I was lucky enough to be in the audience at the Royal Irish Academy when Mark Ravenhill came to speak in Dublin last month. The event was organised by Dublin Theatre Festival and Theatre Forum and the interview is now available on YouTube. Ravenhill was very open about his own career and the challenges facing artists today. He also gave some great tips on playwriting.
He recently wrote a libretto for the Norwegian National Opera (and admits that he had to ask the stupid question and make sure he wasn’t expected to write it in Norwegian) and says that in opera, the writing has to be pared back – “every single vowel sound has to earn its right to be there”. Looking back on his own plays afterwards, he felt they were over-written because he’d got into the habit of interrogating every word in the text.
He also talks about working with the RSC on a version of Brecht’s A Life of Galileo. The very start of the play deals with the tension between the art of science and doing work to pay the rent. This is a topic that has interested and agitated Ravenhill in the past, as seen in his speech at the opening of last year’s Edinburgh Festival. He talks about how the arts are valued economically, and the different ways that artists have to justify themselves to governments and other funding bodies. He recognises that the cost of being a human being has gone up year after year, making it more difficult to take time to make work that you might not get paid for.
Talking about his own career, he says that he is best known as a playwright because it is what people pay him to do. At the beginning of his career he wrote things because he wanted something to perform or direct himself. He says he would like to do more directing, but does feel that he’s very good at it, mostly because he hasn’t done it enough. Directing is something that you have to be allowed to do, you need resources to get good at it. Writing, on the other hand, you can do on your own at the kitchen table.
His advice to playwrights included the idea of writing the first draft very quickly, as if you were improvising on the page. He also said to write about things that you don’t have the answer to. He says that Brecht gives his characters great ethical choices. He criticises post-modernism because it does away with ethics, and a sense of good or bad, right or wrong. We have an ethical responsibility to attempt to make connections. It’s too bleak to say nothing is connected and everything is random.
Dr. Emilie Pine is a great interviewer and there’s some good questions from the audience at the end. Definitely worth a watch if you have an hour to fill over the long weekend!