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Zodwa Nyoni on being a writer-in-residence

Written by Zodwa Nyoni

“You can go through a cycle whereby you love your idea, think you’re a genius, start to question the idea, hate it, procrastinate, have a small existential crisis, take a break, figure out what’s not working in the story and then get back to writing. This can all happen in one day.”

zodwa-nyoni-2-4mbIn 2014, I won the Channel 4 Playwright’s Scheme with my play, Boi Boi is Dead; and was made Writer-in-Residence at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. I was put up for the award by Alex Chisholm, then Literary Associate at the Playhouse.

The residency allows for a writer to develop their practice with the support from the literary department. Each residency is tailored to suit the writer’s needs. At the time of my appointment I’d recently graduated from my MA in Writing for Performance and Publication at Leeds University. I had a body of work in theatre, radio and film which had been written during my course or been commissioned by Freedom Studios and WYP.

Theatre was my main focus at the time. Boi Boi is Dead, my first full-length play had been through a couple of drafts with Alex as dramaturg. I went into the residency knowing that I wanted to have it produced. Having done short plays, I felt like this was the next step not only for the play but also for my career. In addition to this, I wanted to gain more knowledge and connections in the industry.

The residency comes with a bursary of £7000. This was helpful for me as I was able to use the money to buy myself time and be fully immersed into the residency. It meant I could work less in other jobs and have my living expenses covered.

As well as writing new work, I took part in R&D’s for Boi Boi is Dead, shadowed directors, attended company meetings, met with guest artists and companies , supported new artists on the Summer Sublets programme, led workshops for First Floor, was part of the script reading team, was a member of a month writer’s group and networked with regional and national theatres. I was building a picture of the industry from different perspectives and equipping myself with choices post-residency.

What was the most beneficial for me in that year and has remained are the relationships that I built with other artists. Writing has long periods of seclusion. In that time, you can go through a cycle whereby you love your idea, think you’re a genius, start to question the idea, hate it, procrastinate (this is the time you take up a random hobby), have a small existential crisis (and annoy your friends and family in the process), take a break, figure out what’s not working in the story (and baffle your friends and family with your sudden joy because life makes sense again) and then get back to writing. This can all happen in one day or sometimes longer. It’s different for each artist and their process. In the artists that I met, I found people who understood that cycle.

The hardest thing for me came towards the end of the year when I made the decision to commit and be a full- time writer. It’s a life of uncertainty. Commissions come all at once, in drips and drabs or not at all. So I’m always learning how I respond to and manage the changes, workloads and patterns. For me this is about building a sustainable career so I start to think about diversifying into film, radio and TV.

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