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Charlotte Josephine: To grow I had to get out of my comfort zone and learn to write ‘like a writer’

Sophie Melville and Nigel Barrett in Pops by Charlotte Josephine. Photo: The Other Richard Sophie Melville and Nigel Barrett in Pops by Charlotte Josephine. Photo: The Other Richard

Someone much wiser than me said plants grow to the capacity of their pots. So sometimes you’ve got to put yourself in a bigger pot, dare yourself to stretch – which is scary because growth isn’t comfy. But it’s necessary.

I’ve written ‘like an actor’ for several years now. Following gut instincts, imagining myself on stage and asking myself what feels right to do next, listening to my body more than my head, splurging on the page quickly before my inner critic can pipe up.

Splurging feels good, the hard part is tidying it into something with a shape. I’m dyslexic and impatient and scared. But thankfully theatre is a collaborative art form, I’ve been blessed with beautiful ‘midwives’ for my ideas. Tidying the splurge is less fun, but necessary, so it gets done, somehow.

Then we’re in rehearsals and I’m happy again. Play time. No black and white binary of right and wrong? All experimenting, all curiosity, all play? Bliss. There’s no greater feeling than being on stage telling a story you really fucking care about. First as a writer, then as an actor? Greedy bliss.

But to grow I’ve had to get outta my comfort zone, jump into a bigger pot. This year I’ve been learning to write ‘like a writer’. Letting others perform the work, focusing solely on one job.

Watching artists who have stepped away from performing their own work to focus on writing has been inspiring. I’m sure the brilliant Selina Thompson has learned loads by watching Salt, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge has with Fleabag (Maddie Rice is amazing).

Ignoring the urge to dive in and learning to step back and look at the bigger picture has let me see it more clearly. Turns out play structure isn’t that scary. I’ve read all the books and I reckon the best one is by Stephen Jeffreys, practical, simple and warm.

How to be a playwright: lessons from past master Stephen Jeffreys

My new show Pops grew from a personal place into something I hope is more universal. I’m not performing in it. I’m just the writer. For the first time ever really. And I’m learning buckets.

It’s a complete joy to watch brilliant actors, and a fantastic creative team, turn the words I wrote into something worth watching. But letting go isn’t always easy. Actors don’t do it the same every night and sometimes they did it better the other day and, argh, breathe, it’s a live art form, it’s allowed to morph.

I had no idea what to do during the tech of our sharing at Live Theatre. What I learned is: don’t be in a tech as a writer unless you really have to be there. Trust me, it’s gross. I kept pacing up and down asking anyone and everyone if they wanted another tea. When in doubt make tea right?

And then sitting in the audience watching a public performance I felt, well, all the feelings. I’m still learning. I think I find performing easier than watching. Trying to be useful to others has helped me stay sane, it’s not all about me, it’s never about me, it’s about the work. But I’m glad to be trying out a bigger pot.

Actor and writer Charlotte Josephine: ‘UK theatre could do with being braver – it should be visceral’

Pops can be seen at the Edinburgh Fringe as part of the HighTide Disruption season (July 31 to  August 25) and then at HighTide’s festival in Aldeburgh (September 10-15)

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