Olivier-Award winning playwright and Traverse Theatre Associate Artist, Stef Smith, reveals her inspirations and why she believes it’s crucial that you read, write, watch and push your creative limits every day.
I’m a freelance playwright and tend to work from my office at home – although I spend a lot of time on trains these days, so I’ve grown used to working on them.
Did you always want to be a playwright? What led you into it?
I studied Drama and Theatre Arts at Queen Margaret University where I specialised in directing. We did have a playwriting module in our first two years which I enjoyed a lot.
I’ve always enjoyed writing and ever since I could write, I’ve made up stories and as a teenager I wrote a lot of (terrible) poetry.
My plan was to be a director, so I sort of became a playwright by accident after an early play of mine had a lot of critical success. I continued to write after that. It’s a happy accident. I’m not dismissing flexing my directing muscle in time, but right now, I’m very happy just playwriting.
Can you describe an average working day?
My days tend to be very varied depending if I’m in rehearsal, development, teaching or writing. But on an average writing day I try to be at my desk for 10am, spend the morning doing emails which I always aim to only take up the first half of the day – although sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. After lunch I write.
I tend to focus on one project for a week and then maybe another project the following week, depending on how urgent it is. If something is about to go into rehearsal it gets my full attention.
Tell us about your play Roadkill, which you won an Olivier Award for. What was it like to have your work recognised in such a great way?
RoadKill was a site specific piece that takes place in a typical flat and is about a young girl who has been sex trafficked from Nigeria. It was the first professionally produced play I’d ever had, so I certainly didn’t expect it to win an Oliver! It really was a team effort so I was delighted that the whole team got recognised for the piece.
I think awards are funny things; they’ve lovely to win but it’s important to not let it define you or stop you from trying to better yourself.
I certainly had a lot to learn after Roadkill – I still do.
What have been other highlights of your career so far?
Those are pretty special things – no matter what I write or how long I work as a playwright, I don’t think you ever forget your debut pieces for those particular theatres.
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?
Yes, but I’m afraid I’m under embargo so I can’t say what! Come spring – and if everything goes to plan – I’ll have a piece happening in Scotland and a short play in London.
What writers have inspired you?
I’m inspired by lots of playwrights! I think Caryl Churchill and debbie tucker-green are two truly unique voices. I’ve had the privilege of spending time with both of them and they are pretty phenomenal women who continue to push the form of theatre.
What advice would you give to aspiring playwrights and those looking to forge a career in the creative industries in general?
My advice is quite simple: read, see and write as much as you can.
Read old and new plays, don’t discrimate. See plays that you don’t think you’ll like – you’ll learn from them too.
Above all, write. It’s a muscle and the more you flex it, the more deliberate you become with your work. You don’t need a degree to become a playwright, tenacity helps, discipline helps and always keep an open mind to learning.
What’s your best single line of advice?
Keep learning, keep pushing.