“To Tell Swansea Stories” An Interview with Actor and Playwright, Richard Mylan.

In our latest Playwright interview the Director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell meets Actor and Playwright Richard Mylan, They discuss his career to date, his first play Sorted for Grand Ambition, the companies focus on creativity in Swansea and Richards personal approach to creativity and sharing his life experiences with the wider world.

Hi Richard, great to meet you, many audiences in Wales know you from Theatre or TV, can you tell us how you got started in the arts?
I originally trained as a dancer, got into a Lloyd Webber musical where I spent 4 years (which was very much my schooling). Started dipping my toe into acting, loved it- I’ve been an actor over 25 years. Now I co-run the resident theatre production company Grand Ambition at the Grand Theatre, Swansea along with fellow creatives: Michelle McTernan, Steve Balsamo and Christian Patterson.

Richard Mylan, Christian Patterson, Michelle McTernan and Steve Balsamo.

We’ve had an incredible first year, we produced a Gala performance to celebrate 125 years of the theatre and ‘A Number’ by Caryl Churchill.

As well as many community outreach projects and the formation of TAG (The ActorsGroup). We’re currently in rehearsals for my debut play Sorter our first original production.

So, what got you interested in the arts?

Rubbish in school- got positive attention for dancing so went with it… It was the gateway really, once I discovered the different forms of dance, choreography- I was hooked. It was my first glimpse of creativity as apposed to learning.

Why do you write?

Sorter is my first attempt at writing. I wrote it to make sense of 20 years of my life as a heroin addict. I was originally going to write it in diary form- just to get it documented & out of my head. But I struggled to write in the first person. Probably because I felt disconnected from it all… or in denial. So I went to a very familiar place as an actor – play form, my lived experience through two characters and when I did that, 20 years flew out of me in three weeks. It was a very cathartic experience.

Can you tell us about your writing process? Where do your ideas come from?

For me it came from real life. Before I began writing I knew the basic structure. I also did A LOT of research. Before I attempted to write real life vicariously, I made sure I was heavily informed. That way, I could deviate from the structure if I wanted to…go with it to a certain extent. Sometimes it was a blind alley, sometimes it was a welcome discovery.

Can you describe your writing day? Do you have a process or a minimum word count?

It’s just structured writing time, but I don’t really have a process as such- or a word count. I’m far more productive if I don’t put pressure on myself.

Do you have a specific place that you work from?

Not really. I can work anywhere as long as it’s an environment where I can focus, but that could be at home with the TV on in the background or a busy cafe. Sometimes life going on around me can put me into a rhythm.

You first play Sorter will premier at Swansea Grand this March. The marketing information for the production states that you wrote Sorter, to “come to terms with your battle with heroin addiction & hope it can lead to a bigger conversation with addictions treated with empathy, dignity & understanding.” has it been difficult for you to share so much of your own personal journey on the page and stage?

I’ve been in recovery for over 10 years so I feel safe enough to explore it all. I’m also incredibly supported by the Grand Ambition team, the staff at the theatre and Swansea Council.

As well as your professional writing debut, Sorter marks the premier production for Grand Ambition a new and exciting creative collective based at Swansea Grand Theatre focusing on a new perspective to capture the arts through the Swansea lens. It’s a collaboration with Swansea Council and Swansea based professional artists – Richard Mylan, Steve Balsamo, Michelle McTernan and Christian Patterson. Why did you and the other creatives involved decide to launch this new company now and what has been the reaction?

We felt that Swansea people should see themselves on stage at the Grand Theatre, their lives and communities reflected in quality work. We also felt very strongly that we could help to create opportunities for those living in/from Swansea. Historically we’ve haemorrhaged creative talent as a city and when you look at our incredible cultural heritage that doesn’t make sense. So we want to add to the brilliant work from theatres & companies like Volcano, Lighthouse, Fluellen etc. We want to bring our collective experience and help to enrich the ecology of venues and output.

What are your future plans for this new company?

To tell Swansea stories, bring new footfall into the theatre, build opportunities for Swansea talent and inspire the next generation of theatre goers and theatre makers.

As well as being a Writer and Actor the public also know you through your documentary Richard and Jaco: Life with Autism. The documentary provided a fascinating insight into your and Jaco’s relationship and the form of autism Jaco lives with known as Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) Both the documentary and Sorter share aspects of your personal life with the wider world, beyond your professional work. Why is it important for you to work in this way and have there ever been times when it’s caused you any doubt?

I’ve always had doubts about sharing my personal life. But its always come from a genuine desire to change the common narrative. It was a joint decision to share Jaco with the world and he’s very glad that we did. But ultimately it was because our experience with Jaco is one of joy, hope and personal learning and growth. I’d not seen any documentaries that reflected that autistic experience.

With my addiction issues it was different because I was carrying it around with me. A huge negative weight that was affecting my mental health. So going public was really about unburdening that weight. But also it was because professional addicts are not generally known about because stigma and the fear surrounding it stops anyone sharing their experiences.

You can listen to Richard sharing his personal journey in the Podcast below from the Stop and Search series. He shares his battle with addiction in hopes that he can raise awareness for other people who may be struggling, and to wipe away the stigma that can often come with addiction. In this special episode we have a very intimate conversation with Richard about his heroin use which lasted twenty years – how and why he got to that place of addiction, and his advocacy for a change of attitudes.

There are a range of organisations supporting Wales based writers. I wonder if you feel the current support network and career opportunities feel ‘healthy’ to you? Is it possible to sustain a career as a writer in Wales and if not, what would help?

It could and should be better. It’s healthy in terms of output but not so healthy in terms of support. Output- because freelance writers are resourceful, determined, used to fighting to support their own ambition by any means. But that’s not sustainable. I think organisations realise this in general terms, but more needs to be done to support our network of writers, from budding to established. I learned a lot from my time with Swansea & District Writers Circle. We can all learn from support networks such as these.

If you were able to fund an area of the arts what would this be and why?

There are many areas of the arts that need funding but In Swansea right now and in Wales, there is a real shortage of technical talent, designers, set builders, stage managers, lighting designers and stage technicians. The infrastructure to nurture talent is there so I would fund grassroots and pathway opportunities.

What currently inspires you about the arts in Wales?

The quality of work currently being made in Wales is a huge inspiration to me. Companies like Theatr na nÓg, Leeway Productions, Sherman, Clywd and then creatives like Hannah McPake, Seiriol Davies, Tracy Harris, Dan Lloyd, Francesca Goodridge, Sophie Melville- the list is long!… they’re all smashing it and inspire me.

What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?

Yesterday during rehearsals. The process of bringing Sorter to the stage is blowing my tiny mind! Every day is a great experience at the moment & I can’t wait to share it with our audiences.

The Sorter Company

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