It’s been a busy few weeks for writer Kat Roberts – Staying Alive has it’s premiere next week on the 15th of January! Luckily, we managed to snag five minutes with her between rehearsals to ask her the big questions.
What influenced your decision to write about such a sensitive topic?
Initially I wanted to explore grief in a cathartic way but also how people can isolate others and become isolated by their experiences. I was very interested in concepts of time and how the timeline for grief seems to be non-linear or that it slows time down in an alien way and what effect that might have on old and new relationships. I do also have a preoccupation with concepts of safety. I think we have a heightened awareness of child protection issues as a society at the moment and I wanted to see how guilt from grief might feed on that. I suppose I arrived at the bereavement relationship being one of mother and child because it is something that I find terrifying to think about. But then I have the luxury of not thinking about it. If we accept that and go the route of ignoring it then we segregate those who have actually experienced the unimaginable. If we isolate them because we feel uncomfortable then we might subject them to a world without hope. But there is hope, I believe, in the darkest of times. It can come from unexpected places. It relies on human beings exercising their compassion; on making connections and being brave. Honesty and hope triumph in the play.
How long has Staying Alive been in development?
From the first piece of writing I did to the showcase of the full length play it will have been almost a year. But I would say I have been carrying around the ideas for a couple of years before that, without them having any kind of creative home.
What research did you undertake to ensure Staying Alive was authentic?
There were two aspects to the research. One was more technical and the other was to do with emotional content. The more technical aspects were essentially a matter of seeking out people who are Doctors, social workers etc… to explore specific processes and types of language to support the scenes. Some research such as the registration of a death was done on the internet and then the scene imagined off the back of that. But it was also very important to explore both the experience of being a parent and of losing a child. Research on parents was done mainly by observation. But Blackshaw also directly contacted groups who support bereaved parents and I went to meet the co-founder of SLOW, who lost her daughter 9 years ago. The ideas that we discussed and her experiences informed so much of the play and I am very grateful to her for sharing her story with me.
What is it like seeing your piece come to life as a fully formed production?
The writing process went in little loops of terror, writing research, writing, pride, editing, terror, showing, terror, writing, research, writing etc… until I got to the end. Then there was an added layer of loss for the script once I handed it over. I suddenly realised it’s not mine anymore and I felt a bit like saying ‘please look after my baby!’ But then I listened to the audio recording of the first reading last night and I realised… not only are they looking after my baby but they have adopted it, they care about its feelings, they worry about its needs, they’re setting up a trust fund so it can get a good education and realise its potential. I think that’s when it occurred to me just how beautifully collaborative this process is, how it cannot be achieved without trusting other people and lucky for me, said people are immensely talented. When the work comes to life it will be as a result of everybody’s effort and commitment and I really enjoy that ensemble ethic. That’s what theatre is. So I’m very much looking forward to seeing it.
How has it been working with the Blackshaw gang?
I have nothing but good things to say, which is fortunate as this is their blog and that could have been awkward. The Blackshaw gang are an awesome bunch. They made me sign a contract to protect my rights as a writer. They have facilitated all of my research which has been invaluable. They have included me in all major production decisions and have listened to me ramble on inarticulately about ‘the direction the play might be going in…but might not be … but I don’t really know… but I’ll let them know when I know… and what do they think?’ etc… I cannot say how important it was to have people to sound ideas off of and steer me in the right direction when I started to veer off track. They also are incredibly efficient and have clear and realistic deadlines and a consistent approach which encourages you to work continuously but also allows your writing time to evolve. Als,o very useful are the several opportunities to test your work throughout the year at their new writing nights. I really couldn’t be more grateful to them for the experience of the development process and the support they have provided.