(Paul Tafaro reflects on his recent Nest Residency)
March 2022. I was pleasantly surprised to be offered a two week residency at Talking Birds. I clenched my fists and shook them, a gesture from footy. I’d found every excuse not to work at home. Here were two weeks, ten days, in a room, giving myself permission.
I had thought about writing this play for over a year. Subconsciously working on it perhaps. Every time I mentioned it, friends said ‘YOU HAVE TO WRITE THIS!’ I’d reply, ‘No you write it!’. Untrue.
A few months earlier, I had collated all of my notes (iPhone notes, email drafts, WhatsApp conversations, underneath loaves of bread) into a 29 page Word document. I distilled these notes ‘research’ into an 8 page scene plan. I had written out the plan a few weeks before the residency. The plan consists of scene headings, bullet points with tent poles of interesting things that should be included in the scene, the main action of the scene (the thing that needs to happen) with snatches of dialogue to consider including. This plan went through a few drafts, as I initially had fifteen scenes. When I have written a plan I know that the play can be written. On the residency I’d forget what the next scene was, but the plan steers me back and keeps me above sea level.
I figured I had a three act play. Nine scenes. One location. Each scene would be a mini pressure cooker play in itself. The audience a fly on the wall.
I had also worked out who would be on stage at the start of each scene. This was to create contrast, and focus on different dynamics within the play.
I C & E
II A & D
III B & C
On the first day of the residency, I completed emails before lunch, drawling the line under the first stage of another project. It took me two days to complete scene one. The longest scene (16 pages). The first scene of a play is sometimes tricky. I was introducing five characters and had some exposition. But it was also the scene where everyone, for the most part, is getting along. On the second day, I was behind, sat in the comfy chair and had a rest.
I was in the blue studio and decided to move the room around a little. On the second day, I had pulled out diva card #31 and asked for a computer chair from downstairs. This was kindly accommodated (brought up in the lift didn’t you know!) by Philippa. I adore natural light and faced the window but didn’t want my back to the door (opposite the window). I positioned myself near the radiator. This was partly so I could see if people were at the door. Whilst writing, I sometimes listen to classical music in the background – like Mahler or Shostakovich. Anything grand that I don’t need to dance to.
After the request for the computer chair, I realised that I’d also got used to the laptop at a particular height. I’ve lived in places without a desk before and used a chest of drawers that I opened up and balanced the laptop atop clothes. I was currently using some cardboard boxes and a Jamie Oliver (useful Xmas pressie) cookbook at home. What could I use here? Is that a bin?
It all seemed minimalist, possibly Scandi and in keeping with TB principles (I seem to have removed the bin for the photoshoot). Frances also kindly brought up the cushion in the photo for my arms leaning on the wooden table. I never knew I was this unbelievable. Scene a day.
Journey not the destination was that?
On the journey to the residency, I find myself noticing the tops of buildings. What was the story behind these? What were/are these rooms used for? There’s a moment when you drive into Radford, by Barr’s Hill, on a bus, that you are really quite high and can see quite far. I find myself wondering what the structure rising high above the rest was? Was it Warwick University? Was it, no surely, student accommodation?
On one journey, I see adult twins dressed in the exact same outfit, holding the exact same gym bag each. I think about mistaken identity … I wonder if there is enough lightness in what I am writing?
One morning at a stop, I watch a lady collect something off someone. She goes to another. I realise that she is asking for money. Out of four people, two stop and hand something to her. I think about what the money might be spent on? Who this person lives with? Why did I believe out of four people, four would not have given her anything?
The communal lunches were lovely. For an hour a day, everyone at TB generally gathers for their lunch downstairs, sometimes outside, if the sun’s got the memo it lands on Janet’s plants, everyone finishes their lunch and you can stay outside a little longer and sway to a summery song like Two Occasions by The Deele. For these two weeks you are freelance, child. On different days, different people are in. Some days my lunches lasted an hour, others two. Dez is an extraordinary raconteur. I needed any excuse not to work.
There would be an event and co-working day on Friday, the last day of residency – this meant no work Friday for me. Co-working days are a chance to chat and try brownies. Sometimes, I look at brownies through glass and imagine their taste. A van comes every day at lunch and sells food and drink. I haven’t bought a large Bakewell tart since Memorial park 2006 so I did relent once. I figured that I needed to finish the play on Thursday.
A working day might be 10.30 – 12.30, 2.30- 4.30 if the scene wasn’t finished, 9:30pm – 1:30am in the evening. A brilliant thing about the nest residency is that there is no expectation to create something, and you don’t need to be in the office.
I was surprised at how clearly the characters voices were in my head. One joy about playwriting, particularly when it works, is when characters surprise you. I had written out a plan with things that should be in the scene, but sometimes they didn’t end up in it, or characters entered the scene wanting something different (affecting but not changing the main action).
Some playwrights prefer to write by hand, even typewrite, but I like how the laptop can accommodate the speed of an actors thought.
The toilet upstairs is illuminated by a wondrous green light. I often used just this light when using the loo. It reminded me of a sort of nostalgic Megabowl laser quest/Drayton Manor ride which was potentially waltzers in the dark but I don’t remember. One day I was in there, I heard birds chirping? Later informed that this wasn’t from the NPO auditory access budget but real birds! Highly recommend a visit.
Wet Wednesday Will
Non-stop rain perfect working conditions. Dez made steps with a new score. I completed the first draft of the play. A year in the making, under the cover of rain. James Horner’s Brainstorm haunts me as we print double-sided. Feels like we we’re doing something forbidden. I had wanted to write this for a long time and was excited to get to the end. There were times when I’d come down for the communal lunch after an argument between characters (in my head) and the quietness of the adults in real life at lunch was an interesting juxtaposition. I really appreciated not being alone with my thoughts as one would normally write.
I used Thursday to learn how to put captions onto a YouTube video, thanks to an empowering tip from Janet.
I then spent a few days celebrating, resisting reading the first draft, a few more stretches of joie de vivre.
If the trend is to include a playlist, here
Ain’t No Stopping Us Now – McFadden & Whitehead
Before I let Go – Maze
Groovin’ (That’s what we’re doin’) – SOS Band
The residency was a beautiful experience. I had some lovely conversations. I spent one evening going to a dance class and another seeing The Batman. The weekend on another writing project. Knowing that I would be turning up for a few hours in the studio gave me a structure and time to focus. A laid back process. This was my first paid residency experience. Thank you very much.