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A black woman with a whip

Deborah Williams

Deborah Williams is a disabled performer, writer, producer and director, extraordinaire. She has many years experience in both disability and mainstream theatre. Colin Hambrook talked to her about her approach to making theatre and her dreams for her company, Reality Productions.

What is your starting point for developing a piece of theatre like oUo maan? Does the character come first - or do you begin writing with a particular theme or topic in mind?

oUo maan evolved out of a character from another play. The director encouraged me to develop the character as a way of promoting myself. My process begins with devising ideas and then putting them down on the page. I start with characters - it's usually a voice in my head speaking out loud. It starts with a long ream of words and then it attaches itself to an idea or a theme or something that interests me. When the two come together I start the process of building a structure and trying to tell stories. I start with character, because I come from a performance perspective. I approach the process with the idea of finding who is telling the story, no matter what the story is.

What was the inspiration for your character, Sister Dee?

She's been around for a long time. She used to be one of my pseudonyms when I first started writing reviews several years ago. She disappeared for a while. Then I did a cabaret workshop at the Actors Centre in 2004 and developed a stand-up routine and she developed out of that. She's quite forthright in what she has to say about men and about sexuality and about fear. I had this character who was quite bold in the way she presented herself. She's the part of me that says all the things I don't say.

I'm hoping to develop that show again, put some show tunes in it and turn it into a political cabaret. The writing is inspired, partly, by Bette Midler and Bill Hicks and people like that who were outrageous, but not necessarily hurtful, in what they were saying. People who weren't afraid to say what they thought.

How has the writing developed since A Woman Called Jackie?

Immensely. That piece was me sitting in a room going, I want to write a play. I bought a book called teach yourself how to write a play and followed it through. Essentially, that's how it happened. I was given £1,200 to produce a show at Jackson's Lane. There wasn't an awful lot I could do with that amount. So I relied on the fact that I was an actor and could act myself through anything. After that I did writing workshops with Paines Plough and BBC Radio Drama. I sat in rooms with people like Mark Ravenhill, Roy Williams, and Kaite O'Reilly. They all had a wealth of knowledge I was able to draw on to find out where my strengths and weaknesses lie.

I realised I was strong in my dialogue and character development, but had to work on structure and plot. So those are the things I think about as I move things on. I'll take a break after I've done a first draft and give myself time to think more about what I've created and look at how I can make it better.

I've started writing 4-5 handers for other actors and have developed more control over breaking down character and whether an audience can empathise with the characters or not, as the case may be.