Playwright Kelly Jones
Get the Chance values the role playwrights living and working in Wales bring to the cultural life of our nation. Here is our second interview in this series with playwright Kelly Jones.
Hi Kelly great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
I’m Kelly, a playwright and occasional performer based in Cardiff. Originally a Dagenham girl, I’ve lived in Wales since 2007. I moved here to study the final year of my degree at Swansea Met and never went back. My course was mainly performance based but after graduating I realised this wasn’t something I wanted to do, so I began writing. I took part in various writing initiatives to hone my craft and develop my voice and I got asked to write for a few shorts nights.
In 2013 I decided to leave my full time job in a betting shop to go full time freelance. It was the scariest and most exciting thing I have ever done. I’d been offered a place on NTW’s summer camp, however, my work said I couldn’t have the time off to go so I quit – It was a real now or never moment.
Since then I have won the Wales Drama Award with a play of mine called TAMMY, got an agent and have been offered commissions from various theatres. Oh and I also got married, which was very exciting! So that’s me.
So what got you interested in writing then Kelly?
When I was at university we did a unit called ‘ Writing for performance’ – I hated it. But after graduating I started writing parts for myself to show work at scratch nights and I caught the writing bug! It developed from there
I suppose the main reason I wanted to write was because I never felt there were parts for me; that said what I wanted to say about the world that I lived in at that time.
In my work I like to write life and put real people that I know at the heart of the action. Growing up in Dagenham I was led to believe that a career in theatre wasn’t meant for a girl like me by both peers and teachers. Fortunately I grew up in a very supportive family full of natural born storytellers and as a result I love to tell stories, of course I was meant for theatre! I like to challenge the idea of who theatre is for and often find myself using my upbringing in London and rooting in Wales as start points for my work.
You were part of the Sherman Theatres Young Writers Programme, how did this work?
Yeah, so not long after I moved to Cardiff I got involved with the Sherman’s Company 5 drama group, ran by Jason Camilleri and Llinos Mai. We did a performance piece of monologues we’d written about things that had happened to us. I wrote a comedy piece about when I came out as gay to my family. Llinos really liked it and put me in touch with Sian Summers who used to be the literary manager at the Sherman and she invited me to be on the program. The program was so great! I learnt a hell of a lot and just being surrounded by other writers was motivating and inspiring. Alan Harris was a great teacher!
I think it’s incredibly important for writers to meet other writers; being a writer can be a lonely job and sometimes it just helps to have someone else to chat to.
As a playwright a lot of your work is funded through grants and the like have you ever approach the Arts Council of Wales or similar organisations for funding or support?
I have a good relationship with Arts Council Wales and have been very fortunate to receive funding from them. They’re approachable and friendly as an organisation and are always happy to help if you have questions.
I’ve found getting venues to produce your work is difficult in Wales and if you don’t self-produce sometimes unfortunately your work won’t get on.
As funding is limited I always try and seek it from other sources or contribute my own funds so that the amount I’m asking for is less. Sometimes this isn’t always possible but it’s important to get to know what else is out there.
Kate Rowland (BBC Writersroom), Kelly Jones, Faith Penhale (BBC Wales Drama), John McGrath (Ex Artistic Director National Theatre Wales)
You were the winner of the Wales Drama Award 2014 that’s a brilliant achievement!, can you please tell us more about this award.
I still can’t quite believe it to be honest! It’s been nearly two years and it has opened so many doors for me. The award is a biannual prize given to a writer in Wales, supported by NTW/BBC Wales and BBC Writersroom. I submitted the first time it was launched in 2012 but didn’t get anywhere and to be honest the play was awful. I wrote what I thought the judges wanted which is not a good idea.
Before I submitted in 2014 I attended the session about the award hosted by the Sherman and it was during that session that I had the idea for my play, TAMMY. I submitted a real rough and ready first draft and never expected to get passed the first round. When the email came through to say I’d be shortlisted to the final 4 I laughed then cried then phoned my mum.
The next stage was an interview with the judges at Roath Lock, where we had to pitch two ideas- it was scary! I pitched a play and a TV series; the play is now a seed commission with NTW and the series in development with BBC Wales. I really enjoyed the interview process. Post winning; Lucy Gannon was appointment my TV mentor and Sherman Co produced a reading of my winning script TAMMY with NTW. There have been so many great things to come off the back of the award and I am excited for the next winner to start their journey.
As a playwright award-winning playwrights Tim Price and most recently Katherine Chandler have mentored you. Why is this mentoring process important for playwrights? Do you think this support is something that should be funded for playwrights in Wales?
I think it is so important to have a mentor no matter what stage you are at. Mentors are a support and resources. Whether you want to talk something through with them or get them to read something of yours, that’s what they’re there for. Both Tim and Kath were great for me at different stages of my career.
In terms of funding it’d be great if their was funding for peer-to-peer mentoring.
I often get asked to read writers work and am more than happy to do it. However I’m not able to always give it the time it needs. I think funding could help free up some time to devote to it. A nurturing mentor program for writers would be great to help develop the next generation of talent.
Your play Blud was performed at the Other Room, it was set in the world of female football, which isn’t often seen on stage. Is presenting diverse views of the world important to you?
For me BLUD felt like a play about where I grew up. The women in my family are more into the football that the men and girls like Rita are ones I used to go to school with when I was a teenager.
I’d say it’s important to me that the world I know is represented on stage and with authenticity. I get very annoyed when I see something that plays to all the ‘poverty porn’ stereotypes. Especially when they’re written by someone who grew up in Chelsea who ain’t got a clue about growing up in a council house. I feel similarly about LGBT characters. A lot of my community work is with LGBT organisations and gay representation is very important in my work. I write and volunteer for LGBT organisations is to combat this. Authentic representation is very important and I would never attempt to write something I didn’t fully understand or have a personal relationship to.
In your personal opinion what sort of support networks are there for playwrights in Wales, can more be done?
I think the biggest support network for writers in Wales is other writers. I think more could be done; I’m not quite sure what but maybe a writer led discussion would help to tackle this.
To bring us up to date this autumn your play Snout will form part of A Play A Pie and a Pint and be performed at the Sherman Theatre/ ÒRAN MÓR. The synopsis of the play sounds intriguing! I wonder if you can tell us more?
Yes. The inspiration came from an article I read about fashion designers who we’re tattooing pigs and posthumously using their tattooed skin to make handbags, that sell for thousands of pounds. I began reading of farmers who were also doing this but using the pigs as blank canvases to advertise local businesses and help local economy. I found this fascinating and began writing. I was particularly shocked at this heightened level of exploitation to satisfy the demand for a handbag made from a tattooed animal. Animals are voiceless and as one of the most intelligent animals, pigs don’t have a say in this. It made me think of parallels to slavery, exploitation of some communities and modern day sexism.
So, the play is set in the back of a van on its way to the slaughterhouse. It shows the last hour in pigs Viv, Coco and Lacey’s life as they make plans to escape the chop. I wanted to question whether they have the right to escape when they were breed to be slaughtered and whether it’s right to kill animals for fashion that changes so often. I certainly wouldn’t want to end up as a jacket for Kim Kardashian.
Aesthetically, I wanted to play on the whole ‘Pie’ part of the evening and have the play feel like they audience are watching their dinner before it becomes their dinner- if that makes sense? The van is quite claustrophobic in a bit of lobster tank way and I want the audience to really feel for them whilst being surrounded by the smell of pork pies. It’s been amazing working with Oran Mor, Sherman and director Kenny Miller, it’s really allowed me to be bold in the choices I’ve made and write something really exciting. The first draft I submitted was quite different and Kenny really encouraged me to be braver and his support has been invaluable. I can’t wait for you all to see it
Thanks for your time Kelly!