During our lock-in weekend, I pulled Simon Startin into a virtual Zoom room and asked him: “You know that assumed modern-day-normal-world that a lot of plays take place in? At what point does COVID permeate that ‘normal’ world in a play that’s definitely not about COVID?”
It’s an interesting time to learn to be a writer.
Coming from a musical theatre background and working heavily as a dancer and a puppeteer in my early career, I didn’t ever really see myself making my own work. I like the reassurance of being told where to stand and what to do. But as I got older, those very narrow boxes became suffocating and I have started to explore the possibilities that writing brings. I regularly gig as my cabaret character Cava Charley, which also involves choreographing and rhinestone-ing(!!!), as well as continuing to work as a voiceover artist. I have been lucky enough to tour with Le Gateau Chocolat’s show DUCKIE recently, taking me back to my musical theatre roots while honouring my non-binary and autistic identities – a healing and empowering experience. To be honest, I am most excited to pass my writing on to other actors and let them play with it. I am garnering a fresh appreciation for my own craft.
Wellspring presented an opportunity to show up as an autistic creative without having to unpack to everyone else what that actually means. That saves a lot of energy, and I’ve been able to focus on the buffet of tools and tricks they provided to get us writing in a way that best served our needs and the areas we wanted to work on. I imagine I will continue to refer back to my notebook for years to come. As for To COVID or Not To COVID – I went with the chaotic tail end of 2019, when we were all so busy being busy we somehow didn’t see anyone or do anything.
I am blessed with two incredible working class Nanas. One was orphaned in the blitz over East London and sent to live with an aunt, the other took shelter from bombs in the Griffin Brewery, and remembers being amazed by post-war Chiswick lit up in the evenings. I wanted to take the adult grandchild / loving grandparent relationship and test it in the rocky waters of modern life – through the rapid, intertwining shifts both in technology and attitudes to trauma, mental illness, and queer identity. Most importantly, I wanted to bring that voice of grandmother to the stage – nanny who put up with a lot of rubbish, Nana who somehow made it work, Nan who is the only person rooting the a family tree that keeps taking swipes at each other. Nana who, befitting the expectations of women at the time, retained her good humour and in her later years strays in to mischief – and that musical, grounding, rumbling voice of home. I hope I do it justice.
Paula Brett, Wellspring Writer 2021 – 2022
Paula is an actor, writer and theatre maker. Their experience spans classical, contemporary and family work, including as a principal puppeteer on In the Night Garden Live and with Illyria Theatre’s production of The Adventures of Doctor Dolittle. They make independent work about mental illness, queer identity and neurodivergence. They can also be heard delivering traffic reports for radio stations across the UK.
Wellspring is Vital Xposure’s professional development programme for London-based disabled, d/Deaf and neurodivergent playwrights and script writers, funded by City Bridge Trust and delivered in partnership with Paines Plough, Bush theatre, Theatre 503 and Hampstead Theatre.