From working in a fish and chip shop to writing a play that’s been performed all over the world, Sam Steiner (English Literature, 2014) learned how to take his stories in new directions at Warwick.
Most recently, he’s penned the script for Morning, a film starring Laura Dern and Benedict Cumberbatch set for release later this year. We spoke to Sam about his experience of breaking into playwriting for stage and screen.
What got you started writing at Warwick?
I got involved with plays within societies. When I didn’t get the acting parts I wanted, I realised I could still be involved through writing. It was amazing to see my work performed and have my words read out.
I wrote my first play as part of my European Theatre module for Dr Stephen Purcell in my second year. I learned from classic plays, drawing on characters from Ibsen, Steinberg and Chekhov plays. I loved the creativity of the Department of English, and took Prof Emma Mason’s wonderful course on Poetry and Emotion which I still think about today.
For Shakespeare without Chairs with Prof Carol Rutter I wrote an adaptation of Coriolanus and learned about structure and how Shakespeare uses entrances and exits. I also completed creative writing modules, including screenwriting and poetry. All of which have been hugely important for my work now.
The most illustrative experience for the development of my work was during my final year. I was directing a play I had written and at the same time, I was rehearsing for another play. Having two projects in tandem meant one experience informed the other. I learned a lot about subtext and this paved the way for my first play, Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons.
I wrote it the summer I graduated and developed it with my friend, director Ed Madden. I worked in a fish and chip shop at the time and wrote in my spare time. We were lucky, the Warwick Arts Centre had a theatre space available for a week and let us put the play on. We’ve never looked back!
Did you feel supported as a writer at Warwick?
I thought it was going to be intimidating writing in the creative writing poetry modules, but it wasn’t. I felt welcomed and inspired. Prof David Morley was brilliant and I ended up writing my dissertation on poetry.
What did you learn at Warwick?
To think outside the box. I was actively encouraged to question and have an interrogative mind.
Why did you choose to study at Warwick?
I chose Warwick for the breadth and variation of subjects. It lets you into corners you didn’t know existed. I studied, Poetry and Emotion, States of Damage, Twentieth Century North American Literature, Shakespeare Text and Performance.
What would you have told your first-year playwright self?
Stop worrying, just write as much as you can and put your work out to perform. Even if the performance is just to a few people around the kitchen table, you can learn so much about what you like, what works and what doesn’t.
Listen to your own tastes and don’t be intimated by others, don’t write what you think people expect you to write.
How do you start to write for a new project?
I try not to write around a theme, as this can create a shallow and contrived piece of work. Instead, I start with a concept. This can often come from a conversation, by reading something and wishing the story went another way. I investigate what makes something funny, moving, interesting, and then consider the character, who is the most interesting person to go on this journey.