Mike and Virginia co-playwright Nick Ward talks to drama on the waterfront about preparing the runway for ideas and the experience of writing with Kathryn Burnett.
“Where do you get your ideas from?” That is the question that every writer dreads. Well, this writer dreads it anyway. It’s not because I’m afraid of giving away my trade secret, not at all. I fear this question because I don’t have an answer. Ideas seem to spring out of the ether – it’s the closest thing I know to real magic.
Many years ago I remember hearing a very successful writer speak and he said he never has any ideas, he simply spends all his time preparing a runway for the ideas to land. At the time I thought he was just giving us a glib answer. However in my main years as a proper writer I have come to believe him. You have to ensure that runway lights are on and ground staff are in position – all in the hope that, out of the blue, an idea will arrive.
You have to be open to ideas. In the case of Mike and Virginia, Kathryn Burnett and I didn’t have clue that there was a story was circling, waiting to touch down. The concept for the play started when we were taking a long car journey. Confined together in a small space with no chance to escape the interior of the car was either going to become an incubator or a bloodbath. With Kath and I it’s always a bit of both but with a healthy amount of laughter thrown in for good measure.
On this particular journey we started having a conversation about our students as we were both teaching screenwriting at the time. I was convinced my students worshipped me (how could they not) and Kathryn was equally certain her students adored her (doubtful). This quickly turned into a hilarious argument and by the end of the journey we both looked at each other and said – there’s a story in this.
So were born Mike and Virginia, two film studies lecturers who hate each other and then the worse possible thing happens – they fall in love. It’s a romantic comedy about romantic comedies, so it gives us the chance to explore and deconstruct the way romantic comedies work and have a fun time doing it. Honestly we were laughing until we cried some days working on this show. However there’s always a fear that we might be having more fun writing the play than the audience will have watching it.
We needn’t have worried. On the first read-through of Mike and Virginiawe found ourselves surrounded by smiling faces, belly laughs and a few bittersweet tears. Our journey that started with a funny squabble in a car ended with a very happy audience. Ironically on closing night of the play’s first run a young woman approached me and asked me where Kathryn and I get our ideas from. For the first time in my life I had a firm answer to that question. I smiled and replied “We get them from being locked in a car.”