A word from the writer: 10 Minutes to…Save the World

Playwright Mhairi Ledgerwood took part in the first edition of Live Theatre’s Live Lab initiative 10 Minutes to… in July 2014. 10 Minutes to... invites emerging playwrights to submit 10 minute plays that respond to a specific theme to our Literary Team. Five plays are then picked and showcased on our main stage in front of an audience. Mhairi talks to us about her experience of taking part in the first 10 Minutes to…

Last July I spent the whole weekend at Live Theatre…and I loved every minute of it.

I really haven’t been writing that long. Or rather, I’ve not been showing my writing to people that long. If we discount the years of writing bad teenage poetry in my bedroom, The X-Files fan fiction, and the journals on my school trips to France (in our jokey end-of-holiday awards ceremony, said journals gained me the ‘Samuel Pepys award to diary writing’ – a title I’m still proud of to this day), then it’s taken me some time to get the confidence to write seriously.

Fast forward many years (and a move from Glasgow to Darlington) and I’ve gained an MA in Creative Writing from Teesside University. I began a relationship with the wonderful ARC, Stockton who let me show work at scratch nights, I’ve met other writers (Hello!), and it’s slowly dawning on me that the North East is a rather fantastic place to be a writer.

One of the reasons for this is Live Theatre. It’s welcoming, it’s friendly, and on my first ever visit there to see Simon Stephen’s London, I felt instantly at home. So, when they put a call out for an evening of new plays call 10 Minutes to… I entered straight away.

The theme of the evening is 10 Minutes to…Save the World and at this point, they are looking for ideas. Hmm. Saving the World. I’m a huge fan of The Avengers and The X-Men, so I think of superheroes…but everyone will be doing that, won’t they?

So I think about other things, I think about what the words 10 minutes to… actually mean. 10 minutes to do what? Ok, Save the world. I think of the Doctor Who episode Forest of the Dead when (SPOILER) The Doctor discovers that a computer has “saved” people – as in stored them into files in it’s hard drive.

Saving people. Saving their memories. I come up with this:

If the Earth was dying, what would you save? A 21st century Noah’s Ark allows you to take more than material processions. You can choose a memory, a thought, or an experience. Will it be the memory of a first kiss, the song played at your wedding, or the best ice cream you’ve ever tasted? A life affirming drama that asks us to consider the most precious parts of our life here on earth, while giving us only ten minutes to decide.

Amazingly, it’s one of five ideas chosen. My pal and fellow Writers ARCADE member Louise Taylor is chosen too – yay! We go to Live to take part in an evening where writers and directors will be paired in an exercise similar to (gulp) speed dating! But actually…it’s turns out to be a lot of fun. We five writers sit at tables, while we are given a chance to pitch to each director why they should direct our play. It’s a really useful exercise because with each pitch, what I want to write about becomes clearer in my own head.

By the end of the evening, I’m paired with the fantastic Melanie Rashbrooke. Over the new few weeks, I write my ten minute draft, get feedback, then write another draft. Melanie asks two actors she knows (the fantastic Chris and Amy Foley) and soon it’s the weekend of 10 Minutes to…

We rehearse all day Saturday and most of Sunday, with time for a technical rehearsal in between. It’s a first for me in many ways – while I’ve taken part in work in progress/scratch evenings previously, it’s the first time that my actors have been asked to learn the script and that I’ve been braver in using sound and lighting. Even more amazingly, the night turns out to be so popular that we’re moved from the studio theatre to the main theatre – I’ve had something on in the main theatre at Live Theatre! Wow wow wow.

The evening arrives and with it, the best bit of taking part  – seeing the plays written by the four other writers. I write plays, but I’m a theatre goer first and foremost and there is some cracking work on that evening.

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And that’s it! As always, over far too soon. But from it I have a short play (named ParkLife) that I’m really proud of, made some more writer/director connections, and a piece that I hope to develop in the future. Amazing.

Applications for the next 10 Minutes to… are now open and the theme this time is 10 Minutes to…Light the Fuse. Find out more and apply.

On Thursday 22 October Mhairi will be presenting a 10 minute extract of her new play Signal Change at Northern Stage’s First in Three scratch night. Find out more and buy tickets.

By Mhairi Ledgerwood


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