Caitlin McEwan interview: “I go to the theatre to see diverse stories, not familiar ones”

By Helena Snider 

How was your experience at Durham?

It’s funny, because I actually didn’t want to go to Durham at all – I didn’t think university was the right place for me at that time. I did an English degree, so didn’t have loads of contact time, which meant I spent most of my time doing theatre. Through doing shows with DST I got so many amazing opportunities, going to the Fringe and doing the tour in the US, and got involved in societies that I never thought I’d do, like DIM. Ultimately, I did get a lot from my time at Durham: it’s a cliché, but my friends from university are my friends for life, and I learnt a lot about myself, even from the hard stuff.

You were a star of the Durham drama scene during your time here. When did you first start writing?

I actually didn’t start writing until after I graduated. I had thought about it a lot, but never really considered myself a writer, and I didn’t think I had any good ideas. I went away to New York on my own for a month after I graduated and when I was there I just sort of wrote this play, Winston, and submitted it to DDF. It got put on, and the judges’ comments were really encouraging, so I just kept doing it. I’m an actor as well and wanted to start producing my own work, and had friends from Durham with similar frustrations, so we just banded together and started creating stuff.

Who are your literary inspirations?

So many. I love new writing, especially stuff that plays with form in an inventive way. Mike Bartlett, Nick Payne, Lucy Prebble and Penelope Skinner are all writers that I hugely admire for their ability to create work that’s really theatrical and obviously well crafted, but also has these beautifully drawn, three-dimensional characters that you really care about.

How did you find breaking into the theatre world after you left university? How does the Durham drama scene compare to the real world?

The professional world is very different to Durham. I think the main difference is that the industry is so broad that there’s a place for everyone’s work – certainly during my time at Durham it was relatively narrow. I did a LOT of Shakespeare, which was great, but I loved new writing and would have loved to explore more of that. It is an oversubscribed industry, but there’s loads of schemes and workshops out there, so if you’re persistent then I think you can get your work on somewhere. Ultimately though, I would have struggled to create my own work without forming relationships with like-minded people at Durham, and I think that’s a key for success in the ‘real world’ – finding those with the same approach as you, and forming an alliance.

Your play ‘Thick Skin’ concerns the characters’ attitudes towards race and their prejudices. Do you think enough is being done to broadcast underrepresented voices in theatre generally, both in terms of women and ethnic minorities?

Yes and no. I think especially in the current climate, we all have to be careful and mindful about the stories we tell, and if they really represent the world around us and the people in it. Those programming influential buildings have more of a responsibility, and some people are doing a cracking job, but some people could do more. There’s a lot of talk about quotas meaning that the quality of work takes a hit, and I don’t buy that at all – there are lots of people, making phenomenal work, and at the end of the day, I’d rather see six plays that are all completely different, by writers from different backgrounds, than the same play over and over again. I personally go to the theatre to see diverse stories, not familiar ones.

Photograph: Performance photograph of Caitlin’s play, ‘Thick Skin’; by The Other Richard and Aenne Pallasca. 

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