Karis Halsall is a playwright and performance poet.
She is passionate about creating theatre that pushes boundaries and blends the diametric styles of physical theatre and written word, whilst exploring cross art form collaborations.
Her playwriting credits include: Finelines (Hampstead Theatre Startnight, 2010), The Phantom (Rapid Write Response, Theatre 503, 2010), Terror Tales (Drywrite @ Hampstead Theatre, 2010), Do Us Part (For the Heat and Light Company @ the Hampstead, 2010), Rule Brutannia (Nabokov, Present Tense @ The Southwark Playhouse 2010), The Woman who Stops and Talks to Prostitutes (PLAYList @ Theatre503, 2011) and The Killing Moon (Labfest, Theatre503 2011), Bizarre Bazaar (Brunch Plays – Hightide Festival, 2012), HELP ( REDfest – The Old Red Lion, 2013), Times Up! (Bush Theatre Beano, 2013), Little Stitches (BAREtruth Theatre – The Arcola, The Gate, Theatre 503) 2014.
Karis is currently the Literary Associate at new writing powerhouse, Theatre503. She is also Artistic Director of multidisciplinary Theatre Company, Luminary Theatre.
We’d be really interested to hear about your professional practice as a playwright, poet and performer and how that fits in with your work as a literary associate…
For a long time I kept my performance poetry separate from my practice as more ‘traditional’ – but recently that all changed. I started developing a project called MEGALOPOLITAN which won the IdeasTap brief to be performed at the VAULT Festival in February.
It blends the traditions of spoken word and theatre to a live electronic soundscape score. I’ll be performing my own playwriting too – which is a first for me!
I’m interested in work that pushes boundaries – and this is an exploration that runs across all of my creative practice and into my work as a Literary Associate.
So many of our contemporaries are experimenting with binary traditions in intriguing and innovative ways, so I gathered a few of them together to create a play at Theatre503 – 503Fusions. (15th, 16th and 17th Jan, 7.45pm)
Do you think working in a literary department has aided your creativity/playwriting (and vice versa)?
Working in a Literary Department has been absolutely invaluable for my development as a playwright. It’s given me a shot of reality and some important perspective on the new writing ecology.
I discovered there’s a lot of sleepless nights before the ‘overnight success’ and ‘first time writer’ is a great marketing term but not necessarily true. Most ‘first time’ writers have been plugging at it for years and although is their first full length four week run, they have loads of experience under their belt.
I also learnt a rejection letter isn’t always a reflection on the work. The reality of the situation is there is so much brilliant new writing and so little funding and even less theatres that accept unsolicited work. This means more competition for less slots.
I think “grit” is a key attribute for success and you have to be steadfast, resilient, be prepared to fail and to keep on developing your craft.
What do you look for in a script?
For me a good play possesses the qualities of tautness and immediacy and intrigue with an urge to do or say something new.
I relish work that unsettles me and challenges me and acts as a mirror – pushing me to question my own world.
I look for a dynamic dialogue by characters I can feel passionately about.
My personal taste is a tendency towards the surreal and an inclination to experiment with form, but I keep my personal taste separate when I read for an institution.
How do you juggle your day job with your own writing?
With difficulty! A day off to me is an absolute luxury.
I have 2 jobs and run my own Theatre Company, Luminary Theatre – so my working weeks tend to run at 6 or 7 days.
But I love it, so I make it work….. I sort of have to because if I wasn’t writing, I’d probably go mad.
As you’re both a playwright and performance poet, do you see a link in the lyric of language between the two?
Definitely! Let’s not forget arguably the greatest playwright of all time wrote predominantly in verse.
I think the rise of naturalism now means writers can’t entertain that lyricism as much as we’d like to because it draws the audience out of the world you’ve created – people don’t tend to talk lyrically or in beautiful metaphors.
But I try to bring lyricism into the plays I write – whether that’s through a poetic narrator or writing a monologue with a strong rhythmic drive.
Bodies can write poetry too – theatre’s a great medium as it allows you to express the beauty of what it means to be human visually.
What has your experience been as a female playwright, and how do you feel about the issue of gender imbalance in theatre?
I classify myself first and foremost as a playwright – as opposed to a ‘female playwright’, because for me, in an ideal world a playwright’s name wouldn’t be prefaced with their gender – and I think there’s a danger of being defined by it if your name is preceded with it.
At Theatre503 to avoid gender bias or assumptions / stereotypes we chose to do all our award reading blind, because we believe strongly that everyone should be judged on their talent alone.
Anecdotally – if someone asked me who had written “And Then Come the Nightjars” by Bea Roberts (one of the Theatre503 Playwriting Award winners) – and I was coming at it from a stereotypically gender-based point of view – because it beautifully expresses the platonic relationship between two male Devon farmers – I’d have probably said it was a male writer. The same in reverse for the stunning “Valhalla”, written by Paul Murphy. So it just goes to show that gender definitions of writing are meaningless.
However I do however think it’s crucial we don’t ignore the gender imbalance in theatre.
I heard that on being asked the question –“Why do we need more women in theatre?” a director responded …. “Because you’re still asking me that question”.
That sums up how I feel about it. Often the worst thing you can do is choose to do nothing at all. We have to acknowledge it and address it head-on to push for progress.
But there’s a lot of other important imbalances that need addressing in theatre too – like racial diversity – we’ve got along way to go before it’s equal.
Do you have any recommendations for plays to see/read?
503Fusions of course!
Any work by the 503Five – Vinay Patel, Chloe Todd Fordham, Ella Carmen Greenhill, NessahMuthy and Brian Mullin, they are truly brilliant talents and I can’t wait to see how they develop.
I believe you can catch Vinay’s brilliant play “True Brits” headlining the VAULT Festival in February.
Finally, my show MEGALOPOLITAN – have a watch of the video on our crowdfunding page for a little more context – any support is greatly appreciated!
Interviewer: Hannah Roe