Writing Lost at Sea
By mornayoung, Apr 29 2019 06:29PM
I’m so pleased by the reaction to Lost at Sea so far but I need to be really clear that the family story at the centre is not autobiographical. The play is dedicated to my dad who was lost at sea and there is verbatim text woven throughout but the central story is fictional. I’m a playwright and my job is to find a narrative that best tells the story I want to tell. I wouldn’t, under any circumstances, put my actual real life on stage. Inspired by, emerged from... I draw from real life a lot in my writing - but this is not directly “my story”. That’s too raw, too personal - most of all, I wouldn’t expose my family in that way. Moreover, my dad’s death isn’t an isolated event. So many men and boats have been lost and I wanted to write something capturing all those voices and stories. If I were writing a memoir, then it would be different - scope for a more intimate exploration of grieving for my dad - but this is a stage play and there is a fictional narrative to drive the story forward. There are collaborators, there is a stage and there is an opportunity to present something wider. If this play becomes solely “my story” then the actual, bigger story I’m trying to tell loses impact. It is the story of many people who experienced a way of life that remains hidden to most. This is a part of Scotland’s history and, really, our present too. It is so much bigger than my one personal tragedy.
It’s really important for me to emphasise the fact vs fiction element because there are many “real voices” in the play and I think they lose their power if this becomes the story of one person. This is where the artistic licence comes in - piecing together a narrative that can, ultimately, support the truth in the best possible way.
Real life doesn’t tie up like a narrative. There’s no neat beginning, middle or end and I have also tried to experiment with this within the form / structure of the play. But this is more than just “a piece of theatre” and I have a massive duty of care to my family and the community to tell this story and to tell it well - these voices haven’t been heard on stage before and there is a huge responsibility attached to that. Right now, I have the privilege of telling this story on a big stage and I really take that responsibility seriously. We all have a responsibility to look at the unheard stories around us - but we also have to be careful about the telling.
This is a play that is full of heart and humour, myth and mystery as much as harsh reality. It is multi-voiced and has many layers. I have tried to write it with a theatricality harking back to big worlds like those created in Cheviot and Bondagers. I wanted to embrace the power of theatre to tell a story of the people.
My storytelling lens is perhaps different because I’m writing from the POV of a working-class woman and that’s not a voice we see on big stages much. Perhaps that also makes the work seem more personal. I’ve been so scared about this opportunity but I’m also aware that it’s a chance to have some larger industry-wide conversations.
To summarise a long thread short - I have a duty of care to protect the story, my family and community that this play was created within. This is bigger than just “a theatre gig” for me. It is a story that I have dreamt up over a long time and it’s my life dream and ambition to write something I can dedicate to my dad.
But that all diminishes if this story is reduced to my autobiographical retelling. I have already given my heart and soul to this play - it doesn’t need to follow the step by step narrative of my own life. The story of two brothers, the family drama, the before, the aftermath, the journey through myth and into politics... it’s created to tell a story that represents an era and a people. I am a part of that era and people - but I am also a playwright and I have to be able to step back enough to look at how we tell stories. This play is my attempt to weave many stories together, to explore unheard lives and to, hopefully, create an impactful piece of theatre that can question, honour and celebrate a unique way of life.
This is a long read (and if you’ve stayed with me to the end - thank you) but I think it’s important for me to clarify these facts as both a person who has experienced an extreme tragedy and as a playwright who wants to tell unheard stories. The two will always cross over and I hope one doesn't diminish the other.
I also really hope that lots of people will go see the play and that they will experience the story with an open heart and an open mind. My personal story is only one tiny part of a much bigger narrative - there are politics at play - and that narrative is what I’d ask you to focus on. One loss is a tragedy - many losses are part of a much, much bigger story.
As my Skipper says more than once Morna...
Your story is her story and her story is yours - IT’S AA BOUND THEGITHER -and that showing of the interconnectedness of things is what I’ve come to realise is the essential substance and purpose of art.
So you have achieved something very special. It also defines what Tom Leonard strove to highlight - the vitality and supremacy of the LOCAL and the UNIVERSAL in art.