A thousand plays for Shakespeare

Annie Jenkins

Annie Jenkins

Annie Jenkins is a 24-year-old playwright from Tottenham, North London. For the Shakespeare in Shoreditch Festival 2014, she was locked in a shed for 10 days by immersive theatre-makers RIFT. During that time she was challenged to accumulate 1,000 original plays. She encouraged visitors, audience members, and the public to contribute to her mission and by Day 10 she had written 700 plays which saw the birth of Granny Annie, Winita, The Jaundiced Ghost, Monica and Chandler Paul, and a bunch of real people.

The 300 plays she had donated included contributions from Oscar-winners and 4-year-olds and covering subjects as varied as The NHS, funerals and Zip Vans. 17Percent stumbled across her website annies1000plays.com and thought it such a brilliant idea that we’d ask her more. 

Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing: what is your writing background?

Loads of people who like writing or are writers often remember having written stories and all sorts for as long as they can remember, sadly not the case with me so I don’t have a massive writing background other than school and university stuff. That said, I did write a touching novel when I was about eight called ‘The Tennis Ball Friends’.

I decided when I was about seventeen that I wanted write a play but didn’t really know how to go about it and became a bit distracted by going to the pub so that was that until I did a writing for performance module run in conjunction with The Royal Exchange at university by the end of which I’d produced a sixty minute play. I think that gave me a lot more confidence as well as teaching me how to write a play. Since then I’ve done a couple of writing courses and a first draft of a full length play as well as sitting in the shed for two weeks as part of the Shakespeare in Shoreditch Festival last October.

Give us some more info about the 1000 plays project?

I had been helping with the development of Shakespeare in Shoreditch since early last year but it was out on hold for the summer as RIFT staged their overnight production of Macbeth. I wasn’t involved in that so hadn’t really seen everyone for a little while. When I went to see Francesca (who produces Shakespeare in Shoreditch) towards the end of Macbeth’s run she sprung the idea on me that they’d like me to write a hundred plays in a shed as part of the Festival. I was like, what? And just said yes, October seemed ages away. The next time I heard anything about it the number one hundred had evolved into a thousand and I was vaguely horrified but it still seemed ages away. I had loads of good intentions about practicing doing some every day for months but as has become a familiar theme with me over the years I didn’t carry out my good intentions and suddenly there I was sitting in the shed with the number one thousand looming before me. So yeah basically the thousand plays project ran alongside the main body of the Shakespeare in Shoreditch Festival which consisted of ten pieces of new writing reimagining some of Shakespeare’s characters for a twenty first century Shoreditch. The plays were staged in site specific locations on Hoxton Street and the surrounding area, for example Abi Zakarian’s take on Titus Andronicus, ‘The Best Pies in London”, in F. Cooke’s pie and mash shop and Ali Muriel’s ‘Community Payback’ which took inspiration from Romeo and Juliet in the Hoxton Trust garden.

The idea of the festival is to reconnect Shakespeare’s Shoreditch (it’s perhaps less well known that some of his best known work including Romeo and Juliet was first produced there) over the two years between the 450th anniversary of his birth (April 2014) and the 400th anniversary of his death in April 2016. The idea of the shed plays was to get everybody creating and imagining, and everyday I opened the doors of my shed to audience members to donate their own tiny plays. In the end I received about three hundred donations. Lots of people were tentative about writing something when I first approached them but when I said all you have to do is write something down where something happens or make some people chat to each other the results were brilliant, often hilarious and surreal. Now the plays are being published two a day on tumblr (see annies1000plays.com) and we’re trying to continue the idea of a collaborative body of work by asking people to donate responses with the aim of creating a massive online gallery in the style of Miranda July’s ‘Learning to Love you More’ or Sophie Calle’s ‘Venice Pavilion’. The plays are also being published in three volumes, the first of which will be in April along with the launch of the next festival!

 What has your response to the plays written in response to your plays?

It might sound a bit silly or obvious but what I find the most interesting is the diversity of people’s responses. Or maybe it’s just a massive case of narcissism in that it’s interesting for me to see the different ways other people approach an idea that I initially thought of and communicated in a certain way. For example, one play has responses from Rebecca Lenkiewicz who is obviously a very well known playwright and also from a year seven student called Abigail. It’s probably easiest to communicate what I mean by just showing you the contrast in responses!

My play: 

Harold:           I don’t think it is unreasonable to throw tantrums, not ever.

Rebecca’s:

Look at Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. They did it. And I did it in Paris. With a guy who had been unfaithful but we’d already booked the Eurostar tickets. I sulked around the various cafes with him because I thought it would be better than bellowing on the streets of Southwark but it wasn’t. It was completely humiliating every time a couple looked over  a bridge and kissed. And when he scoffed an apricot tart and said it tasted nice and gave me what was meant to be a conciliatory, suggestive and seductive look I lost it so completely. And the tourist board must have wanted to evict us because it’s the city of love and I was just tourette’s in my rage. Screaming at him down the streets so that I could feel the back of my throat starting to tear. Whilst thin Parisian women with long hair passed by in their skinny jeans, eyes down. It felt fantastic though. I was quite lost when all the bile stopped.

Abigail’s:

‘Harold has a tantrum’

(Stomping up the stairs) Ugh I just came from school. EVERYBODY teased me except my best mate, Sam! He was quiet all day, I tried talking to him but all he said was “umm umm how? What?” I told my sister first, but she told everyone, that’s how the news spread! I hate my mum! She is so annoying she doesn’t even care that I got teased at school about me being a girl not a BOY! She even said to me you shouldn’t throw tantrums when you don’t need to! That was the last thing she said to me before she went to prison yesterday morning. This is an EXTREMELY good time to throw one, to be honest I don’t think it’s unreasonable to throw a tantrum, not ever! (Flinging onto the bed) She even kept it a secret that I was a girl 7 years! She cut my hair short, dressed me in boy clothes, named me Harold. If she is that desperate to have a boy then why doesn’t she have another child! But boys are kind of cooler than girls. But it has no reason why she had to do that to me! Now she’s in prison I hope she’s happy now! I just found out yesterday! How could she do this to me? HOW? Dad thought I was a boy too, he found out yesterday at 5.00am. Mum had the nerve to tell him! He was also the one that told me! Then, as soon as I heard, I called child services! I am soooooooooooooo angry!

See what I mean? It’s great! We’ve also got loads of responses from the art foundation students at Kingston University which are visually brilliant. We’re running a series of workshops with ideastap over the next couple of weeks to generate more responses over a variety of disciplines including radio, film and animation so I’m really looking forward to what people produce during those.

What are you working on next?           

I’m still involved in the production of Shakespeare in Shoreditch and we’re putting together an exhibition of the responses we’ve got so far/will have by the launch of the next festival on the 23rd of April. I also hope I can do some sort of shed related thing for the next festival, think the shed may become a bit of a motif… But not sure what the story with that is yet, shall have to see.

I have also written a full-length play which I need to re-draft. I was very happy to get onto a National Theatre workshop in April specifically about redrafting so that should hopefully be really helpful in actually getting me to finish the play I’ve written instead of just sitting about staring at it.

Are there any playwrights/directors that you admire?

One of my favourite playwrights is definitely Philip Ridley. I really like theatre that is visually striking and I think he’s wicked at that. Also what I like about him, and that I try to achieve in my own writing is a representation of worlds that are very like ours but in which something is slightly off or skewed, either in the way that the characters talk or see the world or the way that their lives are presented to the audience. If that makes any sense. Also the kind of underlying sinister nature is what appeals I think, without making me sound mad… I think in a similar vein I also really enjoyed Vivienne Franzmann’s ‘Pests’ last year, in which the sisters speak in a fictional language; it’s not English as we speak it, but the audience still understand everything they are saying. Again the idea of a world we recognise but not quite the same.

What advice would you offer to young playwrights?

I don’t think I’m particularly in a position to give anyone advice just yet. Maybe just make yourself do stuff and you’ll often be surprised with what you can produce! I’m slowly getting better at making myself do stuff.

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About 17Percent

A campaign to get more plays by women playwrights onto UK stages.
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