Ahead of today’s event with theatre-maker Andi Denny, SWC’s Literary Editor Rachel Walker spoke to him about his theatre company The Other Guys, his advice for budding professionals, and the importance of realism in contemporary theatre.
You recently founded a new theatre company, The Other Guys. Can you tell us a little bit about the company and its aims?
I’d love to. The Other Guys Theatre Scotland was founded at the tail-end of 2016 and, in all honesty, the idea began as a way to self-produce my work. Coming out of my Masters at the University of Glasgow a month before, it became clear how difficult it is to get your first big project produced. At the same time, I’d spent seven years working hard to help run one of the amateur companies in Glasgow and was frustrated. They really prioritised quality, but specialised in musicals. Still, over the years, I had built a network of talented performers and theatre-makers whose opportunities were limited by a lack of training, luck, money, or experience in ‘straight’ theatre. I wanted to fix that for those people and others who are talented, yet overlooked – ‘the other guys’.
You’re a playwright, performer and producer. Is there a particular discipline that you prefer?
I grew up set on being an actor, and I do love taking control and really making theatre happen, but there’s something so pure about writing the play. By the time an audience sees a production, it’s had the input of every actor, it’s been collaborated on by the whole team, it looks how it looks and sounds how it sounds, and it’s being heavily affected by the space… It’s been warped and built on and made better by that exact combination of voices and circumstances – a combination that, teamed with each audience member’s experience of it, is unique and will never happen again. That’s a thrill in itself. That’s theatre. But there’s something pure about there being a record of this fictional world that’s all your own imperfect, incomplete baby. It’s a window to exactly how you felt, what you feared, what made you laugh and what was more important to you when you wrote it.
Do you have any advice for someone starting out in theatre?
Learn the difference between insecurity and instinct. When you think your work isn’t good enough and other people tell you they’re “sure you’re just being hard on yourself”, don’t dismiss your natural reaction. Hold yourself to your own high standards, and surround yourself with people who can love what you do and still tell you when you suck.
Tonight’s event will focus on creating ‘real people’ and realistic dialogue in theatre. How important is realism to you as a theatre-maker?
For me, I think embracing realism again is the key to making theatre more accessible and appealing to people outside our own bubble. People don’t think they like theatre because they think theatre is pretentious and ‘not for them’. It doesn’t speak to them. Shakespeare’s my go-to on this. To 21st century audiences, Shakespeare’s masterful language is a barrier – and yet, many of us come up through English classes at school with Shakespeare as our only real exposure to theatre. We tout that Shakespeare is theatre. If you don’t like or get Shakespeare, it follows, you don’t like theatre.
We spend a lot of time and funding looking at ways to get theatre out to communities that don’t have much access otherwise, and that’s hugely important – but if theatre doesn’t speak to them, it’s all useless. We write too often for people with more abstract or poetic sensibilities. We don’t write often enough for people who could are turned off by the pomp and pretention they associate with theatre, and when we try, it’s often patronising. If we got it right more often and gave people more relatable plays, I really believe realism could help theatre grow in this country.
Is there anything you feel is lacking in Scottish theatre at the moment?
Apart from embracing realism a little more, I’ve always thought more than one accredited drama school north of the border would benefit us immensely. In the current set-up, most of the best Scottish talent has little option but to head south, whether they want to or not, and the number of places in Scotland for talented performers is somewhat limited by how much greater the benefits are to the Conservatoire to have international students who can be favoured for their greater tuition fees. It’s not something I can speak to with any major authority, so I’d be happy to be told I’m wrong, but I do think it says we don’t take our wealth of creative talent seriously enough.
And on that note, briefly: we need to stop letting the word ‘amateur’ set our expectations. Many of the best theatre-makers in history, at some point in their careers, did it for free.
Was there a particular play or performance that inspired you to get into theatre?
I always loved performing Arthur Miller’s work—both my undergrad and postgrad dissertations are on how Miller’s characters are Shakespearean in a way that resonates better with modern audiences—but the writer who first really inspired me to write dialogue was Aaron Sorkin. Each episode of the West Wing is its own play, and the writing is all about rhythm. It’s not always perfect, but you’re essentially watching seven seasons of televised plays and so I learned from his shortcomings, too. The West Wing is my go-to masterclass, even if my writing reads nothing like Sorkin’s.
We’d like to thank Andi Denny for his fantastic and insightful responses, and the staff at the Scottish Writers’ Centre would encourage you all to attend his event tonight at the CCA! Interested in learning more about the SWC? Follow us on Twitter @ScottishWriters and on Instagram @scottishwriterscentre.
Words: Rachel Walker
Image credit: The Other Guys Theatre Scotland