Creative Careers: An Interview with Phoebe Eclair-Powell

Photo credit: Helen Murray

Aisling Lally

Phoebe Eclair-Powell is a writer from South London. Her debut play WINK (Theatre 503) received rave reviews and four Off West End Nominations. Since then, she has written extensively for stage and screen and has won the 2019 Bruntwood Prize for her play SHED: EXPLODED VIEW. Phoebe’s liveliness is infectious, as is her generosity. She speaks candidly about her experiences as a freelancer in lockdown, her journey into writing and her advice for aspiring writers.

In your experience, what is it like being a freelance writer during lockdown? How has the pandemic impacted your work and working life? 

It’s been an odd one for all freelancers. It’s been a precarious and upsetting time. I have been fortunate and kept going by my partner – but we have all had to re-negotiate our lives and future projects. It has meant a massive re-jig of my expectations, but maybe that was a good thing. I had perhaps become a little complacent – and entitled. But yeah, it’s been a right nerve-wracking ball-ache, to be honest! I used to work in a lovely studio with other writers surrounded by artists, and that has all gone. I spend my days alone in my living room on Zoom like lots of other people trying to be creative but watching a lot of Below Deck

Have you watched any television, film or theatre lately that has inspired you? 

Well…Below Deck…no…I have been watching more films –  there are some great debuts on BBC iPlayer and Netflix at the moment. Like Make Up, Babyteeth, Perfect 10, Lyn and Lucy, all of which were really useful to watch. I weirdly got a bit telly-ed out though I re-watched all of Buffy, and that was a delight and reminded me that I like genre and fun. I’m looking forward to watching Good Grief, which is a play/film hybrid online at the moment. 

How did you get into writing? 

Bit of a roundabout route, really – I had no idea what I wanted to do but have always loved theatre – I did a foundation at Drama school – but realised I wasn’t an actor, that’s for sure, then I went to Uni to do English and thought about maybe being a theatre director, then I left Uni and just totally fell apart – I was really overwhelmed and confused. I was working at the sweet shop I had worked in for years when I just started writing a play in my spare time in the hopes of getting onto the Royal Court Young Writers course (I met someone who had done it and was insanely jealous so reckoned I needed to write a play and get on with it!). Luckily, I got in – and it was just a total dream come true. By that time, I worked at Battersea Arts Centre and just learnt by watching – I kept working in theatre and writing on the side. I would do every single short writing night going, trying out new material and making sure to meet other writers/directors and new writing departments. I then took the plunge and went full time after my first play was produced at Theatre 503. I had an agent by then who had luckily seen a short of mine – and he made it work. I owe him everything!

What is your writing process like? How do you go about generating ideas and processing them into script form? 

I get a lot of my inspiration from the news, small stories, things that make me angry, a person’s voice. I am extremely un-creative during the pandemic because I get a lot of inspiration from places and people! I try to stay very instinctive and let the character tell me what they want to say and then re-write tons. I just vomit it all out and structure it later – not the best way of doing things…but my way…

What would you say is the role of the writer in the rehearsal room?

I think the writer and director should always work that out before rehearsals – and try to remain respectful of each other’s boundaries. Personally, I love being as involved as possible – writing is such a horribly lonely job so getting into the rehearsal room is the best bit! However, I’m always aware that the director needs their space too, and the actors can sometimes find it a little annoying to have the writer there wincing every time they get a line wrong… I do think that with your play – which is your baby – you should be there to answer questions and be as available as possible – as actors, directors, and designers are all there to help you re-shape it and make the story even stronger. You get a huge amount from being in the room and listening. I actually wish writers could speak to designers more and earlier on – as the design is dramaturgy too.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers? 

I would just say that, yes, the world is ending, and it’s all fucking intense – but your voices are so important and bold and brilliant, so be bold and brilliant and experimental and challenging. Write all the time – I was obsessive – and I miss that rush and intensity – because you stop writing for yourself as you get older/more strapped for time. I would say – check out every opportunity going and don’t be afraid to reach out to your peers and your heroes for help and support. Read, watch, listen, enjoy and be inspired. And be passionate about your work because it’s infectious. Also, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is the best book for writer’s block.

What are the three things you’d tell your student self? 

-Be brave.

-Believe in yourself a bit more.

-Yes, do go out and have one more drink – because in your thirties you can barely stay out past eleven/coronavirus was coming!