Musings on creativity from Yorkshire's Gangliest Diabetic Buddhist Theatre Director

Month: January, 2018

28 Plays Later

WARNING: Contains swears.

Part of the joy of 28 Plays Later is responding to the titles and briefs set by the Mysterious Overlord, Sebastian. Since I’ve never met him, half-way through the month I began to suspect that he’s not a flesh-and-blood person at all but some sort of sadistic AI designed to torture creative types by setting them bizarre creative hoops to jump through each day. Looking back over the month, though. I see that the variety of tasks was a great part of why the whole thing was so much fun; some might lead to flashes of creative brilliance which blossom into full plays, but others are the equivalent of lifting weights at a gym – developing parts of our writing we might have neglected.

But that does often make for odd reading. When you sign up, part of the deal is that we won’t circulate the prompts, which means I can’t tell you why I wrote this:

Fred walks in, covered with blue fur, beard, horns, bare feet, big beard. He walks over to the controls of the ship. He pushes some buttons.

Sephie, small and lithe, comes in after him, hisses and makes a bolt for the opposite door. The door hisses open to reveal Colin in a big coat, grinning, bald head: 


Sephie jumps and races out of the other door. Fred looks up.

FRED: What is she going to look like with a chimney on her?

He sighs and goes back to pressing buttons. The door closes on a still grinning Colin.

A third door opens and a harassed woman is running towards it. 

WOMAN: Aliiiiiiiiiiiiice! Noooo! She loves gloves!

The door hisses shut just as she comes to it.

The view screen of the ship is suddenly filled with a mysterious ginger-bearded face.

GINGER BEARDY: I am his reason.

A gangly youth comes on wearing tennis whites with matching sweatbands on wrist and head.

YOUTH: And then a duck walked in with a hat on.

FRED looks up and points at the view screen which changes to say the words ‘It’s Nice To Be Important But It’s More Important to Be Nice.’ The youth turns around and walks straight out.

The phone rings. FRED answers after two rings.

FRED: Hello, Two Ring Suzie here?

VOICE ON PHONE: (Very loud.) This is your early morning fact! Bromide is brown!

Dial tone.

FRED hands up and sighs.

FRED: Why do birds suddenly appear?

The door slides open and on the other side is a teenager wearing a green trilby and mac.

TEEN: Fish got to swim.

Birds got to fly.

Apart from ducks, which do both.

That’s that system of taxonomy fucked.

The door slides closed.

FRED looks back to the view screen. An Alien toy appears on the screen and goes ‘Rarrr!’

The lights go out.

FEMALE VOICE: (whispered) I’m breaking up with you and going out with Josh.

Lights come back on. FRED has disappeared. There is a bearded man in the chair instead.

MIKE: (To audience) Manchester is not a clever place.

The lights go out again.

MALE VOICE: While a live on turns the corner!



 Hopefully some of the other ones I’m going to share here will actually make sense, but I wanted to start by sharing this one, as I was reflecting on why I want to share these random nuggets of brain wind. Last year marked a significant step in reconnecting with my creativity – I made time for writing, not because it would further my career or boost my finances, but because it acknowledged and celebrated the little creative voice in my head which had been whispering, ‘Don’t forget me!’ I’ve spent so much time mentoring playwrights and theatre makers I was in danger of forgetting what it was like to create myself.

And as rewarding as 28 Plays Later and NaNoWriMo were I could just stop there, leaving the work in a digital drawer. They served their function in that I enjoyed making them and felt nourished by the process. But there was another desire at work. Theatre is my first and greatest love, and what I love most about it is that it is a collaborative art form. The feeling of bringing together a team of exceptionally skilled and creative people, working towards the common goal of giving an audience an amazing, coherent experience, is the greatest thrill I know. The moment of sitting in the audience, watching a production for the first time in front of the public, and not even being sure of which idea on stage emerged from which creative, hearing the audience laugh, or gasp or cry, is extraordinary.

But it is also immensely hard work – finding the funding, bringing the teams together, rehearsing, takes months, if not years, from conception to conclusion. So, I wanted to find another, contrasting outlet for creativity, which required less effort. Just me and my laptop and a few hours. But if it stops there, it’s not quite finished. I need to put it into the world, for it to meet an audience. Not so that they can love it and shower me with praise, but so that it’s completed the process of any work of art, no matter how rushed and flawed. Are the marks on a canvas a painting till they are seen? Are the notes a piece of music till someone hears them? Are these really stories till they are shared?

And also, in my growth as an artist, I need to keep pushing myself to get better at both halves of the process; creating and sharing. And this is a crucial idea which I think the Artist’s Way captured very clearly, and which I sometimes find hard to communicate to other creatives and writers whom I support; the desire for something to be perfect before we are prepared to share it can kill creativity. I know of so many plays and novels rotting in drawers and hard drives. I know of hundreds more which exist only in the minds of my friends and colleagues. They whisper alluringly but without the courage to even write them down they will always remain only whispers.

I used to think that not caring about the response of a piece of work was a cop out, that it meant abandoning any attempt at striving for excellence. But now I’ve seen how deadly that idea of excellence can be on a fledgling idea stumbling towards becoming fully formed; it is like saying to a child, ‘Don’t try walking till you’re sure you can do it without falling over.’ How will it ever learn? Better, as Julia Cameron exhorts, to focus on bringing the idea forth, trust the universe to worry about quality, and be prepared to learn from mistakes. And through this I have found that I am still a perfectionist, but the focus of my desire for perfection has changed; if I apply it to the individual project then my creativity will be stifled, if I apply it myself as an artist I can continue to grow.

A friend of mine was assisting the premiere of a new play by a very prolific and successful playwright. When the show met the audience for the first time in a preview, my friend spotted a flaw in the script which could be fixed with an easy rewrite. My friend took a deep breath and exceeded his role by suggesting the change to the playwright. There was a long silence and then the playwright nodded, slowly, ‘Yes. Yes, that would have been better.’

‘So are you going to change it?’ asked my friend.

‘No,’ replied the playwright, ‘But I won’t make that mistake on my next play.’

That attitude, of perfecting the skill, learning from each project, but not smothering each project with the unbearable expectation of being perfect, is probably why the playwright is so prolific and successful. (It also shows, I think, an awareness of the process – something might be an easy rewrite but not be an easy re-rehearsal for the actors during high-pressure previews.

All this is to say that I’m sure that some of these short plays I’m about to inflict on you are not going to be great, I’m learning to care less about that and more about what I learn from writing and sharing them. But, while I’m not worrying if you’re going to like them, I do want you to know that I appreciate you taking the time to read them, and so, to that extent, I hope they are interesting for your sake, if not for their own! Thank you, as ever, for coming on the journey.



My Creative 2017

You may have noticed that there’s been a hiatus in blog posts of nearly three years! It’s been very interesting returning to it and thinking about how crucial my experience with the Artist’s Way in 2012 was to turning my life back on track.

This blog is about my creative journey as an artist, as opposed to my career as a director. For those of you who want to know more about that side of my work please visit or sign for my theatre newsletter here.

I’ve just posted my round-up of the year there, in which I describe the six remarkable and diverse projects I’ve worked on in 2017. Looking back at my posts from 2012 I see that I was indeed, as Julia Cameron says, in need of ‘artistic recovery.’ I was broke, and scared and stuck. The ideas I internalised during the (longer than) 12-week process of the Artist’s Way really helped me. Especially the idea that the universe wants me to be creative and that if I commit to the work (or ‘showing up at the page’) the creative force inherent in the universe (which as a Buddhist, I would think of as Buddhahood, and which Julia calls God) will support me in unexpected ways.

I have really found that to be true, and the work I on myself did then is why I was able to work on such exciting projects now.

This year, I decided that on top of my work as a director, I really wanted to ensure that I made space to develop my own creativity. So much of what I do as a director is about facilitating the creativity of others; weeding out my own ego and need to control, and instead empowering others to trust their own instincts. As Rufus Norris, Artistic Director, once said to me, ‘the director is the person who recognises the best idea in the room, not necessarily the person who has it.’ In fact, I’d go further these days, and say that when I direct, I try to be the person who enables everyone else to have the best ideas. Part of that has definitely been by using Julia Cameron’s techniques for quietening the inner critic, long enough to allow those ideas to start flowing.

But in the midst of supporting others to do that, I realised that I was running the risk of neglecting that quiet whispering voice in my own head which says, ‘I want to play too!’ So I made some time for that voice this year. In February I took part in in the brilliant 28 Plays Later where I wrote a short play every day in February, which was intense as I was in rehearsal for Handbagged at the time.

This competition is simple enough – you all contribute £19.28 to a pot, and then submit a play each day, which can be as short or as long as you like, on a topic set the day before by our leader in speed writing, Sebastian. If you fail to make the deadline on any day you forfeit your money, and the remainder is divided amongst the winners – the last people standing at the end of the month – minus a contribution for admin. As a result of the drop out I made a staggering 36p profit. But, far greater than that, was the value I got from being forced to write every day.

Lily, one of my sisters, put me on to it and we both approached the challenge in very different ways. I could only spare a bit of time each day, so I would start a 45 minute timer and would just bash through with no prep, research or editing. Lily was up till 1am every morning honing tiny masterpieces. It’s perhaps telling that all that love and graft led to one of those plays becoming an excellent production just a few months later.

I didn’t create any masterpieces, but I did fall back in love with spending time with just me and my creativity. And the advantage of having a crazy-tight deadline, and a miniscule financial incentive, is that it didn’t give my inner critic any time to engage, so I was able to write from a quick, clear place I haven’t accessed for years. Looking back over them a few months later, none fill me with the desire to put them on stage, necessarily, but they do serve as a good expression of where I was emotionally back then. And two of them fed in very directly to my next challenge!

In November, because I felt writing 28 short plays was too easy, I put myself through National Novel Writing Month and wrote a 53,000 word first draft of a story I’ve been carrying in my head for years. But that’s for another blog post!

This coming year I am going to post here fortnightly with plays, extracts of the novel, and reviews of creativity books and aids, so stay tuned! And remember, if you want to keep up to date with my theatre productions please see, where you can find out about my busy year ahead, including being artistic director for Generation Hope, an event supported by SGI-UK, a society dedicated to Buddhism in action for Peace, taking place for 6,000 guests across three cities using satellite broadcasts to link the venues on 17th March, aiming to inspire young people with the confidence to change the world.

As closing treats: here’s a video of me explaining Buddhism at Bettakulcha, an evening of presentations where everyone delivers a talk with 20 slides pre-programmed to change every 15 seconds! This was a few years ago, but I realised I never got around to putting it on the blog. I was speaking at breakneck speed and you can’t see me because I’m so tall my head was in the light, but it might be worth five minutes of your time!

At the other end of the spiritual spectrum, I’ve achieved my life-time ambition of being on a podcast! Poet and theatre maker, Jack Dean recorded this with me and Amie George who was the Yeti in Jack’s Horace and the Yeti. He gets his collaborators sufficiently drunk, then makes them play a storytelling impro game from the 80s. We had a lot of fun making it! However, be warned, it features both obscene language and, well. . . obscene things. Please don’t listen if you are of a delicate disposition, or, in fact, you want to be able to look me in the eye next time we meet.

I hope 2018 is a year of brilliant achievements for you, whether that’s in your work, relationships, or in making the world a better place, and thanks for following me on my journey in to having an even more creative year!