Cheeky Maggot Interview
Posted on 24 March 2004. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
WriteWords talks to Amber Agar, actor (Murder City) and artistic director of new writing theatre company Cheeky Maggot, whose latest play, The Shape Shifter by R L Nesvet, has a rehearsed reading at the Hampstead Theatre on April 15th.
Tell us something about your background.
I set up Cheeky Maggot Theatre in 2002, just as I was leaving RADA. I got tired of revivals and wanted to create a new form of theatre and to explore new writing. The idea of taking something in its infancy and then working at it with like minded people, creating, and evolving really attracted me. It has taken me nearly 2 years to find a method of working and I am still learning. But fundamentally we workshop new works and use a collaborative, laboratory set up to bring out the best in a piece of work. This involves many stages and I like to wait before unleashing a piece on an audience. Wait until we are all 150% happy with it. I’ve never understood what the rush is. I would rather wait months even years and have a real gem, than muddle through with something mediocre in a matter of weeks. For me marrying the writer and director is a very important part of the process- once you get two like minded people together- that’s when the creative sparks fly! And it gets fun. I left RADA in 2002. Before that I worked as a Publishing Assistant at Sweet and Maxwell, the legal publishers- my first proper job after University. I studied Law at Cambridge and left there in 1998. So it’s taken me a while to get here!
What plays have you discovered or worked on
Last year we workshopped a new play called “Cannibals Alone” by Steph de Ferie-an American writer- it’s a great piece of work- dealing with so many relevant issues- political, social and personal. That shall be going into a reading this year hopefully. Early on in 2003 we workshopped and had a reading of “Breeding Lilacs” by Lindy Newns- to a very very positive response. Lindy is now working on another project of hers and has gained interest since the reading from the BBC, The National and The Royal Court. I don’t know what or who I have “discovered”- that’s not part of the plan for me- but the above have been real finds. We are also working on “The Surgeon and The Nurse” by first time playwright Rob Kent- which will be part of the One Act festival in association with Lost Theatre co at Diorama in April.
Who is involved in the company?
Myself of course! Each director I take on has a long term involvement, as do the directors I interview and like, but have yet to find a suitable piece of writing for. The writers I have worked with, the crew, the design people I meet and use along the way. It is very much a network- a place for people to generate their own work, put hot tips out there for others and share ideas and make them happen. I also have a lot of support from a fellow actor- Martha Swann, my mentor at RADA, Lloyd Trott and recently from the writer of the last play I was in at The Riverside Studios- Marcus Markou.
How do you find your writers?
In the early stages- I advertised furiously on the net- on writers websites. Now it’s mostly word of mouth and I get recommended to other writers through the writers I have worked with which is nice. As an actress I meet a lot of talented people and some are writers- so that’s another source.
What excites you about a piece of writing-
Much the same as with acting- passion, truth, a story to tell, uniqueness and originality and something that has a journey to make. It’s a sixth sense really. You can “feel” a good piece of writing. Also a message of some sorts- what is the writer trying to say?
and what makes your heart sink?
Rip offs of well known plays. 4/2/3 people in a room discussing how much they love/hate each other. It's been done before- why not try something new- even if it doesn’t please all the people- it will please some of them. Any type of play that is gay/ethnic or any minority bashing. And believe me I have read some.
Any typical/common mistakes that new writers tend to make?
Believing they have written the next big hit. Not being open to useful critique. I know it’s hard- when you have worked on something for years- it’s your baby- but without perspective- you are lost. It is the same with actors. Being defensive and refusing to see another way of working- we all do it- it’s a common fear- but art has to be about more than that- we have to lose the fear in art.
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