The Takeover Festival has chosen Reece Connolly from Prudhoe, Northumberland as its first Young Writer in Residence.
The festival which will take place at The Customs House, South Shields in May 28th- June 1 2018 will show Connolly’s play, Wormtown.
Readers may not know that I went to high school with Reece and have been lucky to share a stage with him once or twice in a few school shows.
After hearing the news, I wanted to find out what Reece had been up to since the high school days.
How did you get into theatre and playwrighting?
I’ve always loved telling stories, entertaining people, and when I began to act at school and then studied drama at uni I found a really exciting, engaging, and immediate way to do that: through plays. And it’s very much snowballed from there.
Why did you choose to set the play in the North East?
I’m based in the East End of London, which in recent years has undergone just the most massive cultural and socio-economic change, similar to a lot of places in the North East.
Every other day an old textiles warehouse is being converted into luxury apartments or a trendy cocktail bar – and I see the same thing when I come back to somewhere like Newcastle and suddenly another building down on the Quayside is a gourmet burger bistro or there’s a gift shop selling cards with coal-faced miners painted on their front or tourist pins shaped like the Angel.
So I’m really interested in how places change – that adaptation and mutation – and how that compliments or conflicts with their history and its people – it’s something running through the meat of WORMTOWN.
Change like this is a good and a bad thing. It’s not a black-and-white topic, which instantly makes it incredibly ripe as a place to set a story and talk about stuff.
Are you excited to come back to the North East?
Well, I never truly left! I live in London, but I visit home as often as I can – I miss it too much! It’s awesome that I can co-exist in two incredible parts of the UK at the same time.
I’m really excited to bring one of my plays there. It’s something I’ve never done, I’ve never had the chance, so I’m really thankful to the Customs House team for choosing me. It means a lot, to have your family and your community be able to come see a story that they’ve very much inspired.
Moving away from where you were brought up really puts into perspective how much that place has shaped you. There’s so much in my identity that has come from being brought up Geordie. You realise the North East really is the best place on earth.
A preview reading the play will take place at The WRITE Festival at The Word in South Shields on May 24th. How do you feel about that?
Honestly, a bit of both. It’s always a combination of nerves and excitement – there comes a point where they just blend into the same thing. It’s good; it keeps you on your toes!
It’ll be great to finally hear it being read out loud by the actors and see how that first audience respond. It’s an important part of the process because it moves the play away from me and my laptop and exposes it – the bits that work and the parts that really don’t.
I know there’ll be lots of feedback and notes that I can take back to my desk afterwards to knock the piece into its best shape.
And what is WORMTOWN about?
WORMTOWN is a story about a group of teenagers who discover that there is a terrible monster running amok on their estate, and their quest to stop it. It’s a modern re-telling/reinterpretation of the Lambton Worm legend, and tips its hat in a big way to stuff like ‘Stranger Things’ and Stephen King. I love fantasy, sci-fi and horror so it’s crammed with all that juicy stuff.
It’s about young people taking the world into their own hands – recognizing there’s an evil there and doing something about it.
This isn’t your first gig. How will WORMTOWN be different, what can audiences expect?
People can always expect the unexpected with my writing – I like to subvert, surprise, pull the rug out from under your feet, take the story somewhere you didn’t think it would/could go. There’s nothing wrong with being a bit pulpy is my motto. It’s certainly worked so far.
If you want to find out what to expect come and find out for yourself, I don’t kiss and tell. Unless the price is right of course.
What would you give as advice to young people wanting to get into the arts?
Cheesy as it may sound: don’t give up. If it’s your dream, slog at it, because it genuinely is hard and you’ll be tested time and time again. It’s not just something people say – I thought that and was quickly proven wrong!
But if it’s your passion – if it’s as important to you as food and drink and oxygen – you’ll keep at it and it’ll always pay off and it’s always a beautiful, thrilling, affirming and educational experience. There really is nothing else like it. The arts is a really really fucking awesome playground.
And surround yourself with a network of people who ground you and get you – friends, family, peers who’ll be honest and push you to be better, dust you off when you get knocked down, buy you a drink when you do something amazing. So so important.
What does the future hold for WORMTOWN?
I don’t know! It’s still early days, and right now I’m focused on writing the best, most badass play I can. Obviously, as a storyteller, you want your worlds and your characters to be seen and heard by as many people as possible, so it would be amazing to think it had a future beyond it’s current life expectancy. So yeh, we’ll see…
The Takeover Festival is planned, promoted and delivered by young people for young people in South Tyneside and the wider region and features theatre, cinema, music, dance, poetry and visual art.
Wormtown will be performed at 7.30pm on Friday, June 1, by a cast of eight young people from the area, who will rehearse during a five-day residency at The Customs House during The Takeover Festival.
It will then transfer to Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle, on Saturday, June 16, as part of Newcastle’s first Youth Fringe Festival.