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BWW Interview: Andrew Whyment Discusses Running Online Writing and Devising Workshops At Squint Theatre

Squint Theatre's artistic director shares how his company helps equip theatre-makers with tools for crafting shows

BWW Interview: Andrew Whyment Discusses Running Online Writing and Devising Workshops At Squint Theatre

Andrew Whyment is a theatre director and Artistic Director of Squint. He is currently an Associate of the National Youth Theatre and formerly Resident Assistant Director at Leeds Playhouse. Whyment spoke to us about the workshops Squint has been running to help artists continue writing and devising theatre.

Who inspired you most growing up?

When I was in the sixth form at school, I was lucky enough to find a small group of friends who were as mad about drama as I was. We built sets, devised stuff and messed around in the drama studio for hours together. They inspired me to see theatre-making as something I could do with my life and taught me to hold on tight to the people who make you your creative best.

How did Squint begin?

I visited the Edinburgh Festival for the first time in 2008 and couldn't believe that all these people my age were up there making such extraordinary work. I vowed to return with a show of my own the following year and so, with a bunch of university friends, I headed back up there in 2009 with a production of Bryony Lavery's Frozen (featuring a lot of filing cabinet choreography!) and that was the beginning of Squint.

In the years that followed, I was a new graduate in London, trying to figure out how to be a theatre director. Squint was a safe space where I could try things out with those people in my life who make me my creative best.

Today (on a good day), through a process of devising and writing, we make work that interrogates why stories are told, who the storytellers are and how stories are made - but it's taken us years to figure that out!

As soon as we can get back in front of an audience, we'll be premiering our latest show, The Incredible True Story of the Johnstown Flood. It examines the fine line between empathy and exploitation when telling working-class stories.

What do Squint's workshops involve?

Our online workshops are all about empowering participants with tools to be applied to their own writing and devising projects. They are wholly inclusive and geared towards giving people of any age and experience the space to find new ideas, nurture current ones and continue to thrive.

We believe in "learning through doing", so our two-hour sessions are super practical; they're like creative workouts. We normally begin with funk music playing and end with participants having a list of loads of new games and exercises from the Squint toolbox.

Who are the workshops primarily targeted at?

Participants of all ages join us from all over the world such as the following: actors who have never written before; writers who need a jumpstart; or directors who are devising for the first time. Our Get Writing and Get Devising workshops are for anyone of any experience whilst our Keep Writing workshops are for people who are already rolling with a playwriting project.

Our workshops are for everyone, but we're particularly interested in empowering those who don't think writing and devising are for them.

Why did you begin offering the workshops during lockdown?

At the beginning of the first lockdown last year, we felt disconnected from our creative community. We were feeling creatively starved. So, we put our first Get Writing session online and discovered many others were feeling the same way.

In pre-COVID times, we ran writing workshops with The Mono Box, devising projects at The National Theatre and many schools and university courses.

Our online workshops have allowed us to share our practice more widely and affordably than ever before. The opportunity to share a virtual space with a diverse and international group of writers and theatre-makers during this time has been and continues to be, energising and inspiring.

You are offering some free spaces for the workshops. Why is this important to you?

Thanks to some Arts Council funding and partnerships with Compass Collective, Open Door and the National Youth Theatre, we're offering bursaries to many participants from low-income backgrounds.

British theatre has a huge class problem; it's one of the biggest barriers to accessing our industry intersecting with ethnicity, gender, and disability. Our bursary programme goes some way toward ensuring that our workshops reach more than just those who can afford £10/session.

We aren't just offering bursary places via partner organisations. If the cost of our workshops is a barrier for you, drop us an email.

How have you found adapting to delivering online workshops? Have there been any surprise blessings or challenges?

We really miss being in physical spaces, but Zoom's advantage is that it allows everyone to dial in from the comfort of their own desks. What better setting is there for a writing class than the desk you're writing your play at?

Going online also gives us international reach. We've had participants from Oslo to San Francisco, to Barcelona to Rio, with everyone learning and growing together.

It's also nice making a cup of tea in your own kitchen during the break.

What do you think makes a good piece of theatre, whether prescribed or devised?

A good piece of theatre looks its audience in the eye, shows us something new and has some fun doing it.

What are your future plans for the project?

Between February and June this year, we have eleven online workshops in the diary. We plan to announce more dates for later in the year.

Squint's brilliant team of Associates - Adam, Alasdair, Claire, Kane, Lee, Louise and Sid - and I can't wait to get started.

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Sit down to write an entire play and the pressure Will Block you; sit down to write a moment, and then another, and another, and before you know it, you'll have a play.

Where can people go to find out more about the workshops?

You can book for one-off sessions or a whole series on our website.

Squint Theatre's Get Writing, Get Devising and Keep Writing workshops are available to book online now

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