Meet our new Writer in Residence, Tanika Gupta: “Theatre will prevail”

“The world wants to know your stories and what your unique perspective is!”

Joining the Bush Theatre as our new Writer in Residence is Tanika Gupta. Over the past 25 years Tanika has written over 25 stage plays that have been produced in major theatres across the UK and has written extensively for BBC Radio Drama. Tanika’s plays The Empress and her adaptation of A Doll’s House are on the National Curriculum in the UK for GSCE school examinations.

The Writer in Residence programme is part of the Bush Theatre’s commitment to celebrating legacy and providing opportunities for writers at every level of their career.

Tanika welcomes in 2023 with this New Year blog.

I have spent most of my adult life writing professionally. I started out in radio drama in the early 1990’s, went on to write for television (Grange Hill and Eastenders), TV drama generally and then eventually had my first play produced by Soho Theatre in 1997. Since then, I have been writing pretty much solidly. I can’t act and I certainly can’t direct but I love working collaboratively.

My Baba (dad) was an amazing story teller regaling me and my brother with fantastical adventures – ones that he made up (that he swore were true) or myths and legends from the great Indian texts like the Ramayana and Mahabharata. He would perform the demons, kings, heroes and heroines and I was lucky to be entertained in such a wonderful way as I grew up. I guess that’s never left me as I continue to be fascinated by people’s stories – particularly ones that are acted out!

“My motto is always, if you want to write a play, it must be about the world in which we are living.”

In the early days of my career, I regularly attended workshops run by experienced playwrights. I found these sessions so helpful, particularly around form and structure. I’ve run workshops for new writing alongside my own play writing and have often been honoured to hear other writers’ stories, to try and help them bring their words to life in a script, give them feedback, confidence, ideas and encouragement. I was very fortunate to travel with the Royal Court Theatre with the late Elyse Dodgson to run writers workshops in places like Cuba, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina. Writers everywhere have the same discussions: How can I make my play good/better? What is it that I actually want to say? My motto is always, if you want to write a play, it must be about the world in which we are living. Make it dynamic and make sure your characters are doing something active on stage, not just talking.

“Theatre is an ancient art form and it will prevail.”

I do think that the recent ACE cuts have changed the landscape for playwrights and new writing is definitely going to suffer in Britain. There will be fewer new plays produced and competition for those few slots will be tough. But it won’t last forever. Theatre is an ancient art form and it will prevail.

So how do we writers keep going in the face of such adversity? I would say that come what may, keep that writing muscle going! Even if it’s for just fifteen minutes a day. I worked a day job for years and brought up three children writing whenever I could snatch a moment or two in the evenings. My plays were often rejected or met with a resounding silence. Thing is, I couldn’t help myself and kept writing – little scenes, diaries, poems, entire plays, ideas etc. It’s always a good idea to enter competitions (which is how I started), to give yourself a deadline or to join a workshop with other writers/actors/directors for support, feedback and solidarity. The world wants to know your stories and what your unique perspective is!

I am so delighted to be the writer in residence at the Bush Theatre because they care deeply about producing new plays and nurturing new talent. In these trouble times, the Bush remains a beacon of light , a theatre dedicated to producing new plays, particularly from voices we haven’t heard enough from.

We must keep writing!

Tanika Gupta

Find out more about our Writer in Residence programme here.