Set Back That Led to Success 2
My First Full Length Stage Play: Quicksand.
Quicksand, also came from a series of set backs and took years of work and many substantial rewrites to reach success but it was worth every moment.
Initially, I was asked by an independent production company to come up with a story for TV about Polish migrants living and working in the UK. I pitched my story but it didn’t sell.
Then I saw a competition for a stage play run by Theatre By The Lake in Keswick. I took the main character and premise from my rejected TV pitch and submitted Quicksand, a story about Polish migrants in Ulverston. I got a call to say I was down to the last two, but they were going to go for the other script as it was about Shakespeare and as they had a Shakespeare production in the main house, it fitted better with the theatre’s programme. However, they were still interested and had approached the new Artistic Director at The Dukes Playhouse in Lancaster who had agreed to a co-production that would go out on tour. I was delighted, but then I got a call a few weeks later to say there had been a miscalculation of budget and the project couldn’t go ahead.
Again, I was devastated. But the Artistic Director of the Dukes had shown an interest… Maybe he would be prepared to take it forward? I called and asked for a meeting. Joe Sumsion agreed to meet me. He told me that he would not commission the play. It wasn’t good enough. But he was prepared to give me some notes.
So I took the notes and went away and did a rewrite and sent it to him. On the basis of what I did in that rewrite, he agreed to keep giving me notes. He wasn’t promising a commission, but he was prepared to give me his time and advice and I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. In addition to this, Theatre By The Lake offered actors and time for workshopping the script.
3 years later, Joe took Quicksand, now a very different and much much better play, back to Theatre By The Lake and a joint production was commissioned. It had rave reviews in Lancaster, with some people returning to see it a second time, and it sold out completely in Keswick. I say that with no fear of bragging, because that success was down to the commitment and vision of so many people, starting with Joe and including Alison Heffernan’s design, Mark Melville’s musical composition, the spectacularly talented lighting, sound and wardrobe teams, the truly extraordinary cast and the warmth and professionalism of the front of house staff. I became part of a creative family during that project. There were 36 performances of that play and I watched 24 of them. I caught the train out of Ulverston every evening and sat in that theatre watching the audience reactions to my story and honing my craft. I paid attention to when they laughed, when they moved forward in their seats, when they gasped, when they cried. The moment I watched the final rehearsal and saw the end of the first act was the most glorious experience of my writing life. My simple stage direction read: “He dances her across the sands into a kiss.” With thoughtful and talented actors, imaginative set design, extraordinary lighting, beautiful, original music and choreography, I was given my story back gift-wrapped. A five minute scene of such beauty, the audience floated into the interval. Would I have had this if I had won that competition 3 years before? No. Would it have been as beautiful a play? No. Would my writing have developed as far? No. If I had not failed to win the competition I would not have worked with Joe as intensely and for as long as I did. I would never have had the experience of workshopping a work in progress. I would not have realised this beautiful story. That 'failure' was the greatest opportunity of my writing life.