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Interview with Precious Little Talent Playwright Ella Hickson

16 January 2012

Ella Hickson was kind enough to set aside some time to answer some questions from Cap T’s dramaturg Carrie Klypchak. Here is what she had to say about PRECIOUS LITTLE TALENT, America, and playwrighting.

You have previously stated elsewhere that PRECIOUS LITTLE TALENT contains autobiographical elements. Could you discuss a bit about the inspiration for writing the play and the developmental process of the show’s practical realization?

I wrote the show in the Winter of 2009 My first play ‘Eight’ had just done very well and transferred to New York. I had just graduated from university and was immediately thrown into this huge adventure because of ‘Eight’. The cast and I ended up in Washington for Obama’s inauguration – it was, for me, a moment of huge hope, it felt like everything was possible. I knew, however, that I was returning to a job market that was being thwarted by the recession and that the adventure I was on may soon come to a halt. I suppose the play grew out of this opposition between a moment of huge potential and the fear of falling between the cracks.

The practical realisation of the show came out of a developmental process which used a first draft of the script as a jumping off point. From there we worked through ideas and concepts that eventually led us to the finished article.

THE GUARDIAN describes PRECIOUS LITTLE TALENT as a piece about the need to retain your optimism in a cruel world. There also seems to be some interrogation into the concepts of hope vs. blind hope via the characters perspectives and actions. Could you speak to the incorporation of these themes in the play via the current challenges that you see in contemporary society?

There is no denying that the economic climate has changed dramatically over the past few years. This shift has been felt most keenly by those that did not yet have a strong foot-hold in the jobs market. For graduates there have been fewer jobs and the paths to success and security have been much less certain than they were previously – I suppose Precious Little Talent is a call to arms to the generation facing these challenges. It asks if a generation that feels forgotten will have the hope that they’ll need to get them through tough times.

Besides PRECIOUS LITTLE TALENT, I know that you have written other plays (for example, EIGHT and HOT MESS), that include an American character amidst British characters. What is it about this construction that attracts you as a playwright?

The inclusion of an American character in a lot of my plays is due to two things, the first practical – the second more ideological. One of my close friends in the theatrical collective that I worked in, and from which my first plays were born, had an American accent whereas the rest of us were British, so I ended up writing an American character for that actor. Having said this – I have just completed a new play that was written to commission – (i.e. I have no idea who will be in it) – and again it features an American. I think on a more ideological note the Anglo-American relationship interests me. It’s a complicated relationship and one that is fast falling from world dominance – that fall from grace I find fascinating.

Capital T is currently producing the American premiere of PRECIOUS LITTLE TALENT. Do you feel that British audiences and American audiences will differ in their reactions to the play?

I’ll be very interested to see what the American reaction to the play is. It’s rare to find a British play that is pro-American and I think PLT is. It is occasionally critical but on the whole I think it celebrates American optimism – I’m fascinated to see how an American audience would react to that.

In PRECIOUS LITTLE TALENT, the audience is looking back on the years of 2008/2009. What would you like the audience to take away from reflecting on the events of these years from a 2012 perspective?

The play has a very simple message : that we must believe in things. In times of trouble , cynicism must take a back seat. I think this message may even be more valid now than it was in 2008.

What playwrights do you feel have been most influential to your playwriting style? Why?

I have been very lucky with the advice and guidance that I have received. I have been mentored by some great British writers – David Greig and Simon Stephens most of all – I owe both of them a huge amount in terms of the technique that they have taught me. My love of theatre started out with Tennessee Williams and now I like a huge range of writers from Richard Bean through to Caryl Churchill but I wouldn’t say I was directly influenced one way or the other. I just try to learn from everything I read and hope I take the good from those that have gone before me.

What initially drew you to playwriting? Can you speak a bit about your process of getting started in the field?

The story of my starting writing is very simple. My university offered a free slot to the company that was voted to have the most interesting idea for a show. I pitched the idea of ‘Eight’ monologues and it succeeded. Once we had the slot I had to write the show – and so ‘Eight’ was created. From there it was just a case of keeping writing.

As a young playwright, you have already received much critical recognition for your work, such as receiving the Edinburgh Fringe’s Fringe First Award, The Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh Award, and the NSDF Emerging Artists Award. How do you see that these honors have affected your work as a professional playwright?

I hope they haven’t. Very soon you realise that awards, whilst they are lovely to receive – you can’t allow them to mean very much. If you write in order to try and win awards you inevitably try to please too many people at the same time and you lose faith in what you are doing. It is better to just make the work as good as you can make it and if good things happen then it’s an added bonus.

You are well known for writing scripts that speak to the realities of the “twenty-something” generation. Do you plan to continue this focus, and what do you see next in your playwriting efforts?

I have just completed a commission from Headlong Theatre on the topic of Fossil Fuels and their depletion – so this was not restricted to twenty-somethings at all. And now I am working on a version of Peter Pan – so again, not twenty-somethings. It may be something I go back to at some point but for now it’s nice to have a break and to focus on characters and issues that effect all ages.