In this exclusive interview, the Directors of The Far Away Plays Scott Arthur and Francesca Goodridge speak to Director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell about their Welsh background, the work of The Far Away Plays and where they think funding for the Arts in Wales should be prioritised.
Hi great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
Scott – Siwmae! Thanks for having us. So, I’m an actor and co-founder of The Far Away Plays. I originally hail from the Wild West of Wales, known to most as Llanelli, and graduated from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in 2010. Since graduating I’ve been fortunate to be part of some wonderful projects in theatre, tv, film, and radio, most recently the TV series ‘Good Omens’ for BBC/Amazon which starred Michael Sheen and David Tennant, and alongside Shia LaBeouf in the film ‘Borg/McEnroe’.
Fran: I’m from Swansea, I originally trained as an actor and singer at LIPA and since then have worked as a director alongside performing. The first show I directed was an all female 60’s musical, which went to Edinburgh Fringe for two years, and then transferred to The Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool. I was the Trainee Director of The Other Room Theatre in Cardiff, and I am now on of the first recipients of The Carne Trust’s 18-month Traineeship for Directors in Wales as the Trainee Director at Theatr Clwyd.
So what got you interested in acting and the arts?
Scott – School plays, local theatre, and any Robin Williams film. I used to go to the theatre quite a lot as a child, mainly to watch my uncle Greg who was a member of Llanelli Youth Theatre at the time, and then I finally plucked up the courage to join myself at the age of 13.
Fran: When I was a little girl my uncle would introduce me into the room whilst playing the spoons, I would hide behind the sofa, wait for my introduction and lap up the applause from my family, then run back behind the sofa and do it all over again (I can now imagine how annoying this was for everyone involved…) My uncle was the person who ignited my love for stories and really encouraged me to have a totally bonkers imagination.
Your new company The Far Away Plays is a new online play reading company, which champions Welsh voices. How did the new company develop and how does it work?
Scott: So, myself and Francesca initially had the idea to produce an online reading of Under Milk Wood, but then quickly discovered that the idea of creating a company which re-visited lot’s of brilliant contemporary Welsh plays, whilst at the same time championing Welsh voices to read them, seemed so much more worthwhile to put our energy in to. The Far Away Plays is an online play reading company that brings together a new company of actors and creatives every week to read some of Wales’ most loved plays, giving those involved a chance to be creative and stay connected during a time when our theatres and rehearsal rooms are off limits. We also host free, weekly workshops and Q&A’s with industry professionals too.
Did the concept of the company exist in its current form prior to Lockdown or did you have to alter your plans? Was Lockdown an advantage for your company rather than a traditional playreading process?
Scott – The Far Away Plays wouldn’t exist without Lockdown. Without everyone being stuck inside their living rooms I doubt we’d have been able to bring such fantastic reading companies together – we’re incredibly lucky to have worked with some of the best talent Wales has to offer.
Fran: I wouldn’t say Lockdown was an advantage, but it did mean that actors were really needing a way to exercise their creativity, and that went hand in hand with our mission of wanting TFAP to connect and champion Welsh artists. We try and make it as much of a traditional play reading process as we can, with no pressure and just the joy that this is a one time opportunity to all be together, in that moment, with that story. You have had readings of existing plays by established playwrights as well as readings of work in development.
How do you decide on the plays to read and the creatives involved?
Scott: We just chatted a lot and created a list of the plays that we really wanted to hear again or in some cases for the first time. Actors and creatives have suggested plays too which always helps.
In terms of the work in development, I called Katie Elin Salt to see if she had anything that she’d written that we could have a read of, and luckily for us she had her insanely brilliant play ‘Splinter’ that hadn’t been touched for a few years, so we jumped at the chance to workshop it and give it another life. And in Matthew Trevannions case, we approached him as we wanted to read his play ‘Bruised’, but luckily for us he really wanted us to host a reading of his brand new play ‘Lyrics to a Birdsong’ instead. It was our 2nd new play reading in just under a month – we couldn’t have felt more lucky that the likes of Matthew and Katie trusted us to help them develop their works.
Fran: There are playwrights that both of us love and admire, so there’s the obvious plays- but we try to have a new playwright every week and so far haven’t done more than one reading of the same playwright yet! Myself and Scott discuss the plays, but a lot of it comes from emails from creatives wanting to get involved, and the plays they suggest! We have a huge database of actors/creatives and the plays they suggest- once we start to see the same play crop up, we know we have to do that one. We try to get a director on board for each reading as soon as we decide on the play, and we ask them to go through the database of actors to see who is best to read what roles. We try to include both graduates and experienced actors together. We also encourage playwrights to get in touch if they have new work they want to hear out loud, or work on over a few weeks with actors. It’s so important to keep making new work, even when right now it feels like we’re far away from putting it on, we have to keep making!
Scott you put a call out on Twitter in the early stages of the project for suggestions for Welsh Plays. What sort of response did you get?
I had over 90 different play suggestions. They’re all in our database now, and hopefully we can revisit them all at some point.
The play readings have been hugely successful, with real interest from the theatrical community. The readings can’t be accessed by the public and are invite only. Is it possible to say why this is and do you have any plans for an online audience to be able to attend?
Fran: We’ve been asked this a lot, and we would love to allow everyone who wanted access to watch each reading. However, we’re both working for free on this project, and so the actors and creatives are very generously giving their time for free too. We don’t feel like it’s right to ask the actors to “perform” for anyone other than for themselves without payment at the moment. The purpose is to allow them a place to flex their creative muscles, without any pressure of a performance. Like an athlete attending the gym! Obviously we would love to then have a separate strand that paid actors and creatives for their time, and allowed the reading to be open to the public- we’re actively trying to seek funding for this, so fingers crossed, because it would be great to open some of these amazing play readings up and more importantly pay people for their incredible talents!
What response have you had from the sector and what are your future plans for the company?
Scott – One thing we can’t have any complaints about is the love and generosity that’s been shown to us from the off. Artists like Adele Thomas, Tim Price, Tamara Harvey, Trystan Gravelle, Catherine Paskell, Daf James, Rebecca Jade Hammond, Julia Thomas, Gary Owen, and Matthew Bulgo to name a few, have all given us their invaluable advice.
The immediate future plan is to keep on doing more readings and workshops. Long term, who knows. Personally, I’d like the company to evolve and for us to one day produce a production. There’s a huge lack of revivals in Wales, so we think we could happily fill that gap in a similar vein. Another idea of ours is for ‘The Far Away Plays Festival’. A long weekend in Cardiff with a whole load of play readings, workshops/Q&As, and a good old knees up with everyone.
Fran: The response we’ve had has been like nothing either of us could have imagined. It’s a huge testament to how much creatives are itching to flex their muscles and surround themselves with other creative minds. The readings are wonderful, but for me, seeing a “room” full of artists discussing the play afterwards always gives me goosebumps- those creative conversations are the thing I miss most (and the banter! You cant beat a room full of Welsh people… ) We plan to continue these readings for as long as people need them.
If you had to be put on the spot what are your favourite Welsh plays from the last decade?
Scott – Violence and Son/Iphigenia in Splott both by Gary Owen, Grav by Owen Thomas, Bird by Katherine Chandler, Pan Ddaw’r Byd i Ben by Daf James.
Fran: All of the above, I properly loved the most recent reading we did of Daf James’ play Pan Draw’r Byd i Ben, and also Emily White’s Pavilion will always be a really special one for me. But a play I’ve always loved is Salt, Root & Roe by Tim Price. I’m also really excited by new Welsh playwrights right now, I’m working with Rhys Warrington on a new play of his, plus we’ve been lucky enough to read new plays by Matthew Trevannion, Kristian Phillips, Katie-Elin Salt… we have so much talent in Wales, and so many incredible stories to tell.
If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?
Scott: Wales has so many amazing theatres all across the country that hardly get used to showcase Welsh work with Welsh actors and creatives at the heart of it, so I’d love more money to be pumped into making sure that plays are toured more. I’m also unashamedly a huge fan of big scale productions – so more of those please!
Fran: The programme I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in is supported by The Carne Trust and Theatr Clwyd. It allows two directors to work at Theatr Clwyd for 18 months, assist on the productions, to work in every department in the theatre which is a truly unique type of Artistic Director traineeship where you get to see exactly how a building is run and operates. As well as that, at the end of the 18 months, you get the change to direct your own show at Theatr Clwyd. This kind of opportunity is few and far between and I’m incredibly grateful to Tamara Harvey and Philip and Chris Carne for providing it. I’d love there to be more possibilities like this for directors, to be able to attach themselves to an organisation or even a mentor for a longer period of time to allow their creative development. Working as an assistant director is great, and provides a lot of experience, but from being attached to a building I’m gaining so much more than just my ability as a director.
What excites you about the arts in Wales? What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?
Scott: We have an insane amount of talent at our disposal in Wales. The possibility of all the incredible productions that could happen in the future excites me the most. The last really great thing I experienced was being in a packed auditorium at The Sherman for On Bear Ridge by Ed Thomas. The buzz inside was something I’d not experienced in a long time, and seeing actors like Rhys Ifans and Raike Ayola on a Welsh stage is so important. It creates a huge dollop of aspiration all round.
Fran: I always get so excited about shows that come from Wales, we really do have such a unique ability to tell stories. Before lockdown, I was lucky enough to be the assistant director on a new musical by Seiriol Davies called Milky Peaks. Unfortunately lockdown landed on our first day of tech, so we never got to open the show at Theatr Clwyd (don’t worry we will!) so we asked the cast what they would like to do in that heartbreaking moment. They responded saying that they would like to sing the opening and closing number before we left, one last time. The amazing tech team did some epic live cueing to provide lights and sound, and the cast performed the numbers breathtakingly. In that moment I realised that artists are such resilient people and we have a deep, unabating need to tell stories, no matter the circumstances, and we always will.
During Lockdown a range of arts and third sector organisations and individuals are now working online or finding new ways to reach out to audiences. Have you seen any particularly good examples of this way of working that you would like to highlight?
Scott: I really loved listening to Dirty Protest’s Ritual plays online, and I thought The Sherman’s 10 monologues was a great project too. Any company that gives us theatre folk the sense of being creative and staying connected should be commended!
Fran: I’m probably one of the many, many people who have watched Hamilton on repeat since it was released, as well as the NT live productions. It’s not live theatre that we know, love and miss, but its something- and it’s brilliant. It’s allowing people to bring theatre into their homes, some who may not have been able to afford to go and see these shows originally, and it’s a great example of making theatre accessible for everyone. Gwennan Mair, who is director of Creative Engagement at Theatr Clwyd, and her amazing team is a brilliant example of how you can continue to reach audiences and more importantly communities during this time. They are still running online theatre workshops for hundreds of people weekly, including teaching elderly people how to use Zoom to they can keep connected to people, even if it is virtually!
Thanks for your time.