It's Simon Stephens!

18 April 2019

Grace Patrick reflects on Simon Stephens' Q and A


This feels a strange piece to write, because Simon Stephens is a playwright (and also he’s Simon Stephens), and I’m not, but there were a couple of things that he said yesterday that felt so resonant that I am now going to add my thoughts to his thoughts, and you’re probably going to read it :)

“When I’m actually writing...I know in my soul as deeply as I know anything, that it is all bullshit”

I mean, God. He’s not wrong. I’ve been sitting in the Noffice for coming up on five hours this morning, and this is the third piece that I’ve written. I’m surrounded by incredibly talented writers and editors, all of whom are some of the most creative people I’ve ever met, but I’m sure they’ve all known that creeping sense of what’s the point? What makes the words that I’m writing not utter rubbish? There’s a kind of nihilistic glory in letting go of all that, and accepting that maybe all of this is wonderfully meaningless.

“If you worry about your career too much at any stage of your working life…then you will be distracted from the important business of getting the work right.”

Right. Ok. I understand the sentiment. However.

Firstly, the majority of writers can’t think only about the process of their creative work, because they’ve got at least one money job to do. Whether I count my creative work or my other work as a career, I’m struggling on how to avoid thinking about my career. But maybe that’s just me.

Additionally, maybe thinking about a career can benefit your work, simply by broadening your understanding of the world you’re trying to write about.

Obviously it’s important to keep your priorities in sight, but I don’t think there’s much to lose from letting your working life be about more than The Work.

“One of our responsibilities in theatre is to create spaces of psychosis and terror, that they be less engaged with in real life”

I’ve listened back to and read this quote many times now, but I’m not convinced that I’ve pinned down its meaning. However, I think I’ve got it down to two possibles:

  1. If we let them exist in theatre, we’ll collectively create fewer in the real world
  2. If we let them exist in theatre, we’ll be more reluctant to engage with the ones that other people continue to make.

However, I literally cannot work out how either of those statements would be true. I believe that there are myriad reasons to present horror on stage, but I don’t think that the act of putting them in a play can vaccinate the real world against their non fictional counterparts.

It’s lucky that a lot of NSDF is about learning to disagree, because that’s definitely the main thing that I’m picking up. I’m very much aware that I’m sitting here shaping and reshaping responses to things that were said off the cuff, but I hope that the sentiments can still mean something. I’m still learning and I will be for the rest of my life, but here’s where I stand – for the time being – in comparison to (a few quotes from) Simon Stephens.

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Photo credit: Beatrice Debney