(January, 2016) Janice Dunn, the director and author of Finding Sophie talks with NWTC
When did you first become interested in theatre?
“I liked "drama" at primary school, which entailed certain teachers letting us act out scenes we had made up ourselves. They were normally based on t.v. shows. I didn't come from a family that attended theatre, and I didn't see my first play until I was 15. I had joined a local youth theatre with a friend, and they got free tickets for local venues the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse.
“Once I joined the youth theatre I knew I wanted to do it as a career. It wasn't really something anyone in our family had ever done, so it was hard for the people around me to understand it. Even when I'd been doing it as a job for over 10 years I remember my dad asking me "so what do directors actually do?".
You are a performer/ writer/choreographer and director. If you had to choose one which would it be and why?
“I don't really perform any more, and my acting career was very limited. I think if I could only do one it would have to be writing, but I think after a while it would be a bit lonely, and I would want to be back in the rehearsal room again.”
This is quite a departure from the pantomime work some associate you with in the UK. What was turning point that made you decide "I must write this play?”
“I've written several plays other than pantomimes. One of my favourites was an adaptation of Everyman, the morality play, which I did with an all-female cast from 6 different European countries. It was called Eve Ryman, (very clever, I think you'll agree.) I'm glad to see the National Theatre followed my lead and produced it last year.
“I wanted to write Finding Sophie because I was fascinated about what happened to the people connected to disappearances, and the stages they went through. I was particularly moved by Milly Dowler’s family, and particularly the McCann family. I thought the ill-informed, orchestrated internet campaign against Kate and Gerry McCann was so inhumane considering what they had experienced. I don't think I would have written the piece before I had a child of my own however.”
What has been the response so far when you have staged Finding Sophie?
“The response generally has been very positive. There are some elements that people seem to really relate to, and some that maybe surprise people. A lot of people have commented that it was more entertaining than they thought it was going to be, as a one-woman show.
“We have had quite a few mothers and daughters watching it together, and that always seems to be a positive, and often emotional experience.”
Do you have a particular rhythm/process when you write?
“I always write the first draft of everything longhand, and then type it up on the computer, developing as I go - which make my first drafts quite considered. I try to have a clear structure, and narrative arc before doing anything; and always write from a detailed scenario. I am quite a fast writer, which I think comes from having to write to commission and deadlines. It is a good habit to get into. It means you keep moving the ideas forward all the time. I also have a few trusted people I use for feedback between drafts - some people are good, and some are hopeless, so I keep it to very few.”
What is your biggest hope in staging Finding Sophie in Luxembourg?
“I don't really go into things with too formulated an expectation. I have learned over the years that it never really works out that way, so it's better to have an open attitude to something new. It is nice to do something you are familiar with in a new environment. I have worked in Luxembourg at the annual summer school, and have loved it, and the country, every time. I am excited to present a new aspect of my work in collaboration with people I have met and worked with at summer school. I think links between professional and non-professional organisations are really exciting. I don't know why people don't do them more often. I am really looking forward to meeting new audiences, and doing workshops for local people too.“