INTERVIEW: Michael Shannon

The Theatre might be Accidental but writer Michael Shannon's success isn't

Read an extract from Michael Shannon's play The Writers Group


Accidental Theatre is a theatre company started by young writers, actors and directors who wanted to put more of what they enjoyed on the stage. Two of Accidental Theatre's productions, comedy shorts by Neil E. Edwards, premièred at the Black Box as part of their Lunchtime Theatre series. Their next creative endeavour is Rehearsed Readings, a series by a variety of young Northern Irish writers and staged at Blick Studios over six months.

The first in the series is The Writers Group by Michael Shannon.

After the above snap – with Shannon protesting that he'd have made more of an effort if he knew his picture was to be taken – the soft-spoken writer settles down into the coffee-shop cushions. He looks, and is since that is part of the point of Accidental Theatre's series, young, only 23, but he isn't exaggerating when he says that he has been writing for years.

He was part of Tinderbox's Young Fireworks Programme and went on to study Creative Writing at Queen's University. In one of those interesting confluences of talent, luck and networking, it was Tinderbox who told Accidental Theatre about a talented young author they might like to work with and it was at Queen's that Shannon developed The Writers Group.

The Writers Group is an existential locked-room murder-mystery with a cast of disparate writers - a crime writer whose cure for writers block is crying and google, a student who has an idea he's too lazy to actually put down on paper, an actress writing a one-woman show she can put on and a nerd with a SF epic – who are in the same writers group. Only this month a play is waiting for them in the room when they arrive. Reading the script it isn't long before they realise that it's about them. They're the characters in someone else's play and once they skip to the end they realise that for one of them it's not going to end well.

Shannon is quick to promise that none of his characters are REALLY based on anyone he knows from his various groups.

'Mostly they are me,' he explains. 'The horrible things I've done or said in groups that stick with me. It's just after the last few years writers and writers groups are what I know, and it seemed to me that a writer would be the worst possible person to find out they're just a character in someone else's work. They are all sure that they could have written it better.'

Shannon enjoyed working with Accidental Theatre. The collaborative process that the theatre prefers, with director Richard Lavery and dramaturg Emily DeDakis and the actors all having input, helped him really fine tune the play.

'Hearing the actors say my words aloud really helped,' he says, nodding thoughtfully. 'I'd realise that one sentence should be two sentences or that they need a different emphasis. Or I'd realise that I'd not really conveyed what I saw in my head in the stage direction.'

Although Shannon would be happy to work with Accidental Theatre again he doesn't have any immediate plans to do so. Nor the time for it. He's currently working on an online teen drama for BBC Blast along with two other writers from the Tinderbox Young Fireworks programme. The series is about a group of young people trying to stage a theatre play and the various personal and professional problems they experience.

''It's been great fun to write,' Shannon says enthusiastically. 'Lots of drama and romance and fun. I hope!'

The episodes will go up online in May, on a newly launched BBC Blast NI website, and be shown on BBC2 NI later this year.

There are five other Rehearsed Readings, one a month, still to come from Accidental Theatre. Shannon mournfully denies knowing what any of them are.

'I keep hearing little snippets about what people are doing,' he explains. 'But I've no idea what is coming next. We'll just have to wait and see.'

The Writers Group by Michael Shannon will be performed at Blick Studios on April 8 at 7pm.

Tammy Moore