Writer Ade Solanke: ‘My first play taught me that fortune favours the brave’
My first play was Pandora’s Box at the Arcola Theatre in London, produced by my own company Spora Stories. A planned production fell through, so I made a new production happen. At the time I didn’t know any other writer who’d produced their own play.
I won a prize as ‘London’s top youth entrepreneur’ in my 20s and went to film school in riot-torn Los Angeles with a two-year-old in nappies in my 30s, so for this project I summoned up that optimistic self-starter again.
I also had superb support from Jon Harris, who was an experienced producer, lots of advice from Leyla Nazli at the Arcola and encouragement, goodwill and wisdom from Jenny Killick at the Arts Council. She was the first woman to direct a play at the National Theatre, so she just oozes knowledge.
I was extremely nervous, but I had no time to wallow. I’m organised and I love getting stuff done so I just threw myself into it. Ola Animashawun directed. Like Jenny, he is a veteran theatre person, which helped a lot.
Also, I’d had an office in the Young Vic pod for two years. Although I was a novice, I’d been listening to the Vic team talk about their work in the background and lots had seeped in. I hadn’t realised I was learning so much.
As a producer, I learned that it’s good to know when I am wearing which hat in regard to cast and crew relationships. It’s a different dynamic to being a writer. I also learned the importance of ‘DIN’, aka Do It Now. Handle each piece of paper (or email) only once. Make the decision and move on. Getting things done is more important than getting things perfect.
Don’t wait to be put forward for opportunities – get your projects going. It’s nerve-racking producing a play. I remember bursting into tears upon getting the box office reports about sell-out shows. If we hadn’t done so well (we were a debut play in a 250-seat space) I’d have been bankrupt. But people flocked in – some came back four or five times. We won awards and did a national tour to 16 venues, the largest tour for a black play in the UK. I’m glad I took the risk.
Work hard, really know your craft… and then leap. Fortune favours the brave.
CV: Ade Solanke
Training: MFA screenwriting, University of Southern California Film School
Theatre includes: Pandora’s Box (2012); East End Boys, West End Girls (2015)
Film includes: The Family Legacy
Ade Solanke’s play, The Court Must Have a Queen, is at Hampton Court Palace from July-August. She was talking to John Byrne