Pictured (L to R): Alfred Molina and Jane Kaczmarek. Photograph by Daniel Rader.
BETWEEN THE LINES – AND NO MORE SHALL WE PART: A weekly look at the creative process through a literary lens.
Before arriving at the Festival, And No More Shall We Part playwright Tom Holloway spoke with WTF literary assistant Sam French from Australia (10,425 miles away) about his play, his writing process, and empathy in the theater.
[Sam French] What was the initial idea that set you down the road of writing And No More Shall We Part?
[Tom Holloway] Fundamentally, I wanted to look at how someone coming to the end of their life attempts to say goodbye to those they love. It’s a question that was happening within my own family, and it is part of the story that we will all face at some time, in some way. There are difficult decisions to be made in these moments, and I wanted to give people the chance to actually walk in the shoes of those facing those decisions and coming to terms with the implications of these decisions.
[SF] When you first started working on writing this play, what were you reading? What were you listening to? What were you thinking about?
[TH] And No More Shall We Part actually comes from a song by an Australian artist named Nick Cave. While I am basically always listening to his music, the feel of this song really influenced me; its melancholy and sense of lost love influenced my thinking. I listen to music a lot to influence my writing, but it’s almost always about a feel rather than anything literal. The music gets me in the headspace for the kind of experience I’m trying to share.
[SF] What else can you tell us about how you write?
[TH] For me a first draft is like an actor improvising. I write the first line and see what line might come after that. Doing this helps me capture a sense of my plays being in the moment. Imagine you’re watching football: where might the next fumble come from that leads to the next turnover that leads to the next gap in defense that leads to the glorious touchdown? It can happen at any moment and it’s what makes the sport exciting. It’s also the thing theatre is trying so hard to capture, even though theatre is predetermined. I love that theatre’s goal is to capture a feeling it can never actually reach. If I’m writing my plays one line at a time, as opposed to pre-planning the entire story, I can at least try to capture some of that energy.
[SF] What else is your writing guided by?
[TH] In theatre, we don’t often think about the musicality of language. We can sit and listen to a piece of classical music and be absolutely engaged with it simply because of the balance of rhythm, timbre, and pitch. These things affect us on a deep, instinctual level. In theatre we should be looking at the delivery of words in a similar way: monologues as arias or rock solos.
[SF] Looking at your entire body of work, you have such a diverse range: from thrillers to genre-pieces to re-imaginations of Greek tragedy. Is there a consistent thread to the ideas you engage with as a writer?
[TH] If the idea of writing something scares me, I think it is probably worth writing about. I also love the communal aspect of theatre; getting together with others and following a singular story is becoming a rarer part of our lives. Sometimes it’s good to come together for a laugh, to be challenged, or to have a good cry.
[SF] Speaking of which, the emotional lives of your characters are so powerful. What do you think theatre offers that is unique for stories of emotional depth?
[TH] Theatre is empathy training. It’s a place where we come together to spend some time walking in the shoes of others. It’s about experiencing something. A wonderful thing about theatre is that it is fundamentally flawed because we are fundamentally flawed. Theatre allows us to come to terms with the flaws of our species. Music is more perfect because it is more strictly controlled, and when an audience experiences visual art the work is already finished, rigid and stable. A theatre performance is not controlled, finished, rigid or stable. It’s always in flux and that is what is so wonderful about it.
[SF] Your plays are performed all around the world. What have you learned as a global playwright?
[TH] Sorry, I struggled to pay attention after, “Your plays are performed all around the world.” Whenever I travel for work I am keenly reminded that I come from a very small place on almost the very bottom of the earth. Being a ‘global playwright’ is a very humbling experience.
[SF] What has surprised you in previous productions of this play?
[TH] In 2012 the play was part of the festival season at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. At one of the performances there was this amazing couple I saw through the crowd. They would have been in their fifties or sixties: both blonde, both tanned to leather, both covered in gold jewelry and wearing matching tracksuits. I wondered how this specific couple had made their way to my little play. As the play finished and the audience left, they stood and hugged for a good five minutes or more, until the ushers had to ask them to leave. I felt stupid for judging them.
[SF] How is it bringing the play to Williamstown for its American premiere?
[TH] Of all my plays, this one seems to have a life of its own. Getting to come to Williamstown to work with such an amazing group of people as Anne, Jane, and Alfred feels like it was the play’s doing and not mine. Having said that, I can barely contain my excitement at getting to come over and be a part of the festival. I love that theatre takes a community, and what a community this production has.