Ryan Leder founded Theatre In Black in March 2017, a brand new theatre company aiming to present totally unique performances with an ever-changing group of actors and creatives.
Have you been involved with theatre for long?
About 8 years. I started as an actor in some local amateur-dramatics stuff, pantomimes and such, then became sort of semi-professional actor/playwright in my teens. I’d say I’ve been an actual professional theatre maker for about two-and-a-half years now, since I was first hired by a professional theatre company.
What first drew you to writing?
The variety of characters it allowed me to explore.
Like I said, I started out as an actor, but my appearance (and probably a healthy lack of talent) significantly limited the roles I could feasibly play. I am 6’4 tall and proportionate, with very broad shoulders and a young, baby face. This meant I had a look from my early teens that didn’t lend itself to a lot of traditional roles.
I couldn’t be a leading man, as my presence and height compared to the rest of the cast meant I lost that “everyman” quality (it’s hard to convey peril or vulnerability to an audience when you’re half-a-foot taller than the rest of the cast). However, I couldn’t play older, stronger characters either because of my young face. There were roles out there – I’ve always joked that the only character with depth and my stature is Lenny from Of Mice and Men – but they were certainly few and far between.
When I started devising theatre though, I found myself creating a whole variety of interesting characters. I just wasn’t creating them for myself, I was creating them for the other actors. This meant that it didn’t matter if the character was a fifteen-year-old girl, because I didn’t have to worry about playing the role myself. I could explore and develop any kind of role I wanted. Eventually, I realised I didn’t even need a role, I wasn’t even that bothered about actually acting, I just wanted to create characters for other people and help them tell a good story. So, I started writing.
Can you tell us a bit about your new group, Theatre in Black?
Theatre In Black is a new collective dedicated to versatile and collaborative theatre-making. I founded the group as a way of creating work with a whole variety of different artists, constantly exploring new ideas and different genres, in order to create a unique show from one production to the next.
I’ve always found with theatre groups that you end up working with the same core people over and over again, so I wanted to create a group that not only found new members and built working relationships, but one which also welcomed new artists with each show. And I don’t just mean new actors – I mean directors, writers, producers, musicians, technicians, etc. Anyone who has a great idea for a show and just needs help finding a team or getting it produced.
This way, I hope we can give opportunities to people who are struggling to break into the theatre industry, whilst simultaneously creating a network of artists that can go on to collaborate with each other on different projects under the Theatre In Black name.
You’re presenting Numbered Days at the upcoming Launchpad Festival at The Core at Corby’s Cube – can you tell us a bit about the play?
Numbered Days follows the story of Rebecca and Charlotte as they fall in love five-thousand miles apart, and is a stark look at love in the digital age. Ultimately, with this show, we’re challenging the age-old question of whether love really can overcome anything.
Numbered Days has been a passion project for a good two years now. The original idea came from a long-distance relationship I was in, where we developed this whole relationship online before we ever met in person. Eventually, I flew out and we did meet. We stayed in a hotel room together for a week, then I flew home again, and we went back to keeping the relationship alive online before I’d get another chance to fly out again.
Initially, I was just fascinated by the idea of a microcosm of a relationship taking place in a hotel room, how we’d only just met in person and were so nervous like a first date, but at the same time we’d actually known each other for months. I thought it had the potential to be a great play, but I realised if I was going to do it, I needed to make sure I wasn’t just translating my personal experience onto the stage. I wanted to show an authentic, universal version of what a long-distance relationship entailed.
So, over a year ago now, I got this research project together and interviewed a whole bunch of people who were either in or had been in a long-distance relationship (the interviews actually feature as part of the show). This really showed me what made all long-distance relationships similar, and what parts were just unique to me.
There were some really uplifting stories about love overcoming the odds, and some incredibly heart-breaking ones too, so I decided to write the play as honest as I could. “A stark look” at the experience, rather than an idealistic one.
You’ve just started rehearsals for Numbered Days – what’s your favourite part of the rehearsal process?
Seeing the script come to life in that first week. Seeing something I’ve written spoken by an actor or actress, it’s just one of my favourite feelings in the world. It only gets better when we get it on its feet, and you finally see how the character moves and reacts to things. It’s incredible what a talented actor can do, so being able to give them something of mine to work with, and then seeing it in action, is just the best.
What has been your favourite project to work on?
I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with so many great projects. The one I think of straight away, simply because of the sheer ambition and amount I learnt working on it, was a project I did called BUS with Action Transport Theatre in 2015. I worked with their Young Actors group to devise a piece that was performed on an actual bus, while it was driving around the local town. It was a logistical nightmare and nearly didn’t come together, but eventually it did and it was something really, really special. I got to co-write the script with their fantastic associate writer Kevin Dyer as well, so that really helped me develop myself further as a writer.
I’ll have to do an honourable mention to Naughty Corner Productions’ Not The Horse though, especially the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016 run. I had some of the most fun I’ve had on stage with that show, caking myself in icing sugar and just being allowed to do some of the daftest acting you’ve ever seen, so that’ll always be a highlight.
Have you any plans for future projects?
Right now, Numbered Days is the focus, and getting Theatre In Black on the map. We’ve got the Launchpad Festival in July, and then it’s about figuring out where we take the show next and how we get it out there for as many people to see as possible. We’ve got plans, but nothing we’re ready to announce yet.
Looking further into the future though, I don’t know. I’ve got some scripts written that I’d like to see produced, as well as a few ideas I’d like to develop, a couple of which feel very relevant to today. I’d also be really interested in seeing someone else join Theatre In Black to direct the next show, or write the next script. So, we’ll just have to wait and see who’s eye we can catch with Numbered Days.
Who do you look up to as a writer?
Martin McDonagh, David Mamet, Stephen King, Alfonso Cuarón, Adam Marek, Kevin Barry, Sean Vanaman, Kevin Smith – I’m not sure if I look up to any one individual, but they are some of my biggest influences currently. I was also recently introduced to Al Smith’s Harrogate as well, which is just a stunning, subversive piece of writing.
The honest answer is probably my former tutors from Edge Hill University. I studied Creative Writing there, and the staff were incredibly talented and so encouraging for my whole course, so I definitely owe a lot to them.
What advice do you have for those who want to get into writing for the stage?
If you haven’t already, just start writing. Don’t worry about it not being any good, it might not be, but you need to have done some so you can learn from it before you write the next thing. You might want to take some workshop classes to help get you started, and that’s great, just so long as you are still writing.
Get involved with theatre in other ways, too. Join a local group, do some acting, even if you’re not very good. Getting that perspective of what it’s like to be performing work written by someone else will help you when you sit down to write your own stuff.
Ultimately though, feedback is key. And not just from friends and family. Find other writers, directors, producers to read your work, and ask them what they think. If you’re scared of giving someone you’re writing, because you think they’ll tell you it’s no good, that’s the person whose feedback will push you to do your best.
Theatre in Black are performing Numbered Days as part of The Core at Corby Cube’s Launchpad Festival on the 21st July 2017.
You can follow the group here for more information:
Interview: June 2017