Ferment Fortnight kicks off its biannual explosion of work-in-progress and scratch performances from 11 July. Here, Sharon Clark gives us an inside look at her play Plow. Catch it at Arnolfini on the festival’s opening night.
I am a Bristol-based playwright and Creative Director of the theatre company Raucous, a resident of Pervasive Media Studio and lecturer in Writing for Performance at Bath Spa University.
At this summer’s Ferment Fortnight Nel Crouch will be directing a rehearsed reading of my latest script, Plow, which recently made it to the top 5 of the PapaTango Award. With my company Raucous I write for immersive, site-specific theatre that fuses film, music and digital technology, The Stick House was our last production. But Plow is another side of my writing, a contemporary political drama that follows the journey of a woman as she silently treks her way across four states in America. She unwittingly becomes a social media darling, a saviour for the lost and a government headache, but can she ever be what everyone wants her to be?
Plow is based on an article I read in a newspaper a couple of years ago and which stuck with me as one of those tales where fiction cannot compete with the truth. I didn’t set out to write a play set in the States but with what is happening over there at the moment, and what is happening on a bigger global stage, I just wanted to write something about how those events can directly affect a small, seemingly insignificant character – a kind of Everywoman.
With this play, Ferment gives me the all too rare opportunity of hearing it for the first time in front of an audience. I can gauge the moment when the play works, by watching the audience as they imperceptibly shift in their seat and the moment when the story loses them. It is also allows me the opportunity to face the audience after, to hear first hand what they thought, to gather feedback, comments and suggestions. This is a rare luxury when often the first time you see an audience interact with the play is the first night of the production – an incredibly exposed place for the writer to be.
I wrote Plow to be a large play – not in terms of building something epic for the Olivier stage (I wish) but in terms of the variety of voices, the distance covered, a wide range of characters, ever present music and spanning space and time. I want to see if this works in how the audience follows the story and if it gives them enough time to engage with the characters and care for them. It’s really only when an audience is in the room can you make the crucial discoveries that take a script onto its next, and hopefully stronger, stage.
Ferment Fortnight takes place at Arnolfini 11-13 July before returning to Bristol Old Vic 18-20 July. For more info and to book tickets, click here.