The Proud Archivist has announced their first Writer in Residence, Sarah Kosar, who will kick off her time at the Haggerston venue, exhibition, bar and restaurant with the world premiere of her new play Mumburger in July.
From Butler, Pennsylvania – where many of her plays are set – Kosar was awarded a Tier 1 Exceptional Promise in Playwriting Visa last year.
“I work full time for a Dalston startup, and I often pass The Proud Archivist to get to work. I saw they had theatre on here and there – one night here, one night there. I thought, ‘That’s interesting’. They weren’t looking for an artist in residence or anything. I dropped them an email, I said I’m a writer, I live in the local area, I mean I’m so close by I go to The Proud Archivist just to write anyway – I think there are some collaboration opportunities here.”
This kind of approach seems almost topsy-turvy, in a playwriting culture that is full of schemes and competitions and gatekeepers. “Basically, I came to London in 2009. Three times I’ve nearly gotten kicked out of the country. And in terms of my work, getting the visa, we’ll it’s made me think that maybe I’ve been a little too passive. I think I’ve waited for someone else to tell me I’m good. I needed to be picked for the talent show. Or not be picked, and go ‘Oh, well, I’ll just try again next year’.
“Now I’ve decided that it’s not a bad thing to make my own things happen. I’ve finally grabbed my balls and said I’m going to do this. Whether anyone likes it or not, I’m going to do it.”
Kosar’s play Hot Dog was produced in 2013 by Descent, but she says, “that was still me waiting for someone else to say ‘Yes, we’ll put that on.’ She’s also heard “Yes” from The Royal Court – “ they have been really good” – commissioning Big Body, Tiny Head for Royal Court Theatre Local, and programming a lunchtime reading of Spaghetti Ocean which she developed on the Royal Court Summer Group.
Kosar’s identity and her style are inextricably linked: “The biggest thing I come up against is people telling me ‘We like your work but it’s too American – we don’t know that this fits with the season, it isn’t right thematically with what we’re going for’– they find it a bit uncompromising. I’m difficult to programme because I’m told that ‘this doesn’t go with anything else.’”
By comparison The Proud Archivist has been really open to Kosar’s approach: “Very quickly the owner got in touch with me and said yeah, let’s have a chat. I judge people based on the speed that they reply to emails – and I thought ‘Wow. I like these guys. I like this place.’”
“I said to them that I wanted a home to try out new work, put on new work, to showcase and develop all my new work that isn’t directly commissioned” – (Kosar is currently writing a play for a hundred students at the Young and Talented School of Stage and Screen – which will premiere in June at the Broadway, Barking)
This residency is going to cost The Proud Archivist relatively little, but it gives Kosar a space and a base to grow. “In fact they’ve been really generous, with Mumburger they’ve been able to give us rehearsal space, the performance space and marketing support.”
“I’m trying to expand my bandwidth as a writer too, integrating podcasting and my work – I’m going to be doing more live podcasting – new recordings of Kin as well as integrating with local people and the community – works in progress, full length productions.”
Kin is Kosar’s podcast, each episode featuring people that consider themselves ‘kin’. Kosar’s extensive interviews drill down into the history of these guests, hopefully getting them to say something to their partners, friends and family that they haven’t said to each other before, revealing things about long-term relationships and the depths of those bonds.
For Kosar there’s a strong connection between this project and her work as a playwright. “The difference is between inventing content and being given content – either way I have to shape it into a story”. It’s a big task – twenty or thirty minutes of Kin often represents over three hours of content.
This storytelling connection carries through to Kosar’s professional life – far from the making-ends-meet approach of lots of playwrights, she sees herself with dual, rather than dueling careers: “I’d say it’s been incredible starting at ROLI, because we believe so wholeheartedly in everyone being a polymath – bringing our secondary skills into everything we do, and I’ve been thinking about how I can do that in theatre. I want to take an audience down the canal by The Proud Archivist and then into the theatre. Is there a podcast about that character you met on the boat? I don’t know yet.”
What’s exciting for Kosar about The Proud Archivist is that it’s a really accessible space: “I know people that are still saying, ‘Is theatre for me?’, and I’m saying that theatre should be Netflix on stage. That’s what I want to see. That’s what I’m trying to make. A lot of theatre is like TV onstage. Netflix have been making stuff that’s a little racier or a little more bizarre than cable. I want to make theatre that’s not just for theatre people. Basically I want to put Bojack Horseman on stage.”
Kosar has described her work as ‘hyperreal’ or ‘cartoonist’. Hot Dog is about an aging mother who is presented onstage as a dog and treated as such by her family, and Armadillo – recently one of Poleroid theatre’s rehearsed reading series at the Vaults – a play about gun control where nerf guns are used as surrogates for a trigger-happy couple.
“With writing I always start with an image and I’m trying to work out how we got there. My next play the image I’m working with is a girl in a power rangers outfit kicking someone. Like a young adult. Oh, and there will also be defecation in the play.
Mumburger – anglicised from ‘Momburger’ in honour of Kosar’s visa – will be directed by Tommo Fowler (Obama-ology, Tiddlywinks, PLAY) and is about how far you’re willing to go for your family.
“One of the staff at ROLI, Purvi Trivedi, is our sound designer, and is going to write music for us – so my professional and my artistic world are coming together again.
Mumburger by Sarah Kosar, directed by Tommo Fowler, is at The Proud Archivist, 8th-24th July.
Sarah is Talent Manager at the music tech company, ROLI in Dalston.