This month, Sarah Kosar, Anglo-American playwright and Artist in Residence at London’s Archivist’s Gallery, shares her Top Tips for Success. Not only is Sarah a highly successful published playwright and female ambassador for the arts, but she is also a glorious example of what can be achieved with vision, intelligence, creativity and graft.
This is an absolute must read, not just for writers, women or even actors… but for anyone pursuing their dreams!
(… and because Sarah is a wordsmith, this month we bring you double the number of Top Tips.)
1. Congratulations Sarah on your recent production Mumburger! As artist in residence at London’s Archivist’s Gallery, what have been some of your key achievements to date?
For a long time, I believed in “waiting” until you’re crowned “talented,” and that’s when opportunities will come. However, I’m pretty impatient so I quickly realised that if I was to do that as a writer it would be like waiting for a bus that would either never come or would inch its way to each bus stop and never tell you how far it would go and where the route terminates.
So after waiting in the cold and riding the occasional bus, I reached out to The Archivist’s Gallery as a fan of what they were doing and sent a pitch to their general email on how we could potentially work together. I didn’t think I would hear back, but then I did. I really believe in playing with odds – it doesn’t hurt to reach out to lots of different places (as long as they are open to general enquiries and pitches and you are generally interested, thoughtful and considered about it rather than a blanket email!). We had lunch, talked about our interests, hatched a plan and here I am – wearing a self-made crown as “Artist in Residence.”
“I really believe in playing with odds – it doesn’t hurt to reach out to lots of different places”
In my residency so far, I’ve produced a live recording of my podcast Kin, a three week production of my play Mumburger and chaired a conversation with author, activist, photographer and all around inspiring human, iO Tillett Wright (which will also be available on Kin very soon!).
“The biggest achievement of my residency has been that it’s all actually happened.”
It’s also been a personal achievement for me to feel free enough to not only think of myself as a writer, but as more of an overall artist. For this reason, I’m expanding into more audio work as well as playwriting and investigating how to best merge them together for a theatrical and audio experience. Also another real win with this residency was being able to work with actress Rosie Wyatt who I’ve had on my “Dream people to work with” google doc. She nailed the role and as I begin writing new plays, I often picture her playing the lead characters as she masters my stylised approach.
2. From published plays, to radio, short films and playwriting masterclasses, you’ve already had a prolific output of work – What set you on the path to becoming a writer?
I’m pretty delusional in the sense that when I come up with something that I want to do, I’m naive and think “I’ll give it a go!” If it doesn’t go horribly wrong, I’ll probably keep doing it until someone (not just a bad comment!) I really trust tells me this just might not be my jam or my best use of time and talent.
When I was a child, I started off wanting to be a popstar, then a singer, a dancer, a musician, an actress and after coming to terms that those weren’t my mediums, I focused more on writing. However, looking back it was always clear that I was a writer as I always created my own songs, choreography, personas, etc.
Fast forward to when I was studying at Penn State University — I asked my professor if there were contemporary plays for me to read as there seemed to be a real lack of current real world examples of playwrights working (Arthur Miller was contemporary). I wanted something about our world now, I wanted it to feel like TV on stage, I wanted stories that were not safe. My professor slid me a copy of Blasted by Sarah Kane across the table and I ran home and devoured it. That was the moment I knew I wanted to be a writer. I read that The Royal Court and Methuen Drama (who published the play) were based in London, and immediately started on a spreadsheet of research to figure out how I could get to London as part of my degree.
After many calls, emails and sweat (I sweat a lot), I came to London in 2009 to study theatre abroad and the first thing I did was see a play at the Court and right beforehand I said a prayer to Sarah Kane in the Royal Court toilets. After two months in London and seeing 20+ plays, I knew I had to stay if I wanted to write plays. I applied and got into a Masters programme and moved here permanently the year after. Now seven years later, I’m still praying to playwrights in the toilets when I get stuck on a rewrite.
Since being in London, I’ve worked full-time alongside writing and podcasting in talent for both agencies and businesses. I am now the Senior Talent Manager at ROLI, a music-tech company in Dalston London. Although I work full-time, I feel it really fuels my writing and writing enables me to be a better in my role. It’s useful to have something to take your mind off your creative pursuits and especially as I’m interviewing people most days, I learn so much about human behaviour, wants, and needs.
4. What are the some of the benefits you have found of belonging to a writing group? What advice would you offer other writers about how to become involved? Tell us about the Playwright Club ‘Playdate’ that you founded.
As a playwright starting out, there are a plethora of excellent opportunities to do writing programmes such as Royal Court Young Writers, Soho Writers Lab, Lyric Young Writers, etc.
“If you want to write, the most helpful thing is to be around other writers and reading their work.”
These programmes are tremendous because you learn how to speak about your work, read other people’s work, offer feedback, take feedback and meet like minded people. It’s so intoxicating to have a place to go each week where you feel supported and liberated in your field. However, after those end, you’re back in your bedroom and only occasionally bumping into other writers at plays across London.
Lonesome and lost in a draft, I decided to make my own post-writing group writing group in 2014, called Playdate. The seven people I invited to be in the group were incredibly talented, giving, and just all around good people that I’d met on various programmes. In the past two years since starting the group, these Playdaters have supported, and overall kept me going in the toughest times. We meet up at least once a month to discuss what we’re working on, ask questions about things we are unsure about either in our work, industry, or rehearsals. We read each other’s work, offer feedback and see work together. It’s been amazing how much Playdate means to all of us and it really encourages us all to keep pushing forward with our work. I think I speak for all of us when I say that when we see each other doing well, it makes us all feel great. I’m so lucky the six of them agreed to do it, having all been strangers before our first meeting. Playdate is made up of Vinay Patel, David Ralf, Isley Lynn, Stephen Laughton, Poppy Corbett, Chris Adams and myself. There is also news to come from us as whole in future too!
6. Women in the Arts- as a professional speaker on the topic of feminism, why is this close to your heart? How can we, as an industry, work towards greater equality and boost the passions, morale and opportunities for emerging (and established for that matter) female artists?
The more stories we see with women at the centre, the less we will think the default for every story is a man as a protagonist. This is true not only for men, but everyone. Even as a woman, it’s easy to start writing something and think the main character is a man because that’s what we’ve predominantly seen. I think it’s also important to consider this in conjunction with other underrepresented groups and ensure that feminism is the beginning of the conversation and to also consider ideas of intersectionality. Intersectionality is the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
“As a feminist, writer, artist and overall human, it’s integral we question the status quo with work and ensure we make the best decisions for our production team and casts to enable everyone has a chance, voice and representation across our work.“
This is close to my heart because I don’t want anyone to ever feel that they can’t do something because of the discriminatory structures in place within our culture.
Just this week I was looking for a halloween costume and heard H&M was doing a pizza costume. I searched everywhere on the site for a good twenty minutes and finally I found it under men. Why is a pizza costume gendered? I’ll keep talking and writing about feminism until every food costume for halloween is available and listed for everyone, no matter how they identify. Equality for pizza!
7. Who or what have been some of your greatest inspirations and influences in your career to date?
As an artist, my goal is to be a concoction of my biggest influences:
The heightened performative allure of Lana Del Rey
The daring, unapologetic humour and honesty of Lena Dunham
The intelligent, provocative and thoughtful observations of Miranda July
9. Can you share with us some of your most surprising career moments?
My most surprising career moment was when I was studying for my acting degree and I didn’t pass into the final year level because of my poor ability at accents and Shakespeare. I was broken and I didn’t know what to do because I had always thought up until that point I would be an actor. Then my advisor suggested I take a playwriting class to help with credits for a general BA Theatre degree and I did. I loved it and realised maybe this was my jam. My favourite and surprising advice from my professor who still mentors me was “Sarah, you can only have one blow job in the play. Pick one, but only one.”
“I’ve learned now, you can only have one big moment like that. No repeats – every action is for a reason.”
10. How would you describe your work thematically in five words?
Exposing the absurdity of humans
11. What advice can you offer burgeoning writers?
Write. No one can stop you from telling a story. Write the thing you care about and don’t stop. Don’t be hard on yourself. Find other like-minded people. Be friends with people that make you want to be better. By surrounding yourself with people that challenge you, you can only get better.
Be delusional and feel unstoppable. As writing is a very solitary act (until you get in the rehearsal room), be kind to yourself. You’ll need it. I often tell myself I’m the Britney Spears of playwriting when I start something new just to give myself a healthy dose of confidence. I know that my first draft won’t be an “Oops I Did It Again,” but it might become that one day.
12. Given the opportunity to re-live your career to date, would you make any changes or do anything differently?
Something I always struggle with is feeling like I’m not far enough, that I could be doing more, that I could be more “successful.” Although I wouldn’t change anything or do things differently within my career, I would change the little voice in my head. I’d work harder to mute it and feel secure in wherever I’m at. When I have conversations with other creatives in a similar place in their careers, they often feel the same. It’s hard to understand where we should be aiming or things we should be doing whilst we are trying to make work. There is a lot of focus on “what’s next!” I’d like to change that pressure into acceptance of wherever we are at is where we need to be right now.
13. Future directions: tell us about some of your upcoming work and what we can look forward to.
I’m super excited about the new season of my podcast Kin. This season we have some really exciting episodes including one with two Trump supporters trying to convince me to vote for them, male sexuality discussed between a straight man and a gay man, and an interview with author of the memoir Darling Days, iO Tillett Wright and much more.
I’m also working on a new play called Malvina that will be coming out in 2017. It’s about health, healing and blue hair. There are also a few other productions in the pipeline that I can’t share as of yet but keep your eye on my website sarahkosar.net.
14. And finally… What are your 10 Top Tips to Becoming a Playwright?
Channel your inner popstar and take the page like a stage without fear
Write what you want to see on stage
Don’t get it right, get it written
Ask people you trust to read what you write and give feedback
Be flexible and kind to yourself when taking on feedback
Rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite based on your own feedback, the feedback of others you trust and be open to the magic of the unexpected
Do something that’s not writing to take your mind off the play and see it more objectively before doing further rewrites
Figure out a way to get your play on (by yourself, with friends, collaborators, or anyone who is up for a challenge) and learn from how an audience responds to your work
- Call yourself a playwright in your Twitter bio
Sarah Kosar is an American playwright living in London. She has been a part of The Royal Court Young Writers Programme, Studio Invitation Group and Summer Group, as well as The Soho Young Writers Lab, Lyric Young Writers Programme, and an Associate Writer with the Hampstead Theatre. Her play Hot Dog is part of the Pennsylvania State University’s syllabus for Advanced Playwriting and Women in Theatre courses. Sarah has a BA in Theatre, a BA in Film from Pennsylvania State University and a MA in Writing for Stage and Broadcast Media from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Sarah has recently been granted an Exceptional Promise in Playwriting visa in the UK. Sarah is the Inaugural Writer In Residence at The Archivist’s Gallery, Haggerston, where her play MUMBURGER ran 9th – 24th July 2016. Sarah is also the producer and host of the iTunes New and Noteworthy podcast, Kin.