How to Act is a play which explores the contemporary realities of personal, cultural and economic exploitation by pitting an internationally-renowned theatre director against an aspiring young actress in his masterclass seminar. The Student spoke with the writer and director of the show, Graham Eatough, about the process of creating a play that connects directly with topical issues such as power and gender.
How did you find the experience of directing your own writing? Is it a different experience to working on someone else’s writing?
It is a different experience, it’s fascinating really. I’m a director, that’s my background. I’ve always done bits of writing for various projects, sometimes for visual art projects, sometimes for film projects but this is the first more conventionally written play that I’ve done. It’s even more exposing.
Do you end up having to amend your writing while you’re directing?
I imagine I write a bit like a director, hearing voices while I’m writing in a way that [I am] used to conceiving while directing. It obviously gives you even more respect for writers. It was a great process but, probably a bit more exposing than just directing a work to hear your words spoken, I think there is nothing quite like that. Doing both you feel a heightened level of responsibility maybe. You have even less distance from it than if your words had been directed by somebody else or if you were directing somebody else’s work.
I’ve read some of your interviews talking about the process, you said it’s the culmination of two years of development, what has that entailed?
It started out as a directing project. Before it was a writing project it was just a bunch of ideas I knew I want to explore and I did that initially through workshops, which is how I would normally approach projects. Then it became apparent that for the ideas to develop in the way I felt they needed to develop I needed to go away and write it as a play which is to do with where some of the ideas came from. I was looking at a few different things at the time but one of things was Greek tragedy, the starting points for western theatre, and challenging some of my preconceptions about that and digging deeper into that, realising that really it was a much more complicated, political form with this important civic role and theatrically was a much more interesting and much more radical theatrical form with lots of music and choreography, non-naturalistic. I was particularly interested in the politics and how Greek tragedy approached the politics of the day and I asked myself what it would be like to take some of those ideas and principles and apply them today. Even looking at amphitheatres you can see that theatre was the mass media of the day, the way that society addressed itself. With How To Act I was interested in what political issues today that could be explored through this form.
You’ve mentioned the abuse of power and power relationships in art when talking about How To Act. Is that purely serendipitous timing?
Well, we put it on at the festival last year at Summerhall and that was before the #MeToo movement and certainly before the most recent charities scandals which are very relevant to How To Act as well in terms of these problematic postcolonial relationships that the play explores. It’s been amazing because in some ways these things have been social media phenomena; sexual harassment predates MeToo and problematic relationships with poorer countries predates the Oxfam scandal but suddenly these debates are much more prominent and for a play to become part of this current very controversial set of questions is interesting.
How to Act runs from 13th-17th March at the Traverse Theatre and will surely prove to be a timely and resonant return to Scottish theatre for a play which still has much to say.
Image: Tim Morozzo