The Sunday Seven.
Keith Gow.
Playwright.



Keith's something of a friend of the blog, having previously contributed to Review 2005.  This year his Doctor Who themed show, Who Are You Supposed To Be? is at the Edinburgh Festival.

How did you become a playwright?

When I was studying Professional Writing and Editing, I took a class called "Performance Writing" - which a nebulous subject addressing different forms of writing for anyone to perform. It covered screenwriting, playwriting, performance poetry and writing for radio. I took the class expecting to specialise in screenplays, but got pretty excited about all the different forms the class addressed - and the class was taught by a playwright, Ray Mooney. He was quite inspirational in that first year of my course - and I went on to study playwriting specifically, the following year, with him as well. I'd always loved seeing live performance, but it still took me a while to consider writing plays, maybe because all the playwrights we study at high school are dead? Then you meet a real live one and think, "Why not?" And then the passion for writing for live performance came from there. In some ways, I was still distracted by wanting to write for film or to write a novel, but eventually theatre won out. Though I always hear the siren call of those other two forms - and I'll be making a short film soon.

What was the inspiration behind Who Are You Supposed To Be?

As with most of my plays, "Who Are You Supposed To Be" started with an image - that of a woman dressed as the character of the Doctor. And in this case, the title is the first line of the play, "Who are you supposed to be?" Asks an incredulous boy geek. And it was also inspired by the terrible "fake geek girl" meme that is insulting and, to me, just makes absolutely no sense - since most of my geek friends are women and my history with fan societies and groups has always had healthy female involvement.

I've been developing the show with actor Jennifer Lusk since December, so it pre-dates this recent talk of a woman in the role - but that was a discussion that happened when David Tennant left, too. So, for fandom, that discussion has precedence. I don't know how widely it was discussed by the public last time, but this time the discussion is happening outside of fandom circles, too.

A lot of my work engages with gender relations - and many of my plays are about women. But the show is about two geeks who meet at a science fiction convention, so I've also had a lot of fun poking fun at fans, fandom and various science fiction franchises. It's a really funny show, that just starts with an argument about a female Doctor and becomes a discussion on what society expects of us - and what we expect of ourselves when we meet someone else for the first time.

What was the trickiest element to achieve?

Because the show is still in development, this is a bit difficult to answer. But as far as the writing goes, early on we had a very clear view of Ash, our female protagonist - and not so clear of a view of Gene, our male lead. I think Ash's journey was clear, because she's the one that comes up against the resistance of Gene to what she's wearing and what she's doing and how she interacts with fandom. And we wanted a way to make Gene sympathetic, too - since he was that antagonist for the early drafts. Eventually we found a story to tell with him - and everything snapped into place.

Finding a balance between pop culture jokes and a dramatic structure that would propel the story forward was a balance not easy to get right, but I think we've managed that really well. It's hilarious.

Of everything you've done, what have you been most pleased with?

A show I had on last year that I developed with three wonderful local actors called Painting with Words & Fire. It was three monologues for women with a fourth devised piece that had these three very different characters meeting. The meeting was devised with the actors and the collaboration brought the three pieces to a really satisfying conclusion - both dramatically and thematically. The separate monologues have all had lives outside the collection, but together they make a really powerful night of theatre. I was also lucky to see a one-night-only reading of Painting with Words & Fire in New York last year.

How do you feel about how Tommy Westphall's Universe has become so synonymous with St Elsewhere, it's rare that an article is written now that doesn't mention it?

It's a little bit odd, though the concept existed before I catalogued the universe with my Tommy Westphall collaborator. The fact that it's still talked about is very gratifying, but it existed before me and now it exists without me. I love hearing about new TV crossover connections, even if the website remains static now.

Oddly enough, I've still never seen St Elsewhere, so for me the show is all about its ending - which was very controversial at the time and still is amongst some of its fans. I like that people keep discovering it randomly. It's pretty fun to search twitter for Tommy Westphall and see that people's minds are still getting blown by the extent of the connections between TV shows. And I still tweet as @crossoverman, so it's still a little part of me.

Who’s your favourite playwright?

I'm going to pick two, because this is a tough question in any case. As far as classic playwrights go, I love Tennessee Williams' work. I feel in love with his famous early plays, but I've recently started reading his more obscure later works and they're so thrilling, even if they never gained the notoriety of The Glass Menagerie or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Of current playwrights, I love the muscular language and unapologetic style of Neil LaBute. Most of his work is tough to watch, but it's visceral in a way that reminds me why I love text-based theatre. The Shape of Things, The Mercy Seat, In a Dark Dark House - so hard-hitting and powerful in completely different ways.

What stops you from feeling listless?

I'm not sure I ever feel listless. I felt like that more when I was younger but now I have a lot of enthusiasm for seeing theatre and making theatre. I don't think I'd ever have time to feel listless, but certain my energy for making theatre often comes from seeing great theate - on the mainstages or in non-traditional spaces. Seeing great theatre makes me want to make great theatre. And making theatre inspires me to go out and see more theatre. It's a happy cycle.

Who Are You Supposed To Be? is at the C venues - C aquila at the Edinburgh Festival from 14-26 August at 15:40 (Box office phone: 0845 260 1234). 

 If you want to help it into existence, there's also an Indiegogo fundraising campaign.

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