It’s the final countdown to Under A Cardboard Sea! In a moment of reprieve, we sat down with Writer Silva Semerciyan to find out all about our Young Company’s exciting new family adventure debuting 4-6 Aug.
Hi, I’m Silva Semerciyan, writer of Under a Cardboard Sea. This is my third show for the Bristol Old Vic Young Company and once again, it’s been an exhilarating creative process. It isn’t often that a playwright has the opportunity to write for a really truly BIG cast, and so, new baby notwithstanding, I just had to do it. It helped that we already had a lead.
Last year, whilst researching The Light Burns Blue, Young Company director Lisa Gregan and I visited the University of Bristol’s theatre archives where we poured over Victorian scenic paintings framing hundreds of children in elaborate costumes. It spurned us on to investigate further, and the more we learned, the more we realised it was a great starting point for a show. We carried on reading and messaging each other with our findings: Morning, when you’ve got a sec, check out this link to the Elementary Education Act of 1870… Then one day, while daydreaming home from the school run, I suddenly saw a Victorian girl and her dad staring up at a suspension bridge. I knew I had to find out who they were.
It’s been a challenge creating a story from scratch with enough interesting parts to allow the talented cast to shine. As the writer of the show, I’ve been responsible for structuring the narrative, offering ideas for scenes, inventing characters, and creating dialogue. The devising process helps me to do this in a number of ways. Sometimes the cast provides the answers to questions e.g. ‘What is the dangerous work that Michael is now forced to do?’ Sometimes they offer backstory for their characters which we discuss on a one to one basis. Sometimes they even conjure speeches which I rework from improvisations. Less obviously, the process helps to discard ideas and material. Thank you very much for that, we’ll definitely NOT be going with ghosts on this occasion. Assistant writer, Hattie Taylor, has been an enormous help, giving feedback and discussing every aspect of the story but also offering great ideas. Lisa, Matt (co-director) and the rest of the creative team have all, in their turn, helped by interrogating the script and making suggestions.
My favourite character in the play is Crazy Jane, someone who is mocked and dismissed in the city. I feel a certain kinship with her muttering as I’ve been caught out trying to surreptitiously test dialogue under my breath. I’m also very partial to the protagonist, Addie, as she is the agent of her own curiosity, and although this gets her into trouble, she never stops looking around her and wondering about the world.
For anyone interested in what it’s like to manage a small baby in a rehearsal room, I discovered that it can be done. My son was two months old when the devising process began and so every Wednesday and Friday and during the intensive weeks, he was with me in rehearsals. It was a bit like weight-lifting for several hours and occasionally stopping to change the barbell’s nappy, but he was good as gold. He’s now almost nine months old and can hardly believe his luck at the grand spectacle being laid on for his entertainment.
Photography by James D Kent