During my third year at drama school I realised how intensely bad I was at radio acting. In truth, I knew before I even entered the first of our very brief sessions on the basics of acting for radio and voiceover. My tutors had spent two and a half years aligning my spine, getting me to breathe from all sorts of apparent airbags in my body- anything, ANYTHING to stop me from sounding like Eliza Doolittle pre Henry Higgins. The main problem being that there was no space for my voice to travel through and so no air for its flaws to be lost in. It is so close, so intimate. Radio was therefore on my list of ‘ah, that’s a shame’.
The idea for Educator came about when I was working at the Royal Court during the Young Writers Festival 2012. Part of the festival involved playwrights writing a play of 100 words to be displayed around the building. Mine was called ‘Afterwards’ and was written on a toilet door in the ladies. A fitting place. The scene involved a teenage girl being asked being questioned by a young woman about the whereabouts of her husband. Although it was only 100 words I was aware that in my head I had created a whole backstory for the two of them, where they had come from and why they were together now.
When Helen Perry, producer and director, approached me to submit an idea for The Wire, I had been working in a secondary school for two years, which is where the seed for ‘Afterwards’ had come from. I was able to spend all day listening to the thoughts and musings of teenagers. It was a blessing because the logic, opinion and use of language that many of them had was poetic and profound without a hint of awareness or consciousness. Many of the young women had a boldness and confidence about their place in the world, all though it was always coupled with the natural immaturity of their age. But there was a boldness that made me wonder how much responsibility they gave to themselves when it came to their behaviour and decisions made. The first narrative idea I thought of when Helen asked was the development of ‘Afterwards’.
The two women in the play had always been clear to me. One was a child but believed herself to be a woman, the instigator of an affair, bright, bored and privileged (opposed to damaged and vulnerable, groomed.) The other, a woman at an age that meant she should be ticking off the list (as society sees it)- child, house, husband, job. A projection forced on her but the truth being she had a bigger sense of herself and was secure in what she wanted and the work that required. Quite simply it was always going to be a story about being a girl and being a woman. And how sex and sexual awareness plays a part in that. Now I just needed to work out how I was meant to put that into a radio play that would sit in peoples ears. Right. Ok.
The main cast in Educator - Michelle Terry, Simon Harrison and Ashling Loftus.ry, Simon Harrison and Ashling Loftus.
The structure of ‘Educator’- the two women meeting to replay their experiences of the central story, was something that stumped me from the beginning. I found it difficult to carve the arc of the story- attempting to slowly reveal the affair, the moment in which Lydia takes responsibility and then the final moment where a) Maria tricks Lydia, emotionally breaking her down and b) Lydia holding to her straight forward reasoning, refusing to be emotionally broken down. Without having the visual to aid the flashback structure it was hard to pin down why the two women were meeting and what Maria needed from Lydia. And of course how Lydia’s unexpected personality effected Maria’s course of action. Adding to this problem was that in the first of many drafts Lydia was all knowing, holding the reigns far too much with no room for Maria to teach her. From the outset I wanted it to be clear that Lydia was ultra bright, sexually aware and lived with a simplicity of mind that she believed made her secure and ‘an accomplished woman’. After a few drafts Jake had also become lost on me, he was a stepping stone with no sense of why he did what he did and his journey through the affair, with both Lydia and Maria was flat and domestic. A little offensive to men.
I’m not sure why I lost a hold of the fundamental questions about the characters- what do they want and what have they done to each other. I think part of it was realising very quickly that writing for radio is a specific craft. To take an audience on a journey when all they have are their imaginations and these voices is something that is difficult to achieve. I’d narrowed the breadth of writing to make it basic, without room for heightened expressions. Some drafts in, I was unsure how I would get it to work.
I was assisted in opening the play up by Helen- who guided me by posing questions that allowed me to interrogate reasons for each of the moments in the play that seemed pivotal, as well as teaching me how to use the 45 minutes in the most economical way. Real lessons that only when you’re in it do you realise you need to be taught. Helen also encouraged me to be braver with it, the content and the way language. This was the gift of writing for The Wire slot. I also had a conversation with a friend who is male, in his thirties and an actor- just what I needed to understand the man who was central to the story and how to make him human, with flaws that led to action that led to consequence. This conversation also led me to look at Lydia’s hold on the situation and what Maria was going to teach her. It came back to the simple fact that Lydia was a child and Maria was a woman. And as a 24/25 women, I got the chance to explore that gap between thinking you’ve learnt all you need to know about who you are and the moment that you are taught by somebody else you don’t know it all yet. But one day you will. When it is your time.
Educator will be on as part of The Wire on BBC Radio 3, this Sat 8th Feb, at 21:45.