Ali Kemp and Deborah Klayman are the founders of Whoop’n’wail theatre company. They write together and this is their guest blog about the joint writing process.
Why did you decide to write together?
There were several reasons, and most came out of our shared views and interests. When we first met in 2006 we were actors on a theatre tour together, and we spent the next two months living in each other’s pockets, quickly finding out we had a lot in common and becoming firm friends. After that we enjoyed performing together in a variety of other productions, so when the idea of writing a play for the Edinburgh Fringe presented itself writing together was a natural progression. Because we already had that close relationship we knew we could be honest with each other and disagree without taking it personally, which is really important when you are creating work that you are both passionate about.
Our shared interest in social justice and the under-representation of women in the theatre led to our first play, eXclusion. In 2009, after several years working in prisons and secure mental health services, Debs was at the Edinburgh Fringe and saw a number of excellent plays about men in prison, and began thinking about the lack of plays about women in similar circumstances. Because of our close friendship and Ali’s own background in mental health work it was the obvious choice to begin talking about and researching the subject together, and the play developed from there into a piece about women in the criminal justice system through a pastiche of a reality TV show.
Having taken eXclusion to Edinburgh in 2011, and subsequently mounting a successful tour, we found ourselves at a crossroads: would we continue to write together or would this be a one-off? It was an easy question to answer as the research and development phase of eXclusion left us with so many things we still wanted to say, plus we both found the writing process really enjoyable. With a limited number of roles for actresses, even in London, finding we had this ability to create our own work was very liberating and motivated us to keep writing.
The pros and cons of writing as a pair.
A number of writers we have spoken to described the idea of writing as a pair as horrifying! – or at the very least a surprising choice. It may be unusual, but as performers we find collaboration very natural so co-authoring plays is just an extension of the way we already work. Neither of us find working together has pros and cons exactly, but that there are challenges and aspects we both find far easier as a pair.
At the heart of the process is respect and fun: respecting each other’s ideas and vision and sometimes running with things, trusting they will end up where they are supposed to go, and enjoying the weird and wonderful journey. We lay a foundation, sparking off each other to create one integral idea, then once we have this overview we sometimes go away and write something, bring it back and weave it in. We see it like stacking building blocks, choosingthe right ones together then working out the best way to assemble them so that we are both happy with what we have created. There will always be an element of compromise – not interms of giving up or giving in, but in hearing the other person out – which can often change your outlook on a scene. Much of the work we’ve been proudest of had come from a tangent one of us has gone on which has got us off a sticking point or inspired a whole new direction.
One of the bugbears for a lot of writers is the creation of realistic, truthful dialogue, but as actors we feel we have a head start as we are so used to working with and shaping spoken text. Having someone to bounce dialogue off is a great advantage, and actors who have worked with our texts have described them as ‘actor-friendly’ and commented on the naturalistic style.
Having to plan dates and times to work together means we have to be organised – neither of us can wimp out if it’s in the diary! This drives our writing and keeps us on track, we can’t stagnate as we are both very busy with our other work so have to make the most of our time together, although as friends we definitely have to fight the urge to gossip too much!
It’s often said that in a writing partnership the one at the keyboard is really the one who writes it – what are your views?
When we sit down to write one or other of us will be the one physically typing the words, but a lot has happened before we get to that stage. We tend to discuss scenes or structure a lot before putting fingers to keyboard, and often work from paper in the early stages which is less limiting as we can throw ideas around more easily and jot down words or impressions. We take it in turns to type, with the other person freed up to be more creative and instinctive, and often the one at the keyboard is scribing for the other rather than driving the process. When you’re typing you sometimes throw in a line or sentence construction, but we constantly review everything so what we are working on is always truly collaborative. Sometimes one of us gets bogged down in semantics or structure (or in Debs’ case endless formatting!), but luckily with two of us we don’t stay stuck for long.
Ali & Debs and 17%
Our friend Rebecca Peyton wrote a guest post for 17% earlier in the year, and that is how we first came across She Writes. We were in the middle of our second full length play, but were intrigued by the idea of writing a short piece to a brief, and loved the ethos of what Sam is trying to achieve for female playwrights. As we only found out about What is Art? days before the deadline we had only one day together to get the piece planned, written and submitted but we like a challenge so put our thinking caps on and wrote My Bloody Laundrette, which we were thrilled to have selected. We now follow Gina Gough’s brilliant blog ‘Playwrights’ Competition Calendar’ and have had great fun writing three new short plays which we’ve submitted to a variety of competitions in the past few months. We are delighted that our latest play, Cascade of Baubles, will be performed at She Writes on 5th December 2012.