Arts Team member, Katie Hill, sits down with Will Jackson following his performance of his one-man show, ‘Yours Sincerely’, at The Rep, Birmingham on 2nd March 2022. Will Jackson is an award-winning writer, director and comedian. He is a Birmingham REP Foundry Artist, one of the six 2019 emerging writers at the Bush Theatre and is an Attitude Magazine rising comic star.
Katie: Hello, you’re here with me, Katie, and Kitty live from Burn FM. We’re here at The Rep in Birmingham and we’re here with Will Jackson. Will, would you like to introduce yourself?
Will: Hiya! Thanks so much for having me, my name is Will Jackson, I’m a writer and performer based in Birmingham and my show, ‘Yours Sincerely’, is on at The Rep this week.
Katie: That’s perfect! We actually really really enjoyed the show, and we really thought you captured a lot of issues that our generation faces. Things like menial jobs, flatmate drama, leaving uni and the fear of all that because I’m coming up to graduation soon, as well as a lot of queer specific issues such as discrimination, especially in the context of blood donation. We just wanted to ask a couple of questions. Firstly, how autobiographical is the play?
Will: Okay… I accidentally stole 300 second-class stamps from the post office and I used them to write letters so that’s what the show is, it’s all these correspondences that take place through it so that is based on true events. Everything that happens to me in the play has happened to me but things have been squished and condensed to make them a bit easier. So, for example, there is a lovely character called Cat, who plays one of my friends from uni – in reality Cat is about 8 different people that I was friends with, for the sake of making the narrative a bit simpler, that’s all smushed together. Some things are perhaps in a different order to how they would have happened in real life but that’s just to make it condense into an hour and fit quite nicely and usefully and not be too messy. So that’s how it’s autobiographical. I think you touched on this earlier but I think a big thing is, so I wrote the play after I just graduated university of Birmingham actually in 2017, and it kind of talks about softly the isolation we all kind of go through in that process. But I think, you know, even if you’ve not just graduated from uni, the last few years have been very isolating for everyone and I think there’s something we can all relate to on that.
Katie: Yeah, definitely. We totally agree, obviously we were doing uni last year through the pandemic so that was quite isolating in itself – glad to be sort of out of the woods in that respect. So, you say you’re a Birmingham alumnus, were you involved in any kind of media societies or drama societies to kind of back up your degree when you were there?
Will: Yeah, I did lots of the comedy stuff, so I was President of Footnotes for one year, and I ran the improv troupe as well which was really fun. And I was also on a very short-lived Footnotes radio programme for a year on Burn FM so feel very honoured to have such good company here with me tonight. It’s through that sort of comedy, with those societies, that I was able to perform at Edinburgh Fringe, that’s where I kind of got my foot in the door and eventually got the show programmed here a few years after I graduated. And then I’ve been touring it since.
Katie: That’s perfect, that’s amazing. We just discussed the play after we just came out and one question that Kitty came up with was what made you design this as a play and not as a book which you kind of referenced in the performance?
Will: So, in the play I reference how these letters get published and become a book and the complications along with that. So, in reality that is a bit of fiction. I wanted to talk about how, oh my goodness this premise, at this point The Rep were interested in programming and putting it on but I felt it would have been a bit too meta and a bit too self-aware to be like ‘and it’s being turned into a play at The Rep!’ but everyone there would have seen it and been like ‘yeah, we know how that one turned out because we’re here!’. So, it was just nice having another medium for it. I think it was something I thought about in terms of getting it down as a written form but I think there was something really fun with performing these letters and also the different meaning you can get from something written and how it’s interpreted. I’m sure we’ve all had emails come from through from a lecturer or a boss or a text from a friend that reads a completely different way to the way they’ve meant it, whether that’s sarcastically or just very serious. So, it’s really fun to play with that in the show and I really enjoyed the liveness of it. And, as you’ll have experienced, there’s quite a bit of audience interaction and how that kind of featured within the story of the letters. And I thought that – I just love being in a room with lots of people and the play is all about isolation and it’s just really fun playing with ‘we’re all in the space together, let’s have some fun’. You don’t get that as much with a book.
Katie: Yeah, definitely. Within that context it really makes sense why it’s a play because, as you said, there is a lot of audience participation. It is a comedy as well and sometimes it’s hard to write a comedic book that’s laugh-out-loud whereas a play it’s easier to do that. Moving on, we were really interested in the set design, because obviously it was quite extensive – there were letters everywhere. I was thinking the whole time, ‘how’s he going to keep track of where everything is?’. What was your process behind designing the set and how long did it take you to design it?
Will: Sure. So, it was a very collaborative effort. Although it’s a one-person show, there’s a huge team behind it which I’m so lucky to have. Originally the show was directed by Anna Himali Howard, who is quite a big director now and, at the time she joined the show she had just been an associate director on Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Show.
Katie: Oh wow!
Will: So, I was very lucky to be paired up with her. And I think you can see a lot of influences there in terms of the confessional nature of the show. So, I worked with her and also a new director, Lucy Bird, because Anna got a job at The National (Theatre) so she had to work on that instead of my Fringe show! So rude! No, she’s absolutely lovely and really helped with the show. But together with the two directors and also Chaz, my stage manager, another Birmingham alumnus, we really found a way to make it quite neat and cohesive and slowly messier and messier and messier as the plot got messy and messy along the way. So, we knew we wanted to make something out of all the stuff that you’d find in a post office – lots of boxes, lots of envelopes, pens, Sellotape, all those sorts of things. One of those boxes was covered with fragile tape and things like this. So, that was kind of the rules we set and then we just had fun with it and we wanted that, as the story got more magical as it went along for the world to be the same. Without too many surprises, there’s a bit where we’re talking through a bid for an ad campaign and some fish tanks come along. And we had, in their own special way, some fish tanks appear on the stage so it was all about getting bigger and bigger with each letter of how ridiculous it all was and how we could have fun with it. So, that’s kind of where it came from. Also, to be honest it just was IKEA. We just went there and this was the budget, we can only spend this much, how much can we get for it? Which is really useful because we’ve been touring the show for a while now and it can fit into the back of a Honda Jazz which you can’t necessarily say for – all those boxes flatten down. So, that was a big drive for the show.
Katie: That’s amazing, and, of course, as students we are no strangers to IKEA. Lastly, just a couple more questions. What actually is Quick Duck because we’ve seen that on the little promo materials that were handed out during the play, so what is Quick Duck?
Will: Quick Duck Theatre is a Birmingham based theatre company which creates queer and comedic work. We started as a graduate company in 2018 and our first show was a drag murder mystery disco in Digbeth where the audience had to solve a fabulous murder mystery. Since then, we’ve been doing lots of other shows and projects. ‘Yours Sincerely’, which is my play, but also, we’ve done some stuff with Fierce Festival, Artists Behind Bars, and also, we’ve recently been announced as an associate company at New Vic Theatre which is a theatre in Stoke-On-Trent. So, they’ve commissioned us to make some new plays which we will be taking to Edinburgh this summer! That’s who we are, we really have fun and our work can be quite eclectic. So, this show definitely isn’t for kids, it’s for adults and that kind of market but one of the shows we are making is a choose-your-own-adventure story for kids. So, it’s all quite interactive, all quite fun. Our motto is just have a good a night out, it’s such a dark world out there right now so let’s just have some fun and go for it.
Katie: Yeah, definitely. We really agree about that interactive element, I think. And, finally, what’s next for you specifically? And, also, if you want to plug any social media at the end or plug your next project, go for it!
Will: Oh, Burn FM! So, I am at the Birmingham Rep this week until Saturday, it’s on at 8pm in The Door at The Rep – not the one by New Street, we’re by Symphony Hall. There are two Reps so it gets very confusing. Quick Duck’s twitter is @Quick_Duck_ or @QuickDuckTheatre on Instagram and Facebook. My social media handles are @Will__Jackson__, it’s so weird there are a few Will Jacksons out there, who’d have thought? ‘Yours Sincerely’ is touring for the next couple of months but I’m going to be debuting a new show called ‘Confetti’ which isn’t autobiographical and it’s a romcom about a wedding planner which I’m taking up to Edinburgh this summer if people are about and want to catch that. And we should have a preview in Birmingham over the summer as well.
Katie: Ok, that’s amazing! Thank you so much for sitting down to talk to us. This has been Katie and Kitty reports on ‘Yours Sincerely’ by Will Jackson. Thank you so much!
Will: Thank you so much for having me, have a great day!