Getting to know Joel HorwoodWed 3 October 2012
What’s your background and how did you start your playwriting journey?
I don’t that it’s so much a journey as an out of control careering tractor, but I started by writing a play and putting it on with my friends. I was lucky enough that that play went very well, I was subsequently commissioned and have just tried to work hard since. My background isn’t theatrical, although my Mum used to be a dancer, so used to take me off to see contemporary dance and dance theatre quite a lot. I think this has probably informed the kind of work I like and the kind of work I want to be able to make; ie. I’m not great at entirely naturalistic plays.
I Heart Peterborough began as a very specific commission to write for that particular town. How has the piece developed from that particular starting point?
Step 1: I’m commissioned to write this, so I give it a title that has to be earned: I [picture of a heart] Peterborough. A title that demands interpretation (‘How do I pronounce this?’), that connotes conformity (‘I’ve seen these words before, they mean ‘I love Peterborough’), and that denotes a strong position. In fact, I don’t love Peterborough. It’s a geographical place. Is it possible to love a place? What is love, doesn’t it require two sentient beings? Don’t ask my Uncle Toby that, he’s weird and we don’t invite him to things.
Step 2: I research Peterborough. I look up lots about it being a new town, it’s history of immigration, it’s race wars, it’s tornados, cathedral, John Clare. I go there, a lot. I ask a lot of people questions like ‘List your five favourite places in this town’ and ‘What do you miss when you’re away?’. I stay away and ask people questions like ‘What do you know about Peterborough?’ and ‘What do you notice when you pass through?’. I get drunk in Peterborough and go out on the town and I discover The Len Boone Shuffle. A dance to the track ‘My Love Won’t Be Denied’ that everyone seems to know as if by birthright or osmosis.
Step 3: I begin to consider the reasons I’ve been commissioned, I conclude: ‘The council, arts council, Eastern Angles… EVERYONE is trying to work out what Peterborough’s identity is.’
Step 4: I create a character who is trying to control their identity (Lulu) and a character who’s identity is being controlled (Hew). I examine the idea of performing identity and what it is to perform your identity day to day. I downloaded images of the fens, the Stonewall riots, cabaret acts, transvestites, suburbia and dilapidated living rooms after they have been struck by tornadoes.
Step 5: I went away to Peterborough in New England and stayed in a cabin in the woods for eight weeks over Christmas and New Year listening to music and writing the play.
You’ve also directed the production yourself. How did you find directing your own work? What’s been the best part of the rehearsal process?
I loved directing this play. I was incredibly lucky to discover these actors, they offered solution after solution and allowed me to feel that it was a continuation of the authorship process as opposed to a change in role. Together we have re-written and re-structured the work and it’s that level of collaboration that has been the best part. It also taught me so much about writing that I would otherwise have never known, I can’t recommend it enough.
Apart from Peterborough, what else is inspiring you creatively at the moment?
At the moment I am inspired by Mike Bartlett, Bob Log III, Sasha Waltz, James Graham, Everything Everything, Shakespeare and innocent smoothies.
What’s your top tip for aspiring playwrights?
I once read an interview with Enda Walsh in which he replied to this question with ‘Give it five years’. I can’t think of a better answer than that. It’s not as negative as it sounds, believe me.< Back to List