Interviews with Alan Ayckbourn

This interview, held in The Ayckbourn Archive, was provided by Alan Ayckbourn for a production of Comic Potential at Colorado State University in 2013.

Comic Potential

Who has influenced you most as a playwright?
In the early days, practically everyone I ever read! Later on writers like Pinter were an enormous influence. But equally Coward, Rattigan and Ionesco, Pirandello and Anouilh. Very varied!

What is your biggest tip for a director, actor, or production team putting on one of your plays?
Keep faithful to the truth of the characters. Trust the play, the structure, the story line. Never, never signal your intentions.

In the world of Comic Potential, script-writing as a dying art is mentioned frequently, is this a fear you have as a writer?
Not only script writing. Acting as well. But that’s TV. Theatre will continue because, along with opera and ballet, it is the one dramatic medium which remains live. The electronic newcomers, Radio, TV, Video, Computer Generated Images, etc. all strive for this liveness by giving their audiences the sensation of choice. But even in video games where options appear to be infinite, someone months before has already previously anticipated any decision its audience will make. Only in theatre with its real time and its live audience and live actors does anything even remotely unique occur. And even then that’s not always perceptible from night to night!

How important is a focus on originality during the writing process? (Or are there other things to be more concerned with?)
I found at a depressingly early age as a writer that there is nothing original in drama. The minute you feel you have created something entirely new there is always some critic or member of the audience ready to step forward and point out that so-and-so wrote that exact story years before. There are no original ideas just as there are no original jokes. BUT there are still endless ways to retell stories however familiar. In your own unique way.

As Artificial intelligence becomes more achievable, are the arts also becoming possible to program, or are they strictly formed from human consciousness?
See my earlier answer. Basic Theatre, two planks and a passion sort of theatre, shorn of the technical trimmings, is still essentially a shared expression, an affirmation of your common humanity.

Do you like all of the characters in this script? How much do they vary from production to production?
I have to like my characters - or, should I say, I have to enjoy writing them. Even the villains. Any actor will tell you it’s fun to play a juicy villain. It’s the same for writers. It’s very hard in life to love seemingly perfect people. You can admire or respect them or even like them. But until they choose to show you their flaws you can never truly love them. All my characters have their faults. I love them all. I wouldn’t choose to live with them though.

In your travels to the U.S., have you found that audiences vary between here and Great Britain?
Not really. People are much the same the world over, I’ve found. The US and Britain are in some ways the hardest because we both apparently speak the same language! But the devil is often in the interpretational detail.

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