A new theatre podcast by the playwright Simon Stephens sheds light on the people behind the plays. What does David Hare think of actors who don’t learn their lines? What’s it like to have a West End hit or a Broadway flop?

Which playwrights write while walking/ in their pajamas/ with the television on? All of these questions, and many, many more, are answered in the Royal Court Theatre’s new Playwright’s Podcast. The series is fronted by the playwright Simon Stephens (Punk Rock, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) and features 12 playwrights who are intimately connected with the theatre: April de Angelis, Rachel De-lahey, Tanika Gupta, David Hare, Robert Holman, Dennis Kelly, Alistair McDowall, Anthony Neilson, Joe Penhall, Lucy Prebble, Anya Reiss, Polly Stenham and Enda Walsh.

Stephens was inspired to create the series by Stuart Goldsmith’s The Comedian’s Comedian and Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre podcasts.

“There’s something about the type of interview you get when a comedian is interviewing a comedian that I just found really bracing,” says Stephens.

“There’s something about the type of interview you get when a comedian is interviewing a comedian that I just found really bracing,” says Stephens. “I was inspired by the idea of doing a Playwright’s Playwright – the kind of questions that only a playwright would ask another playwright. Things like where do you write, how do you sit? What do you wear when you write, which font do you write in? They’re quite personal interviews – there’s a level of trust in them that I really cherish.”

So while there is a certain degree of biographical information and discussion of specific plays and productions, the really interesting bits for theatre nerds are found in the minutiae. The fact that, for example, Alistair McDowall (Pomona, X) writes only in old exercise books (“Because if you write in a new beautiful Moleskine notebook, it can render the most imprecise thoughts beautiful. But if you write in a cheap, horrible exercise book, you really have to work hard to attain beauty,” explains Stephens).

Anya Reiss writes with the television on, to access the “unconscious” writing part of her brain and Lucy Prebble loved seeing Enron transfer to the West End because “Every time I went into town for a year, there was a place I could go to use the loo. It felt like a home.”

There are surprises too. Take David Hare whose best-known play of recent years is Stuff Happens, a play about the Iraq War which uses real speeches from the time, declaring that he “loathes” verbatim theatre. “I’m sick to death of it as a form.”

Or Stenham – whose debut play That Face shot her to stardom aged 19, found writing dialogue “weird and embarrassing at first.”

Theatre is currently a relatively under-represented art form, podcast-wise. There are good ones – The Honest Actors’ Podcast for in-depth interviews with stage stars, Theatre Legends for a light-hearted look at the scene and the psychology of being a jobbing actor and Exeunt for profiles of theatre practitioners. None of these, though, feature writers specifically. “Writing is such an odd and private thing – our work is public but our process is necessarily private,” says Stephens. “I think when anyone talks honestly and frankly about how they do the work that they do, there’s something humanly fascinating about it.”

He already has a wishlist of playwrights for a future series – Caryl Churchill, Alice Birch and Marius von Mayenburg. And if he could interview any playwright living or dead? “Beckett would be fun because he’d want to talk about cricket and football. I don’t think it’s possible to do a bad one – as long as the writers are honest, then it’s not the case that one answer is better than another,” says Stephens.

“The writer who writes from 9.30 to 4.30 with an hour for lunch is as fascinating and odd as the writer who gets up at 4.30am to write. The writer who only ever writes after drinking a bottle of red wine is as fascinating as the writer who only drinks peppermint tea. It’s the specificity that’s illuminating.”

David Hare: ‘Directors should have humility’

I don’t understand theatrical fashion – who does? It often, I’m afraid, seems to me more what directors want to do than about the intrinsic virtue of writers. All the time that Richard Eyre was running the National Theatre, and I had any influence, I would say, “This theatre should not be run according to what its directors at the moment happen to want to do. It should be run according to the plays that are being written.”

I think Rufus Norris, who is running the National at the moment, is going to have to learn this lesson. I don’t think that Ivo van Hove and Carrie Cracknell are the arbiters of the culture. I think the culture has got to come out of the writers that it is urgent to do. I see it that way round. That doesn’t mean any disrespect to directors, but directors already have all the power.

They should at least sometimes have the humility to admit that it’s their job to put on the stage some writers who have fallen from fashion. Watching writers fall from fashion has been one of the most alarming things in my lifetime. There just seems no justice to it.

Polly Stenham: ‘Don’t go to theatre with a cynic’

I’d go to the theatre a lot with my late father. It was just a thing we did together – more a hobby than a treat, it was that regular. I was going from the age of 8 or 9 and he was a lot older – he had me in his late 50s – so when we went to theatre together we were often the oldest and youngest person there. It made people a bit anxious.

It maybe looked a bit weird. He didn’t really believe in censorship – he didn’t think you were too young for anything. He treated you like a mini grown-up at all times. We saw a play called Caravan and I remember this really graphic sex scene. I wasn’t that bothered and he wasn’t that bothered but I could feel the anxiety – why’s that kid there with that old man?

Maybe it is a really good way to parent. You can talk the big talks in the bar afterwards in an organic way because moral dilemmas come up and you can learn a lot. He said something smart to me once that I’ve never forgotten – “Be very careful about who you go to the theatre with. Try not to go to the theatre with someone too cynical because they can really ruin it for you.” It’s really stuck with me. Sometimes when you come out of a play and you’re really bowled over… It can embarrass you if you go with someone who thinks it’s a bit silly that you burst into tears at the end. It’s important to be passionate.

Lucy Prebble: ‘I felt guilty for being called a ‘pretty Pinter”

Whenever I was interviewed, they’d always bring a dress for me. And they never fitted because they’d bring them in model sizes – so you’d go through the process of trying to zip up something that didn’t fit before or after you’d had an interview, which is quite problematic for your self-esteem. Yes it’s outrageous and yes, I see that now as a politically aware woman in my 30s. The most upsetting thing is that I felt very guilty and ashamed about it.

Whenever I was interviewed, they’d always bring a dress for me. And they never fitted because they’d bring them in model sizes – so you’d go through the process of trying to zip up something that didn’t fit before or after you’d had an interview, which is quite problematic for your self-esteem. Yes it’s outrageous and yes, I see that now as a politically aware woman in my 30s. The most upsetting thing is that I felt very guilty and ashamed about it.

And the picture was always bigger than the article. It happens with all female playwrights, particularly when they’re in their 20s. It doesn’t feel good. It feels complicated. I spent quite a long time feeling guilty for putting those dresses on and for being described as a “pretty Pinter.”

Enda Walsh: ‘I threw Maltesers at the stage’

We went on a school trip to see an adaptation of Wuthering Heights in Dublin. I was about 12 or 13 and we sat in the front row and we had a massive bag of Maltesers. We scooted them across the stage as the actors were trying to act. “NO, HEATHCLIFF!“ while a Malteser just skidded past this poor lady’s heels. She actually became a very successful agent and I told her years later. She said, “You were part of that front row? Jesus Christ!”

Roddy Doyle was my English teacher, he took us to it. He was terrific fun. And a great reader, so we were reading Bukowski when we were 13. I have a lower-middle-class family and the school was in this really working-class area in Kilbarrack; in the mid 80s, there was terrible unemployment and a big heroin problem. But I, and not just me, all our mates, got interested in beat poets and linguistic, show-offy writers. So we would discuss and read stuff to one another, while we were bumming cigarettes off one another. In retrospect, I can see I was completely blessed to have that.

He was hilarious. Just very, very funny. We finished the curriculum really quickly and he opened up this sort of wardrobe full of extraordinary books, reading aloud to us and then every Friday, we would give in our short story and he would choose whose was the best. It was awesome. The first Playwright’s Podcast goes live on Friday 9 December at royalcourttheatre.com/podcasts; future episodes will be released every Friday for 12 weeks.

This article was originally published on inews.co.uk. Reposted with permission. Read the original article here.

This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.