Interview with Sian Rowland - RED Women's Theatre Awards finalist playwright

Sian Rowland is a finalist playwright in the inaugural RED Women's Theatre Awards showcase this Sunday 6th March at the Greenwich Theatre, London.

Sian Rowland was a primary school deputy head, then a local authority adviser and is now a freelance trainer. While "I’ve always written bits and pieces, I only discovered play writing in the summer of 2013. I decided to set myself a writing challenge instead of going on holiday and looked around for a competition to enter to give me something to aim for. I found the Funny Women writing award and wrote a sitcom pilot which worked better as a play! It was performed at Wimbledon Theatre Studio by Attic Theatre and from that moment I was hooked. I’ve been writing plays ever since and learning about the world of theatre. I’ve had to learn a whole new language like the meanings of ‘dark on a Sunday’ and ‘off book’ while pretending I know what I’m doing."

Please tell us more about your play Spurn The Dust

I wrote a slightly shorter version of Spurn The Dust on the community playwriting course at Theatre 503 and rewrote it after some really helpful feedback from my course-mates. Having lost my own job to government cuts and gone on various marches against public sector cuts, I wanted to explore some stories behind the headlines with my play which is set at a protest. A middle aged mum has chained herself to a statue of Lloyd-George in the hope that someone will listen to her story. She meets Ace, a young man running from the police who should have the world at his feet but has problems of his own. The title of the play comes from the famous hymn of protest The Internationale. The play looks at how far people will go to have their voices heard and why. There’s also a bit of Kelis, a Maths problem or two and how to pose for a photo with a chain without looking too Fifty Shades.

Why do you think (if you do) that theatre can be a platform for politics?

Theatre is perfectly placed to reflect current issues and tell the stories behind the headlines. Through characters and storytelling you can challenge people and get them to think ‘what would I do?’ I prefer to let audiences make up their own minds rather than bashing them over the head with a political stick, however, and while I write about serious issues, I always leave room for some humour too.

What appealed to you about entering RED? Why is it the time for a new award for female playwrights?

RED appeared at just the right time. Like all writers at one time or another I had received some rejections late last year which made me really question whether I was on the right path. I’ve also been frustrated by the dominance of male writing in theatre, particularly in new writing and response nights. I decided to stop writing over the Christmas period and start again in January. When I saw the RED call for entries it gave me something to aim for.

Do you think there is gender equality in the performing arts? If not then why?

I’ve come from a public sector background which - while not perfect - makes a real effort to ensure that there is equality of opportunity. It was a real shock to find that this wasn’t true in the world of theatre. I always look at the gender balance of new writing or play response nights for example and there is almost always a greater representation of male writers. Even allowing that more male writers enter these nights (I don’t know if they do but for argument’s sake), the balance is way out of kilter. I had a long discussion with mother- a former journalist- about whether I should change my name to a gender neutral name to give myself a better chance. It seems a bit crazy that female writers should need to consider this in 2016. A female director described it as being an assumed competence if you’re male but if you’re female you need to prove yourself competent.

What advice would you give to others wanting to get into playwriting?

Grab a notebook and start writing lines that sound interesting; jot down news stories or lines of dialogue that you overhear or that pop into your head. Read advice, go on courses or workshops (there are some very reasonable ones around) and watch lots of theatre. I became a reviewer so I’d get to see and to analyse lots of different types of writing.

Who do you find inspirational?

Anyone who can stand up in the face of extraordinary circumstances and succeed- the unsung heroes such as carers and parents in difficult circumstances.

What will you be doing on International Women's Day?

I’m a freelance trainer and will be training a cohort of new deputy head teachers. I guess that preparing the next generation of school leaders isn’t a bad thing to be doing on IWD! I’ll also check Twitter to see how comedian Richard Herring is getting on with his commitment to correcting all the men who ask ‘but when is International Men’s Day?’ He spends hours each year tweeting each and every one of them to tell them it’s 19th November. I love that commitment!

What are you working on at the moment & what's next?

I’m polishing a longer piece about three people who have been affected by loved ones going missing. I sing in a choir and we do a lot of work with the charity Missing People and it’s made me really aware of how and why people go missing. I thought it would be interesting to try and create some characters and explore their stories. I’d love to have it put on somewhere and will try and make that happen before the year is out but not sure how yet!

Bonus Q - What question do you wish I'd asked?

Why do you write?

I write because it’s my therapy, it’s the means by which I express my creative side and because I’d be less of a person without it. I live for the breakthrough moments when characters turn from shadowy images to full-formed people who take you, the writer, on their journey with them

(c) Sian Rowland / Female Arts 2016

Twitter: @sian_rowland

See Sian Rowland's play 'Spurn The Dust' in a rehearsed reading directed by Kate Saffin at the Greenwich Theatre, Sunday 6th March 2016 as part of the inaugural RED Women's Theatre Awards

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