Picture this: you’re a writer, of sorts. You’ve had a few short stories published, you’ve done a few performances. You even did a week at Edinburgh Fringe last year. But you’ve never, ever thought about writing for the stage. Until now.
That was me last Spring. And then writer development organisation Commonword in Manchester asked me to be part of their Women in the Spotlight programme, an initiative aimed at supporting women in writing for the stage.
Why is that so necessary? Because any way you slice it, we need more women writing for the theatre. In 2013, only 31 per cent of new plays produced in UK theatres were penned by women. That’s an improvement of only 1 per cent over a decade. Slow progress, much? Then take into account that women facing other barries – BAME and queer women for example – have even more difficulty accessing the training, support and funding they need to tell their stories. See now why Women in the Spotlight and other similar programmes are so essential?
I was terrified at first, convinced I didn’t have the skills or experience for writing a stage play. But then they told me it didn’t have to be a three-hour epic. The plan was for Commonword to collaborate with Manchester’s Three Minute Theatre and stage several short plays penned by the participating women writers in one night. And they’d hold our hands every step of the way, giving feedback about the writing, casting and directing. It was an opportunity I wouldn’t get anywhere else. So I screwed up my courage, bit the bullet and dove in.
The short piece I wrote for that project, The Curse, told the story of two teenage best friends, Char and Lola. Although initially only ten minutes long, it gave audiences a taste of their history together – from complaining about PMT to comparing crushes and celebrating the end of exams in true teenage style, they were inseparable. Until terrible, inexplicable things start happening in their town and the pair grow distant, unsure of what’s going on and who they can trust.
I was lucky. Humour, tension and my long-held love of naughty teenage girls turned out to be a popular combination. The feedback for that ten-minute version of The Curse, staged last May, was incredible. The audiences recognised how teenage years can be a volatile, turbulent time. They saw Char and Lola’s fears and frustrations, the pressures they were under. And more than anything, there was an appetite for more.
Our performances were all wrapped up. But none of us – writer, director, producer or actors – were prepared to leave it at that.
So now, supported by Arts Council England and The Three Minute Theatre, Char and Lola are back. The Curse has been expanded to full-length to tell their story in the detail it deserves; school’s out forever and the ‘bad influence’ babes your mother probably warned you about are banking on a wild summer. They’re fierce, fearless and feel invincible. But there’s horror and heartbreak right around the corner, and it’s unclear whether their friendship, despite its intensity, can face this latest extreme test.
Paying tribute to the best girls behaving badly in TV, film and fiction – the characters from The Craft, Foxfire, Mi Vida Loca and Sugar Rush, among countless others – The Curse celebrates girlhood in all its gore and glory. And with a female writer, director and gender-equal cast, it’s the perfect way to buck the theatre trends and celebrate International Women’s Day.
Jane Bradley is a fiction writer and editor whose short stories have appeared in print and online around the world, most recently in Spoke: An Anthology of New Queer Voices. She has been longlisted for a Young Enigma Award and selected as one of Nokia’s fifty 50 Remarkable Women. She is the founder and director of For Books’ Sake, the charitable organisation championing writing by women, and the editor of short story collections Short Stack, Derby Shorts and Tongue in Cheek.