Cultural Storytellers: Keziah Warner
Usher, box office assistant and manager, marketing, producer, admin, fundraiser, director, actor, dramaturge and script reader – you could say Keziah Warner has (mostly) done it all in the theatrical world.
Renee Liang talks to Keziah about her initiative, Scratch New Writing, and its first full length production, Everything She Ever Said To Me.
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Being a new theatre writer sometimes feels like being the new kid at school. You’re standing in the playground, looking around at everyone else having fun and doing cool things. You want to play, but you’re not sure of the rules and anyway, you don’t know anyone. Luckily when this was me I was spotted, welcomed, and invited to join some groups – and I’ve been ‘playing’ ever since.
I firmly believe that for new writers the only way to get your work on is to roll up your sleeves and wade in – no point waiting for others to spot your ‘potential’, and definitely no point whinging. You could be waiting a long time, no matter how good your work. It’s hard though to even know where to begin, and even once you’ve started it can be pretty daunting.
That’s why I heartily applaud initiatives that aim to give writers a leg up. Scratch New Writing aims to put the writer in the driver’s seat, involving them in the whole production process and giving them the opportunity for experience and feedback.
I talked to founder Keziah Warner about the details.
What 'jobs' have you done in the theatre world and what's your favourite?
Actual paid jobs, I’ve been an usher, box office assistant, box office manager and marketing girl. Unpaid I’ve been a producer, publicist, general admin person, fundraiser, director, actor (back in the day), a bit of dramaturgy and a script reader. I did box office at the National Theatre in London so it was amazing getting to see all the plays for free, but script reading is probably my favourite because it’s the closest to writing and I like being able to imagine what the production would be like – the best is when you actually get to see it happen.
Why was Scratch New Writing set up and what would you like to do with it?
Scratch is like the NZ cousin of a night I started with some friends in London called Descent. I was sad that Descent was carrying on without me back home so me and Ben Henson decided to start a similar thing here. The premise of both is to get previously unperformed works on the stage. New writing is really the reason I go to and work in the theatre and I think there’s nothing more exciting than being amongst the first people to witness a new work. What I hope Scratch does is give playwrights the opportunity of performance where otherwise they might not have the knowledge or resources to put it on themselves. And then they can take the feedback from that performance and develop the work further, perhaps towards a full-scale production. Even if the particular work featured doesn’t go on to anything else, the process of Scratch – of working directly with directors and actors and seeing a public performance of your work – will hopefully always be a great learning experience.
What makes it stand out from other independent theatre companies?
I think that the main focus is on the writers is quite unique. The whole process, from pairing the writers and directors together, to finding the right actors for the parts to rehearsals to performance to feedback all revolves around how the writing can best be served and represented. The writers are always a big part of the rehearsal process so it’s not a case of a director cutting a line if they don’t like it, you actually have the writer in the room so you can talk to them and decide together what the best thing is for the script and that can mean cuts and changes, but it’s all decided with the writer. I think the feedback forms are really useful too. The writers can ask specific questions that they want to know about their piece, like whether you understood a character’s motivation or if the ending made sense or whatever, so then the audience fills out the form on the night and we feed it all back to the writers afterwards. Everyone is always really constructive because that’s the nature of the night, so the writers get a handle on what they’re doing well but also what could be improved upon.
What are the challenges with mounting your first full length theatre production?
As with most things, I suppose having no money is the biggest challenge. It’s hard to get actors and all your creative team to do a show for free so I’m really grateful for the awesome team that we’ve got and the amount of time and effort they’re dedicating to the project. And then of course set and props and everything don’t grow on trees. The challenge of shoestring theatre in itself can be quite fun though. I think for me personally it’s quite a big deal putting my first full length writing venture on just because it’s impossible to know if anyone will like it – that’s all part of it too though. I can’t write a script and just put it in my bottom drawer. Book the venue first, finish act two later – living on the playwriting equivalent of the edge.
What prompted you to write Everything She Ever Said To Me?
It started as a monologue that I was asked to write by a London theatre company called C54 for a night they were producing with the theme ‘Valentine’s Day Is Over’. So it was sort of meant to be about being unlucky in love but it became about loneliness more generally – being on the other side of the world is good for that sometimes. It focuses on a mother-daughter relationship and whilst it’s nothing like my relationship with my mum, being away from people does weirdly amplify how you feel about them and allow you to examine your relationship almost as if it’s someone else’s. There’re lots of funny bits in it too though, it’s the best form of defence for all that emotion. And there’s a love story. I met a playwright called Robert Holman in a pub once and he said that if ever a character wanted to leave the room I shouldn’t let them – that’s the entire second half.
How did you assemble the creative team?
I met the director Ben during Fringe last year and since then we’ve lived in each other’s pockets so that was a no brainer. This is the first thing we’ve worked on together though so that’s pretty exciting. The actors were a bit from all over; Lisa Sorensen helped us workshop the play last year so we were really keen for her to be involved, Jordan Blaikie and Kayleigh Haworth have both worked with Ben on shows before and Kerr Inkson did ATC’s The Wasteland last year so we found him through that. Then I asked Ruby Reihana-Wilson if she’d do our light and sound and Jessika Verryt if she’d do the set and thankfully they both said yes. They’re all awesome so I can’t wait.
What's next for Scratch, and for yourself?
Hopefully Scratch will get bigger and better. I’d love to be able to do the nights more frequently, and to start doing some full-length play readings as well as shorter pieces. It’d be nice to start a sort of residency somewhere too. The first night was at the Wine Cellar and the second at Te Karanga Gallery which were both great, but it’d be cool to have an ongoing relationship with a venue too. And me – after the show I’m going to New York for a couple of weeks, doing some work experience in the literary department of the Soho Rep then who knows after that. I’d love to be in London for the summer and Edinburgh for the Festival in August, but definitely more Auckland and maybe some Australia too. And hopefully lots more theatre and writing.
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Scratch New Writing presents…
Everything She Ever Said To Me
by Keziah Warner
directed by Benjamin Henson
Dates and Venue
17-21 April 2012, 8pm
Basement Theatre, Auckland