Chris Bush talks about her journey from being a university student to a successful playwright. Check out http://www.womenandshakespeare.com for a complete transcript.
Interviewer: Ms Ivanna Vargas
Guest: Ms Chris Bush
Producer: Ms Kelly Payne
Editing: Dr Varsha Panjwani
Artwork: Mr Wenqi Wan
Speaker 1 (00:03):
Hello, and welcome to women and Shakespeare. You're listening to another one of our bonus, Something Old, Something New episodes in which we bring you fresh bursts of conversations from guests who have already been on our podcast. You don't need to know who I am because today's episode is hosted by my student and collaborator, Ivanna Vargas. And she's putting some really interesting questions to the award-winning playwright Chris Bush.
Hello. So my name is Ivana Vargas, and I'm currently a student here at NYU studying English. And I just wanted to ask you a few questions about your journey from being a university student and getting to where you are now having so many successful plays. I can imagine that there was a lot of pressure in the beginning, especially with Tony Blair the Musical, that turned out to be such a success. Do you think that when you started writing it as a college student, you felt that it was going to get to that point?
I never expected it to have quite the response that it did. Having said that it was like relatively cynically made to sell tickets at the Edinburgh Fringe, which is what it did. It was the second show that I had taken up there. I took up a show there which had absolutely sunk without a trace. It wasn't like a bad show. It was just one of however many thousand shows on Edinburgh. We didn't know how to market anything. And I looked around and saw the shows that are selling are musicals and the shows that are selling are topical and stuff that grabs headlines. And then overnight the following Christmas watching Evita and Joseph back to back and being like Tony Blair sees himself as Evita Peron - I can write this show. And really wanted to make it wanted to do something that was both a bit political, but also very reverent, very silly, very accessible and then knew that it was going to shift tickets.
Didn't know it was going to do quite as well as it did, which was incredible. And we got national press coverage and I was 21, I think at that time. Just turned 21, just graduated and then like had this sell-out show and it came to London, it was great. But then very much like thought that I was then made at that age and then really nothing happened for about the next four or five years where I plugged away and kept writing. And I was like, "I am the person who wrote Tony! The Blair Musical come on", surely. But as it transpired anybody, who'd heard of it, had heard of the fun, silly title, but didn't have any idea of who'd written it. And that only gets you so far because it was a bit gimmicky and decent show, but a bit of gimmicky. So I then like by my wilderness years before actually feeling like I was starting to get anywhere.
So during these wilderness years, did you feel like you had to have an identity as a musical writer specifically, or just a political writer? How did you come to terms with that identity of who you were a writer?
Yeah, no, I didn't. And I feel like I've always resisted being too categorizable in terms of my work. So I'm still currently about 50/50 between musical theater, and straight theater projects. A lot of what I do is quite political. A lot of it is relatively political.
And yeah, I've sort of been kind of wary of being categorized too much as a musical theater writer because I love a good musical, but there's a lot of snobbery in our industry about it being the lesser side or a bit more commercial, a bit less cerebral, which is absolute nonsense. And then people make up all these other terms. So they go, "oh no, I make music theater" or "I make good theater" or "I'm doing a play with songs". No, you're writing a musical. Over it, that's fine. But yet, maybe I've always thought it makes me more ultimately marketable or hopefully will mean that my career might have more longevity over the next few decades because I don't do just one thing. But maybe it makes me more difficult to put in a box and go, "oh, well, she's the person that we would go to for this specific thing".
And on top of that, I'm sure you've been asked this many times, but being so young and being in this atmosphere, do you think that age had different effects on your writing?
I don't know. I don't feel very young. I mean, I'm not anymore, but what was obnoxiously young was that I wrote my first play when I was 13. And I knew really from that age that that was what I wanted to do. So that gave me a goal that was really useful. I chose the university course that I did because I knew how good the Drama Society was at York. I knew that I wanted to make work and from graduating, although I had this hit then, it didn't necessarily do much for my career, but I knew that I wanted to build everything else around writing. So I worked whatever boring minimum wage jobs I could find for a number of years.
The youth thing though, is really interesting. Cause I think I worried because I knew from a really early age that I wanted to write. By the time I turned 26, I'm at the point of which you turn 26, you're no longer a young writer according to the Royal Court. I was like, "oh, I have not had my play on, at the Royal Court. I failed." Then actually, now that I'm in my thirties, early thirties still ish, I feel a bit more relaxed about it. Because, I don't count as a young writer anymore. And I'm not the person who had their main stage breakthrough when they were 17. So now I don't worry about it as much actually.
I mean, our industry does still fetishize youth in some venues more than others, but after always looking for like the new teenager who they can put on in a main space. And I do always get, like still a little unpleasant shudder of envy when I see the very photogenic 19 year old, who is being produced wherever they're being produced . Good for them, no, that's great. Really. But, I feel like there shouldn't be much pressure in the industry regarding age because it shouldn't stop. It shouldn't really have an effect on the work.
And just to end things off. Is there any last words that you would like to share with any aspiring writers out there who are feeling like they might just be too young and that they just don't know what they're doing yet?
I think there's no such thing as too young there's no such thing as too old. There's no such thing as being the wrong person. And I think there's so many walls we need to break down in the theater. Particularly if you are not a straight cis white man from a middle class background. But the theater is as much for you as it is for anybody else. And you know what, there are more allies out there than there were, and things are slowly, but gradually starting to shift.
Perfect, thank you.