by Hanna Akerfelt
All photographs by Hanna Akerfelt
During the past few days I’ve been catching up with the second season of the Royal Court Theatre’s Playwright’s Podcast. Even though I’m not familiar with (i.e. haven’t read or seen the work of) all the playwrights on the podcast I find it both inspiring and liberating listening to them talk about their work, about theatre and writing, about how they got there.
It‘s similar to the feeling I had when taking part in World Interplay in 2007 and for the first time met people my own age who wrote for theatre. It was a mix of joy and relief. Interestingly both of these experiences are distanced from my day-to-day life, by geography, language and culture.
But perhaps that’s part of that strange feeling of relief, knowing that my baggage (or lack thereof) doesn’t count, people are reacting to me as a person, and to my texts as texts. In a way it’s like being allowed a new beginning. But that wasn’t what I intended to write about.
One of the questions that keeps popping up in this series of the podcast is what the writer’s first and last (i.e. current) script have in common.
Since it isn’t very likely I’ll be invited onto the podcast I’ll just go ahead and ask myself that question, because I think it is really interesting, and it is a different way of thinking about my own writing and the stories I’m drawn to and keep (re)telling.
Giving full time writing a go, until my savings run out, has given me the need to as well as the space to think about my writing and myself as a writer, as a playwright, as a storyteller.
My first play (which isn’t actually the first play I wrote but for different reasons it’s become my “first” play in the story of me as a writer) was a story about suicide.
I wrote it in my teens and it got produced by a local student theatre group when I was 17 years old, it was about half an hour long and had four characters (well, six characters, but two of them were a technical necessity and I didn’t have the tools to solve the problem in any other way than bringing characters onstage).
The play starts with a young girl taking her last breaths and dying and her older sister finding her dead. From there the play follows the two sisters, the younger one stuck in a sort of purgatory, constantly questioned and almost bullied by a man in black (cliché, I know, but I’ve forgiven my 16 year old self for not knowing that at the time), and the older sister who goes through a series of session with her psychologist.
The younger sister is questioned about her suicide while the older sister tries to come to terms with the younger sister’s decision to end her own life. In the end they both move on, in different ways, and one perhaps towards a more calm future than the other.
My most recent play, the play I’m working on at the moment, is a play that’s been with me for years and years. It’s a story about a women in her 30s losing both parents and having to deal with the inheritance left her, her own emotional connection to the place she grew up in and starting her own family.
I can’t really say anything else about it because I don’t really know, and it might all change in the current re-write. But what struck me when I started thinking about what these two plays have in common is that they are about dealing, successfully or unsuccessfully, with trauma, about moving on with your life, or trying to.
What’s even more interesting is that when I think about other plays I’ve written the same theme seems to be present there too. Not in all plays, by no means, but enough of them for me to think that maybe that is one of the stories, or questions, problems, I’ve been coming back to again and again since I first started writing plays over 15 years ago. Writing this I’ve realised that another thing they have in common is issues with time, but that’s for another time.
Now, if somebody had asked me “What do you write about?” or “What are your themes as a writer?” I probably wouldn’t have come up with this answer, I probably wouldn’t have come up with an answer at all to be honest.
It just goes to show that sometimes you need somebody to ask you the right question.
And that it isn’t always the answer that’s the point, sometimes looking for it is more rewarding than finding it, as nothing is ever permanent but keeps shifting as you move through life while the world around you moves too.
Hanna is a playwright, translator and dramaturg living and working in Swedish in Finland. Current projects include a opera libretto based on a childrens' book, a series for radio and a stage play.