Q&A with playwright and television writer Emma Reeves.
How did you get involved in writing Snow Child for tutti frutti?
Wendy Harris, the director, very kindly asked me – I was thrilled to be involved. I’ve seen some of Tutti Frutti’s shows and they’re delightful.
If you have to sum up the play in 3 words what would they be?
Family, magic, snow. It’s for families, obviously, but it’s also about family and what having a family means, for children and for parents. Magic is an important element too – I want the show to feel magical, in the way that it feels magical when you wake up the morning after a snowfall and the world has changed. And yes, snow’s the third word. I know it’s obvious but I just can’t miss out the snow! It’s what the story’s all about…
How does Snow Child stand out in a crowded children’s show market?
I know there are a lot of brilliant children’s shows out there but Tutti Frutti are a very special company. They really want to encourage children to develop their imaginations. It’s not about massive sets and budgets or Hollywood names, it’s about brilliantly talented actor-musicians telling a story with loads of charm and heart.
Why should audiences come and see the production?
I hope that it will encourage children to see the enormous potential of story-telling, and inspire them to play and tell their own stories. And I hope adults will enjoy the clever theatricality of it all – seeing the story told by a small cast of actor-musicians on a simple but brilliant set.
Why did you mainly write for children and not adults?
I was a fanatical reader as a child, and I’ve never forgotten how important my favourite stories and characters were to me – well, they still are! So getting to write for children is the greatest privilege, really.
What are the challenges of writing for children?
I know a lot of children’s writers say this, but when I’m writing I’m thinking about myself as an audience member – what would entertain me, what’s funny, what’s dramatic, what’s interesting, what’s boring? Obviously there are strong rules about appropriate content, especially when you’re writing for children’s TV, but in general the challenges are the same as writing for adults – keeping stories and characters feeling fresh, meaningful and engaging. Giving people a reason to keep watching!
What are the difference between writing for television and theatre and which do you prefer?
Theatre is much more immediate – you have a lot more contact with the actors and you can try things out on the spot to see if they work. You also get to experience audiences’ reactions, night after night. It’s very visceral and in the moment but when it’s gone, it’s gone. Which is part of the joy but also a bit heartbreaking – recordings of a theatre performance are never quite the same. TV exists forever and you also have the fun of writing lots of episodes for the same characters and seeing the actors develop their characters over many years and different stories.
How important is theatre for young children?
I think it’s really important. Getting the experience of seeing live performers is something that stays with you all your life. I still remember when theatre companies came into my school to perform when I was young. I remember seeing a show called “Smash and Grab” when I was about 7 and being entranced. We had to bring in 50p each to pay for it, but nobody was excluded from the show so I guess there must have been provision made for the kids whose parents couldn’t afford it. So it was affordable for all the children to watch. With all the cuts to arts funding, I’ve heard that theatre in schools is happening less and less and that’s a real shame.
Who do you feel are the more difficult audiences to please – children or adults?
I don’t know which are more difficult to please, but children are very discerning and very honest.
How did you get into writing plays?
I used to be in drama groups as a teenager and then I acted in loads of plays at university and was an actor for a short time. I wanted to act, but writing was always calling me – I loved working on the group projects we devised for GCSE and A level drama. I wrote an adaptation of one of my favourite children’s books, Little Women, and put it on with a group of friends. I also sent a script to BBC Wales, which eventually led to a job writing for The Story of Tracy Beaker, the first of many jobs I’ve done with CBBC.
What have been the highlights of your career?
Adapting Jacqueline Wilson’s “Hetty Feather” was a definite highlight – I worked on the stage adaptation, devising it with director Sally Cookson and a group of brilliant actors and musicians, and have also been lucky enough to write a few episodes of the TV version. I also loved working on an adaptation of “Carrie’s War” which played in the West End and on tour. And I’m very proud of “Eve”, a TV show about a robot which I co-created for CBBC.
What is the most important piece of advice you could give someone who is thinking of starting to write plays?
I know everyone says this, but it’s true. Read loads, listen and watch as much as you can. Try to get to the theatre as much as you can but if you can’t afford it, get books from the library, watch TV, listen to radio, watch stuff on the internet. Join a drama group if you can, acting really teaches you how a play works. And write as much as you can, all the time – writers are lucky in that it’s something you can do on your own and it’s free…
What are you working on next?
A new adaptation of “The Worst Witch” for CBBC. And series 2 of “Eve”.