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Richard Conlon Interview

Posted on 18 August 2004. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to playwright Richard Conlon, whose new play Hope Springs is out now.

Tell us something about your background.

I have the weirdest, most informal career structure of any writer I know – it has been said that I ‘tumbled into it’, which is not far wrong. I became turned on to theatre as a teenager, joined my local youth/community theatre group and sort of got carried away. With nothing to draw on at all but youthful exuberance and boundless energy, I took on the direction of, then the writing for the group.

Soon we were taking work abroad and running a small profit-share company out of the back of a mini (and they were smaller then), and before long people were asking me to do work and telling me I’d get paid for it. So I’d sort of managed to get where I was aiming to be but through none of the usual channels.

How did you start writing?

As with a lot of writers, my work started out as (and still is) a process of silencing the voices in my head. They shut up when they have been consigned to the page, and until that point they pop up every now and then to remind you that they have yet to be made sense of or made flesh through performances. They carry on for years until they get the treatment they deserve. My first attempts were very naïve, and nothing I’d like to revisit. But they helped to hone what I think is a craft. They were the writing equivalent of the pieces of cooking or woodwork we all brought home from school as kids. I ‘could do better’, and I hope I have.

How did you get your first agent/commission?

My work has mostly been in the more robust or muscular field of TIE, community, youth and reminiscence theatre, so the work became more solid, more official, when I became the Drama Worker for a community arts company in Northampton. It suddenly became my proper, paid, full time job to write things for groups and often direct them too. That was in 1989 and I spent 8 years with the company, before moving on to New Perspective Theatre Company. So for me there was no ‘break-through’ piece. It was more incremental, and by those small increments I managed to go freelance at the end of 1993, and so far, it’s been good.

What's the worst thing about writing?

Like the actors in touring theatre companies, people like to believe that you still must have a ‘proper job’. They are loath to believe that you get to do, for a wage, what others do as a passion or a hobby. It can also be lonely, but I think the culture is changing there, as there are writers groups and support networks in all parts of the country now which was much rarer twenty years ago. Also the advent of the web has created a virtual community where people can share information and hunt out opportunities in a way previously unimaginable.

And the best?

Again, we get to do, for a wage, what others do for a passion or a hobby – it’s a double edged-sword. And I get to walk the dog more often as a freelance writer than when I worked for a company.

What inspires you to write?

It can be anything, I sometimes think that writer’s antennae are peculiarly-configured; we see or hear something and work out where it would fit in a script. I wrote a piece of Theatre in Education last year which had a quote in it which was a passing comment to me by a stranger back in about 1982. It had been logged and was ready for use when the time came - how weird is that?

My last piece, ‘Hope Springs’, was inspired by a kind of rage or sense of injustice, and you have to be careful in that territory, because they play can cease to be a play and become a diatribe or a rant, and rants don’t make for good theatre. In some ways I had to step back and be more objective and feed in my opinions more obliquely – it’s quite possible that an audience member could enjoy the piece and leave feeling something very different from my point of view, and that’s healthy. ‘Hope Springs’ was inspired by an article by Dekka Aitkenhead which everyone should read entitled ‘The Last Resort’ (available at http://www.observer.guardian.co.uk/magazine/story/0,11913,987172,00.html)

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

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