Here at Zinc, we like to promote personal and community safety through educational resources, by tackling hard-hitting topics including road safety, bullying, substance abuse, and human trafficking. Using the arts and theatre as an approach to teaching allows students to participate, demonstrate and observe, encouraging learning through experience. As a successful teacher and playwright, Mark Wheeller’s plays have travelled around the world, with ‘Ch!cken’ just finishing its first tour in the United Arab Emirates. With the debates over the exclusion of arts subjects from the new English baccalaureate we thought we’d have a chat with Mark about the accessibility of theatre for young people:
1) When did you realise playwriting was for you and why?
Ha! I’m really a failed pop star more than a playwright.
I wanted to be a songwriter. The only way I could get my songs performed was to have musicals written using them. Then I’d ask my friends to write the scripts. I ran out of friends to do this, so I was forced to write the scripts myself. I wrote both music and lyrics for the opening number of Wacky Soap is one of the few surviving songs where I wrote the music. The rest (for that musical) were my lyrics set to James Holmes’ fantastic music.
2) How do you think theatre could be made more accessible for young people?
It is devastating to see how cutbacks are destroying Drama departments across the country. I don’t know what can be done but there are many schools who do continue to support the Arts… where I moved to, The Romsey School, is one such. I hope parents will vote with their feet. This remains my hope, that those schools who do support the Arts will remain the most successful and the others will be forced to reconsider their priorities.
3) What advice would you have for anyone getting into script writing/theatre?
Get your work performed and reviewed. Enter your plays for festivals like the Edinburgh, National Student Drama & All England Theatre Festivals. Be prepared to direct your own work. Hard to Swallow was performed at the National Theatre back in 1989 as part of the Lloyds Bank Theatre Challenge, this brought my plays to the attention of an examiner. It is now a set text for Eduqas.
4) What do you have coming up this year?
I have been working on a fan tribute play to my hero, David Bowie. It is called Can You Hear Me Major Tom? And is a collection of fan accounts (including my own) of how his life impacted us. It is a play I feel very close to, as Ziggy Stardust was always the rock icon I wanted to be!
Mark Wheeller’s scripts are available to purchased here https://zincpublishing.co.uk/