that I try to be faithful to the way that part of me feels – the part which wants to make something, the part which gets inspired and wants to put something inside me, outside. I think it is most similar to a child, playing. Try to make a child play, when they don’t want to. Even if they want to please you, and they try really hard, the play will be clunky and self-conscious and artificial. This is what happens if I try to make myself write for the purposes of earning money or meeting the deadline for a commission – I will write crap. It is not laziness on my part, I have no control over it. When a child really is playing, they lose track of time, are fully absorbed in what they are doing – which is putting elements of their inner world, outside themselves. And the child isn’t in control of when they want to play.

HS: Did you ever try writing differently? Did you ever attempt a ‘naturalistic’ play? – Just curious, I’ve tried it, got bored and gave up….

JL: Yes, me too. There was a point when I decided it would be great if I could write a couple of TV episodes a year, and that would pay the bills and then I’d have the money to write what I really wanted to write. However, for the reason mentioned above – I can’t make myself get invested, at will – I couldn’t.

HS: …People sometimes tell me – just write what they want, just write them something naturalistic.

JL: If you can, kudos to you. I don’t think everyone can do this, though. And I think you know very fast if you can. And, even if you can, you may not want to – you may want to earn your living some other way and only write when you have something to say.

I used to believe that I couldn’t be a writer unless I could write to order, get invested at will, and so on – I don’t think that anymore. I accept it is a process I’m not in control of. Like fish stocks, for fisherman. Sometimes you cast your net down, and nothing comes up. Sometimes you look inside yourself, and it’s dead in there. I accept that.

He continues counting.

When I go to sleep
I know that I’ll not know
if you are still counting in the dark:
Weighing each number. Designating its emphasis.
Like the women in the market weigh oranges
to price them.

When I go to sleep
I know that I’ll not know if
one, one. One, one. Has faded to
none.

Or when you’ll talk with me again.
(Joanna Laurens The Queen of Hearts)

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15 Comments

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15 responses to “Interview with Joanna Laurens

  1. David Lane

    Thank you so much for printing this in full Hannah. It’s desperately sad at times but incredibly important to put out there, as part of a wider debate. I’ve always championed The Three Birds ever since I came across it at The Gate, and have strived to include it (and Five Gold Rings) on every syllabus, reading list and workshop course I’ve run in the twelve years hence! The writing always invites comment and it’s a beautiful, beautiful piece.

  2. wow, Joanna’s story is really moving, thank you (both) for sharing it.

  3. guy

    A great insight into the writing process, thanks for your honesty.A very worthwhile article.

  4. cdthomas

    Was any of her work published, where we can purchase it?

  5. N. D. Plume

    This is a very valuable thing to have put out there. And really properly honest. Well done interviewer. And well done Joanna Laurens.
    You’ll have your time again Joanna Laurens.

    The only things I’ve found that can make you write when you REALLY don’t feel it are: impending humiliation, cocaine, and knowing you already should’ve done something even more important.

    And as you say, they don’t make the work especially better. They get words on the page. And that pays, but it saps a joy in expression for its own sake.

    I would say tiredness is a wonderful centrifuge for ideas, it pushes the extreme the dramatic the absurd outwards, downwards onto the page. The half hour between a first large glass of wine and the next. The day before someone you love having sex with returns from a short break, in which you wonder whether they’ve met someone else. Seeing something terrible at the theatre. Seeing something almost excellent. Seeing something excellent where you understand what the fuck it was that made it excellent. Wanting to prove someone, preferably a bastard, wrong.

    I think the next thing to try is probably Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I’m told the contraction of a serious/terminal illness does wonders for output. Equally take up playwriting at about 40 when you’ve spent a decade writing jokes and you don’t give a fuck about anything, like Richard Bean.

    It’s the detachment of critics and their sighs of indifference, audible between sentences, that hurt. But the poor poor sods who have to watch twenty plus shows a month – can’t leave or get drunk (well…), can’t throw their eyes to heaven or put their head in their hands, are always working out where their review lies in the broad spread, when to go out on a limb and risk their own humiliation, how to write about something that left them cadaver-cold – someone like that going ‘Well yes that thing you poured all of your love and hope into, that is OK, I suppose, at best’. That hurts. They have to do it of course. But what kills is snideness. As I think Laurens caught some of. Because it makes you hate them. And then when you write again you can’t go back to the well of love and hope, because some of the people you’re writing for – you hate. And sometimes you can’t ever shake that off. It’s no longer an act of affection, optimism or expression, it’s going into battle.

    When the work comes from such a fragile and delicate place as Laurens’s – and when it’s so different to the norm – that’s when I think there’s an argument for a pseudonym. A nom de plume / guerre. So your personality doesn’t have to take responsibility for what comes out; it just has to come out. Even ol DC and EV get something from their initials, a distancing. A lighting of the load.

    It is, actually, really really hard to be a writer in the theatre. It’s no way cool to say that, it’s stupid, it makes you a real dick if you say that. We all hate people lucky enough to be theatre-writers who then moan about it. Ungrateful, no perspective. Who wants to hear someone go: I’m a pro/ semi-pro writer and my God it’s difficult. Forget those haulermen on the Discovery channel, or nurses, or people in Dubai cleaning toilets to get their passport back. This is REALLY hard, my inner life is a fucking farm of diseased animals, that I once tried to cultivate; I’m like a sheep farmer during foot and mouth, my sinuses full of smoke from my own incinerated flock. And most of the time these days, I’m drunk.

    Ultimately, I think it comes down to balancing Humility, to know you’re always learning, with Arrogance, to know people have to hear what you say. And that is a delicate motherfucker to balance day in day out day in

    Good luck Joanna Laurens.
    And a great blog.

  6. Beth Silverman

    Gutsy interview. I commend Joanna for her honesty. She continues to push herself and I hope she will create more plays.

  7. Thanks all for reading and sharing this.

    And thank you N.D Plume for writing- I enjoyed that. A writer once told me that either we become alchoholics or runners. My knees are rotten so

    Yes – you can buy her plays! – At least on Amazon, you can find the Three Birds, Five Gold Rings, Poor Beck, and Queen of Hearts. (Queen of Hearts is listed as being in French but is in fact a bilingual edition).

    I think that in terms of theatre criticism, the climate has changed a bit, with bloggers and websites like Exeunt (even though some theatres are still only interested in star ratings from the nationals). In terms of the challenges of getting non-naturalistic plays like Laurens’ produced/comissioned, I don’t think it’s any easier (even when audiences have no problem with innovation -I hadn’t realised that 5 Gold Rings sold out and received standing ovations). But more theatre makers are finding other avenues and self-producing(which is the topic of my next Exeunt column on Friday).

    – This is actually about half of our full email discussion, we also talked more about language and form and new writing…I expect I’ll be quoting from that for a while!

    If you’re interested in talking more about the role of theatre criticism please come to Jake Orr/Maddy Costa’s event ‘Dialogue’ if you can make it: https://dialoguebac.eventbrite.com/

  8. This was a devastating read and I’d like to thank both of you for posting it. Nobody has the right to destroy someone’s career or creativity in this way. Vicious reviews in the guise of “entertainment” contribute to an even more risk-averse theatre culture, making it even harder for new and experimental work to reach an audience. It smacks of bullying – such levels of humiliation wouldn’t be tolerated in an office environment (thinking about how my husband has to carefully word his end of year appraisals for his team…) I’m glad to see that you’ve already signposted the Dialogue event, Hannah – I was hugely inspired by Maddy and Jake’s words at the Risking Together event at Parabola Arts last week (I’m hoping to post up notes on the event on my blog, but haven’t finished yet). Let’s hope that they can help create a new breed of criticism, that creates a dialogue with artists and which aims at encouraging a healthy, flourishing and diverse theatre culture.

  9. I was in the Queen’s University Writers’ Group that Jo mentions, facilitated by Daragh Carville, 11 years ago, at the time that Jo’s first play was receiving rave reviews. I remember feeling some trepidation for her — critical acclaim comes and goes in waves, and to receive it so powerfully at such a young age seemed to be a terrible sort of set up before a fall. Still, I expected to be seeing her writing successful films in less than five years, as Carville himself has been doing, to quite a high standard.

    Alas, the fall came when Jo’s sophomore efforts were panned. The annihilation she speaks of was unnecessary, violent and cruel. UK critics are given far too much power in the creative world. They rule from their thrones like petulant child-kings.

    Fact is, the ‘normal’ world — everyday, bourgeois unconsciousness, of which critics are a part — is still entirely at odds with the artist, a true poet such as Jo is. When she speaks of not being able to write as a money-reaping career, I follow entirely. There is work done for money first, and then there is the primal energy that runs through the poet, making her more channel than creator.

    I read this wishing desperately that Jo would form her own theatre group and create from there, or write plays for publication if not for production. Being a well-known, critically well-received playwright is so rare — and why should ego be allowed to control creative output? To produce with the requirement that she be reviewed and appreciated is almost funny. Though we all desire it, that is the career peak, the ego boost that modern life has created, and it’s fine. But it’s not what theatre is. In this sense, ego can be a worse tyrant than any critic.

    I hope Jo will produce now just for the joy of it, the exploration, unencumbered by the critical crowd’s expectations. If the critics wish to find her again, that’s fine. They have foisted themselves upon the creative process, but really have nothing to do with it. They are their own industry, contained and narrow, while the creative spark is uncontained. I wish Jo healing from her trauma, far more coal for the fire, and the courage to produce independently.

  10. Thanks Katherine and Caroline,
    – Yes, I agree Caroline, with the wish that Jo would ‘form her own theatre group and create from there’. But there are huge challenges to that too, and it involves being good at another aspect of ‘the business side’ – but maybe it’s the only way these days, if you’re not writing the kind of work that will get produced by others… Thoughts on that topic prompted my Exeunt article: http://exeuntmagazine.com/features/make-it-yourself/

    • Thanks for your reply, Hannah. I enjoyed the excellent Exeunt article and couldn’t agree more.

      There are multiple examples over the centuries of writers sponsoring themselves, and being found by the masses and the critics later. It’s an honourable tradition, not a last resort.

      For me the great advantage of self-production is not only getting your work up. It’s the total creative control it affords the artist. I have seen famous, unknown or somewhat-known friends self-produce their own plays and one-person shows, sometimes to critical acclaim and new deals, sometimes to limited support. But the satisfaction of creating from conception to finished work, without detours and compromises is, as you know, like nothing else.

      For those who hesitate, saying they don’t know how – there’s always the first time.

      You have an excellent website here! Please post more performance vids as well.

      Best wishes.

  11. What strikes me is how important having a mentor is and being able to define what role they may play in supporting the writer. it may be that more than one is needed..one for the playwright and one for the play Mentoring the playwright as opposed to the play maybe.
    Reading the interview, I had a sense of Joanna being hung to dry not just by the critics but all the forces that were on her. it doesn’t appear that she had anyone in her corner. Having said that, I think it is vital that the writer lets people into their corner and learns/trains themselves in how to listen and trust. It is about choosing the right people and everyone investing in crating the best possible conditions for the work to flourish.
    Sue MacLaine (writer/performer)

  12. A search in Google brought up your site – I’m pleased it did, cheers.

  13. Laura

    I was very interested to read this interview. I saw Five Gold Rings at the Almeida and was completely blown away. I thought it was outstanding and bought a copy; I have enjoyed reading it since. I have been looking out for Joanna Laurens ever since, hoping to hear of a follow-up. It’s very sad to hear the full story behind why one hasn’t happened. I hope that there will be more from you, Joanna. You are a real talent.

  14. Thank you for posting this. I know it was a few years back, but I am coming to this now. I am researching Ms. Lauren’s a bit as I am working on the first scene on Five Gold Rings in an acting class. I saw the production of Five Gold Rings at the Almeida in 2004, while studying in London. I was captivated. I loved it and still do. I am sad that Ms. Laurens stopped writing her voice is unique and the world needs voices like hers. I hope she comes back to writing someday and is able to once again share herself with the public. Thanks again!

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