I’m delighted to introduce you to one of our fabulous authors, Mark James.
Today, his award-winning play, Dear Mother has been published by us as a play script.
Mark is an actor, a music teacher and playwright based in the South West. I wanted to find out a bit more about what makes him tick and asked, which of those three hats he enjoys wearing most?
Hi Tracey, I can honestly say that the best part about my career is the variety that I get in it. I love my job and couldn’t pick an area that I enjoy the most out of them. Each one leads itself around to the other.
You were introduced to me as an actor. When did you first get the bug to act, what was your first role and in which performance?
I had always wanted to act since being at school, it was a huge passion from a very early age. Unfortunately, the school I went to was an all boys secondary that had no theatre or drama departments and music was restricted to an after school club. When I left school, life just got in the way and a new career started.
In 2005 I decided to join a local amateur dramatics group and started to get a taste for the stage again. I auditioned for a part in their panto, playing Billy Goose in Mother Goose and was completely gob smacked when they offered me the part straight away. It was a real baptism of fire for me as I had to interact with the audience straight away to get them motivated for the, ‘Oh yes it is!’ and ‘He’s behind you!’ scenes; I loved it! The problem is, once you get the acting bug, you really can’t stop, so very soon I was entering more and more auditions, aiming for bigger and better parts. I attended various courses and master-classes to build up my range of skills and before I knew it, acting was the thing I was doing more than my day to day job.
Then in 2011, I was fortunate enough to be offered the role of Ed in the Facing Tides Theatre production of Off Her FaceBook! This was my first professional paid role and we toured local schools and community projects performing the play and creating awareness about addiction. By then I was completely hooked and realised I wanted performing to be my career.
I know you’ve directed plays too. How different is that to standing on the stage and do you want to do more of it?
Directing is a lot harder than most people think. It’s not just telling people where to stand and throwing a strop because the cast don’t know their lines. You have to work in partnership with the actors to bring out the best from their performances. You also have to work with the backstage crew and set designers, the musicians and lighting guys; everything falls on your shoulders.
As an actor, I have to worry about getting my character just right, as a director I have to worry about getting every character just right, whilst at the same time keeping everyone motivated and focused on the task ahead. I love directing and definitely have plans to do more of it in the future, especially as I am a bit too old to play Snr Thomas now (from Dear Mother), so will probably just direct it from now on.
The subject matter for Dear Mother is WW1. What sparked your interest to write it?
I wanted to be able to write a play that I could perform with my eldest son, Ryan. He was showing a lot of interest in acting and I relished the chance to be able to do something with him that was quite personal.
Dear Mother came about after seeing a photo from the Great War of men going ‘over the top’ at the Somme. It suddenly struck me that this picture hadn’t been set up and they weren’t actors, they were real men running towards what could very possibly be their death. I started wondering how many of them actually returned home again. It was a very sobering thought. A few weeks later I was approached to write a one act play for a festival, and my immediate thought was that I would be able to combine my want to do something with Ryan and also to explore the concept of these soldier’s lives in more detail. Needless to say, after I’d researched the history of the war and read accounts of so many ordinary men who had witnessed and also done unspeakable things, I was left in complete shock and awe.
I had to ensure that anything I wrote would be entirely respectful to those men and their families. It was a principle I carried throughout every performance and I’m delighted to say, Magic Oxygen Publishing understood fully during the publication of the play too.
This short play has terrific appeal for amateur dramatic performers and school drama groups to sink their teeth into. How does it feel for you when you watch other players breathing life into your characters?
I have a feeling of great pride when I see other people playing the parts I wrote. I think many forms of literature should be shared widely and to have an actor or actress take the time to learn my words, inhabit my character or stage my play, is a great honour. It’s a feeling that is very hard to describe.
Do you like any particular things around you when you write? Lucky charms, a special coffee mug or anything of that sort?
The only things I have around me on my desk are 3 pictures, one of each of my children and also a note from my 6 year old daughter that she secretly left me before going to stay with her mum for a week that reads, ‘I wile mis you’. This is the best piece of writing I have ever read in my life. Aside from that, I don’t like clutter or mess so I like to keep it clear.
I personally cannot write when I’m listening to music. How about you, are you like me or do you have a favourite genre of music to listen to when you’re writing?
Music is a massive part of my life, as you can imagine being a singing teacher and performer. When I’m writing, I like music in the background which helps me create the right type of mood. If I’m working with a sad piece, I will listen to songs such as Send in the Clowns, by Stephen Sondheim or Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, from Les Misérables. If I’m trying to write comedy, I listen to things like Monty Python’s Always Look On the Bright Side of Life.
I feel it’s important to try to understand the emotion that you are writing about, at the time you are writing it. It helps the words to feel more authentic and connected to the situation.
However, there are also times that I work in silence too. I suppose it depends upon the mood of the story and my mood when I’m writing.
If you watch Dear Mother, you’ll probably need a few tissues! Do you prefer writing emotionally charged pieces and what do you have up your sleeve for the next play?
I like writing pieces that I know will have the biggest effect on an audience, so when they walk out of the theatre, they are unlikely to forget what they’ve just witnessed. I feel the best way to achieve this is to really play on the emotions of the audience.
In Dear Mother, I’ve tried to ensure the audience cares about Thomas and what’s going to happen to him. You follow his journey and watch him grow up from being a young boy into a man. I want the audience to really connect with him but as I have mentioned before, this is predominantly from wanting to present a realistic and honest portrayal of what the men went through in the trenches.
I do have ideas for at least two other plays which I’m thinking about getting onto paper very soon. They are both comedies and I’m hoping the tears this time, will be from laughter!
Finally, how can people find out more about Dear Mother and any other plays you’re involved with?
My website MarkJamesPlays.co.uk has a blog with a few articles about it, including my tips for putting on the play, more on the history of Dear Mother, a prequel to the Thomas starting to write to his mother and a small trailer for the play too.
There’s also a resources page which is about to be updated with details of useful media to enhance performances of the play.
You can email me directly through the website too, so if you have any questions about your staging of the play or other matters, I will try to help if I can!
It’s always a pleasure to talk to Mark, he’s an absolute gentleman and I’m sure whether you read Dear Mother or are lucky enough to catch a performance, you’ll feel his abundant passion through the words. It’s a wonderfully evocative piece of writing and I wish it all the very best as it hits the bookshelves from today.
You can buy your directly copy from the Magic Oxygen shop for just £4.99 or place an order with your local bookshop.