NEW WELSH PLAYWRIGHTS PROGRAMME BLOG: JACOB HODGKINSON

23 Aug 2018

When I was seventeen my parents took me to see a production of Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke at the Nottingham Playhouse. My upbringing certainly hadn’t been short of culture or entertainment, but I’d never been particularly interested in theatre, that’s for sure.

From around the time I was twelve there hadn’t been a television in our house. I’d never had a games console or anything like that, but I hadn’t ever really missed those items as I’d been an obsessive sports player and enthusiast, until I reached my mid-teens when music had taken over as my greatest passion. I’d definitely been writing since a fairly young age though, as I used to send weekly match reports of Nottingham Forest games into the local newspaper long before getting into bands and songwriting. But theatre as an art form and career path had never been on the agenda, that is until I saw that Tennessee Williams play.

I left school at the age of sixteen, midway through my GCSE exam year. This wasn’t really my choice: it was made by the school, who had decided that they couldn’t handle my behaviour any longer. I finished my exams through home-learning and after that I enrolled on a music production course at Confetti Studios in Nottingham. I had been there for roughly six months before I began to acknowledge that the only thing I really wanted to do with my life was write. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do ever since.

Having acknowledged by that stage that I wasn’t a very good song writer, I tried my hand at a few poems and short stories, all of which were worse than my songs. What I did consider I was okay at, though, was writing characters – especially peoples’ voices – and it was pointed out to me that I should perhaps consider writing plays.

I took this advice and began tracing back through the classics of Wilde, Orton, Williams and O’Neil to give myself a bit of an education. Still, it was only when I saw that Summer and Smoke production that playwriting stopped being a purely literary pursuit. Sat there in the auditorium, I was enthralled by the wealth of emotions that were able to be expressed through these characters’ stories and struggles – each universal and unique in the very same instance – and it struck me that theatre was an active, alive and electrifying event that had the capacity to pull apart, and piece back together again, an entire group of strangers, all in the same place, at the same time. I’d got the bug, and from that point onwards, I’ve been writing as a playwright.

Due to a series of events I won’t go into here, I moved to Wales in 2013 and, because of that, I was looking for a theatre I could call home and who would help me learn and hopefully further develop my craft and career. Following a submission I made for the TAITH night at Sherman Theatre, I saw that the theatre was taking applications for a new group they were running – the New Welsh Playwrights Programme – which was going to be led by Brad Birch. Fortunately for me, I was successful in my endeavours and have had the pleasure of Brad’s teaching and guidance for the past two years now.

What has been so special about these group sessions with Brad is the time and care each individual member has received towards the development of their specific needs. Something that has really helped me improve over the last couple of years in particular has been thinking about the metabolism of plays, i.e. the central ideas that run through the core of each piece. From this I’ve come to see the use of symbol and metaphor as absolutely integral to everything I work on – a component that can often be forgotten in an age of televisual binge watching. Without doubt Sherman Theatre as a whole has taken my writing to new levels, and this is in no small part down to the atmosphere and vibe emanating from the building itself, but that is nothing without the fervent support and creative nurturing of the people who’ve made the New Welsh Playwrights Programme possible.

Anyway, I was asked to write this blog to give some background into how I got into writing. I’m optimistic that it proves to be the exposition at the beginning of a much longer and much more interesting story.

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