Stepping Out: Talking with Will Cooper, Grin’s Writer in Residence

On Wednesday 22nd and Thursday 23rd March, Grin Theatre starts a new chapter in life with our very first show at our new venue, HUS. We sat down with playwright (and Grin’s very own Writer in Residence) Will Cooper to find out how he is bringing dysfunctional step-siblings Kevin and Toby to the stage.

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When did you first have the idea that became Stepping Out?

It’s been in the back of my mind for a year or so. Feuding step-siblings is a device I’ve previously used in my writing: it can have a lot of mileage dramatically speaking, as it offers lots of opportunities for humour, pathos and conflict. Thematically, I was keen to explore the ways that sexuality and religion can intersect and clash, as well as differing ideas of self-identity and masculinity. A dysfunctional step-family unit seemed like the perfect medium.

How easy was it to transform the initial idea into a full script?

Usually I begin writing by locking two characters in a room together and having them argue, then seeing what happens. On this occasion, that turned out to be the whole play!

What stages did the script go through?

There were several drafts during which the boys’ histories evolved significantly, but the overarching present-day narrative remained pretty consistent.

What were the most rewarding parts of writing the script?

The most rewarding part of writing any story is creating characters you find difficult to leave behind when the curtain goes down, and that will certainly be the case with Toby and Kevin. Bringing in Kevin’s mum and Toby’s dad through flashback sequences to help tell their stories was a more complex and challenging process, requiring closer attention to structure and continuity.

How involved have you been with the rehearsal process?

I’ve been to a read-through and two rehearsals so far, and sitting in on that process is not only a huge pleasure – it’s also a tremendous learning curve. It’s wonderful to hand over a script to such a talented cast and director and see how they interpret it, bringing out details and subtleties in the characters that can’t be gleaned simply from reading (or writing!) the script.

The themes of religion, family and self-acceptance appear throughout the play. How closely does the play reflect your own thoughts on these?

Kevin and Toby are polar opposites in many respects, but both their approaches to these topics are reflective in some ways of a younger, cruder me – and I hope that the truth as I see it now can be found somewhere in the space between the two.

I believe that tolerance of others’ religions and sexualities is fundamental in a free society – but at the same time it would be disingenuous to pretend that the two things never come into conflict with one another. One of the characters in the play is trying to square that circle in a journey towards self-acceptance. For the other, moral and self-certainty are the default outward appearance – but in fact he’s suppressing self-doubt in quite a damaging way in order to achieve that.

As for writing families, my rule of thumb is usually to make them as dysfunctional as possible – but that’s a far cry from my own experience!

Was it a challenge dealing with these themes through comedy? How did you make sure you struck the right tone?

A sense of humour is, in my experience, one of the best ways of dealing with most kinds of adversity that the universe throws your way. Significantly for step-brothers-to-be, it’s also a great ice-breaker. Humour in private conversations, particularly between teenage boys, can often be rather risqué and off-colour, so I think it’s important to reflect that for authenticity – at the same time as not being gratuitous. Whether the right tone has been struck will really be a question for the audience!

How have you enjoyed working as Grin’s Writer in Residence?

Tremendously. It’s been a huge privilege being so heavily involved in the theatre-making process, with such a brilliant team of directors, actors and crew – and I’m looking forward to more exciting projects over the next few months.

And what has it been like mentoring new writing on our The Play’s The Thing course?

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with so many talented writers on The Play’s The Thing. What strikes me most is the diversity of ideas, stories, characters and themes we’ve seen coming out of the groups. Everyone ended last year’s course with a half-hour play under their belt, which was a huge achievement – and sitting back to read the final products was a real pleasure.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Although it may seem daunting at first, don’t be afraid to share your work with others: criticism is gold-dust. Go to evening classes or writing groups: they offer inspiration, support and most importantly, deadlines. And most of all, keep reading – and do it widely. Pick up a book you wouldn’t normally read – see a play you’d usually avoid. The worst-case scenario is you’ll learn how not to write!

Directed by John Bird and starring members of our new repertory company, Stepping Out will be Grin Theatre’s first ever show at HUS. Come along at 7:30 on Wednesday 22nd and Thursday 23rd March to watch us take our first steps in our new home! Visit our Facebook event to find out more.

1 Comment

  1. Sarah Lowes

    Great photo of Will and some very insightful explanations of the writing process.

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