Read Our Guest Post on 17percent’s latest Blog!

Guest post: A Right Pair…

Ali Kemp and Deborah Klayman talk about writing together

Originally published on

Posted on November 29, 2012

Ali Kemp and Deborah Klayman are the founders of Whoop’ n’ Wail Theatre Company. They write together and this is their guest blog about the joint writing process.

Why did you decide to write together?

There were several reasons, and most came out of our shared views and interests. When we first met in 2006 we were actors on a theatre tour together, and we spent the next two months living in each other’s pockets, quickly finding out we had a lot in common and becoming firm friends. After that we enjoyed performing together in a variety of other productions, so when the idea of writing a play for the Edinburgh Fringe presented itself writing together was a natural progression. Because we already had that close relationship we knew we could be honest with each other and disagree without taking it personally, which is really important when you are creating work that you are both passionate about.

Our shared interest in social justice and the under-representation of women in the theatre led to our first play, eXclusion. In 2009, after several years working in prisons and secure mental health services, Debs was at the Edinburgh Fringe and saw a number of excellent plays about men in prison, and began thinking about the lack of plays about women in similar circumstances. Because of our close friendship and Ali’s own background in mental health work it was the obvious choice to begin talking about and researching the subject together, and the play developed from there into a piece about women in the criminal justice system through a pastiche of a reality TV show.

Having taken eXclusion to Edinburgh in 2011, and subsequently mounting a successful tour, we found ourselves at a crossroads: would we continue to write together or would this be a one-off? It was an easy question to answer as the research and development phase of eXclusion left us with so many things we still wanted to say, plus we both found the writing process really enjoyable. With a limited number of roles for actresses, even in London, finding we had this ability to create our own work was very liberating and motivated us to keep writing.

The pros and cons of writing as a pair

A number of writers we have spoken to described the idea of writing as a pair as horrifying! – or at the very least a surprising choice. It may be unusual, but as performers we find collaboration very natural so co-authoring plays is just an extension of the way we already work. Neither of us find working together has pros and cons exactly, but that there are challenges and aspects we both find far easier as a pair.

At the heart of the process is respect and fun: respecting each other’s ideas and vision and sometimes running with things, trusting they will end up where they are supposed to go, and enjoying the weird and wonderful journey. We lay a foundation, sparking off each other to create one integral idea, then once we have this overview we sometimes go away and write something, bring it back and weave it in. We see it like stacking building blocks, choosing the right ones together then working out the best way to assemble them so that we are both happy with what we have created. There will always be an element of compromise – not in terms of giving up or giving in, but in hearing the other person out – which can often change your outlook on a scene. Much of the work we’ve been proudest of had come from a tangent one of us has gone on which has got us off a sticking point or inspired a whole new direction.

One of the bugbears for a lot of writers is the creation of realistic, truthful dialogue, but as actors we feel we have a head start as we are so used to working with and shaping spoken text. Having someone to bounce dialogue off is a great advantage, and actors who have worked with our texts have described them as ‘actor-friendly’ and commented on the naturalistic style.

Having to plan dates and times to work together means we have to be organised – neither of us can wimp out if it’s in the diary! This drives our writing and keeps us on track, we can’t stagnate as we are both very busy with our other work so have to make the most of our time together, although as friends we definitely have to fight the urge to gossip too much!

It’s often said that in a writing partnership the one at the keyboard is really the one who writes it – what are your views?

When we sit down to write one or other of us will be the one physically typing the words, but a lot has happened before we get to that stage. We tend to discuss scenes or structure a lot before putting fingers to keyboard, and often work from paper in the early stages which is less limiting as we can throw ideas around more easily and jot down words or impressions. We take it in turns to type, with the other person freed up to be more creative and instinctive, and often the one at the keyboard is scribing for the other rather than driving the process. When you’re typing you sometimes throw in a line or sentence construction, but we constantly review everything so what we are working on is always truly collaborative. Sometimes one of us gets bogged down in semantics or structure (or in Debs’ case endless formatting!), but luckily with two of us we don’t stay stuck for long.

Ali & Debs and 17%

Our friend Rebecca Peyton wrote a guest post for 17% earlier in the year, and that is how we first came across She Writes. We were in the middle of our second full length play, but were intrigued by the idea of writing a short piece to a brief, and loved the ethos of what Sam is trying to achieve for female playwrights. As we only found out about What is Art? days before the deadline we had only one day together to get the piece planned, written and submitted but we like a challenge so put our thinking caps on and wrote My Bloody Laundrette, which we were thrilled to have selected. We now follow Gina Gough’s brilliant blog ‘Playwrights’ Competition Calendar’ and have had great fun writing three new short plays which we’ve submitted to a variety of competitions in the past few months. We are delighted that our latest play, Cascade of Baubles, will be performed at She Writes on 5th December 2012.

About Deborah Klayman

Deborah is an actress, musician, voice artist and writer based in the UK. She trained at the University of Northumbria, where she gained a 1st Class BA (Hons) in Performance, and at Drama Studio London (Postgraduate Diploma in Acting). Deborah has performed in the UK and overseas in a variety of roles which include Emilia in 'Othello' and Juliana Tesman in 'Hedda Gabler' in rep, Regan in 'King Lear', Mrs Pugh/Polly Garter in 'Under Milk Wood' and Fluellen/Alice in Henry V. An accomplished cellist and singer, the projects she undertakes frequently utilise her musical talents. Film and TV roles include: Geordie in a TV pilot for 'Dead Man's Cardy', Reporter in 'Mission London', Sarah in 'For Better or Worse', and Nurse Tremaine in 'Another Day. Deborah is also a successful voice artist, recording projects for companies such as M&C Saatchi/Silverfish Media, BP, Oxford University Press and The Scottish Sunday Express. Deborah is a talented writer, penning plays and screenplays primarily on issues surrounding social justice. Her first play, 'Janetarium', was one of three selected through the Traverse Theatre's Class Act project and was subsequently staged at the Traverse and published in Theatre Scotland Magazine. She later joined the theatre's Young Writers Group, and continued to write and devise plays throughout her university and drama school training. In 2005, she co-authored "Eve & Lilith" with Jessica Martenson which was produced at that year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe. In 2011, Deborah co-founded Whoop 'n' Wail Theatre Company with friend, collaborator and writing partner Ali Kemp. Their debut production, 'eXclusion', was produced in association with UK charity Women In Prison and toured to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, London's Waterloo East Theatre, and Bracknell's South Hill Park Arts Centre. Their latest venture, "Whoop 'n' Wail Represents...", showcases new writing that puts gender equality centre stage, working with even numbers of female and male writers and directors to stage plays that pass the Bechdel Test. Deborah was one of the Traverse Theatre's 'Traverse Fifty' (a year-long writing attachment in 2013), and Whoop 'n' Wail's play 'My Bloody Laundrette' recently won the Cambridge University Press "Channel the Bard" competition. View all posts by Deborah Klayman

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