By MARIA JI.
25-year-old Sam Brooks is an Auckland-based playwright and theatre editor for The Pantograph Punch. Born and bred in Papakura, he doesn’t yet work too far from home. But with numerous plays, awards, and titles (including Metro Magazine’s Most Exciting Auckland Playwright) already under his belt, Brooks is undoubtedly going places. So we talked to Sam about how he became the playwright he is today, and these are some of the many unquantifiable, non-chronological steps he took.
Your eyes get opened up to theatre.
Which makes it sound like your eyes are tightly-shut clams requiring vigorous shucking. An introduction to theatre doesn’t necessarily have to be a violent awakening, but sometimes it is: for Sam it was falling in love with a 2008 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and beelining for Unitec, where playwright (and professional eye-opener) Gary Henderson happened to be tutoring at the time.
You learn that eyes are hunting organs.
You spend a lot of time going to see theatre. Theory and writing mean nothing if you aren’t connected to the community where you want to produce your work. It’s important to be aware of the arts ecology in which you want to be a part of, even if you don’t cater to its trends.
You spend a lot of time at home reading. You read plays, criticism, books about writing, books about acting – in short, everything you can. Sam believes that the best thing about being a playwright is that centuries of material lie at your fingertips – “there’s so much stuff that you can use to open your mind and build your taste”. As with any art form, it is crucial to expose yourself to as much art as possible; go hunting for the great and necessary triggers of creativity.
Sam says it is important to expose yourself to criticism too: “I think that criticism is so key to understanding art, understanding what you like and don’t like, and why you don’t like it. I know there are artists who shy away from reading criticism, and there’s a LOT of bad criticism out there, especially in this country, but I think engaging in thoughtful, insightful criticism just puts another tool in your toolbox.”
You find the knack. And build on it.
There are many ways of building a strong, professional practice. You make more mistakes than you count. You accumulate skills. As The Lumiere Reader’s theatre editor, Sam reviewed “EVERYTHING”, and developed the skills that would qualify him for his current position of theatre editor at The Pantograph Punch.
You put your hand up, again and again. Sam put in the hours, and responded to suggestions with a ‘why not?’. With each achievement came added confidence, and an increasing awareness of how his writing could affect people in a profound way.
As your career builds, the number of memorable moments increase. And the moments most deserving of being labeled milestones are often stepping stones. Winning the Playwrights b4 25 competition in 2012 for his plays Mab’s Room, The Sacred Prodigies, and Auckland Shakes was an achievement that Sam says really got him started, and made him realise that he had a future as a playwright.
You write plays (and try not to burn out in the process)
One of the difficulties that comes with the job of playwright for Sam is the internal struggle between wanting to give himself and his work time to breathe, and wanting to do as much as possible.
“Last year I had six productions that I was involved in to various degrees…. And all those experiences were amazing and I don’t regret a single one, and also studying full-time at the same time… it drained me so that when I went home, when I wanted to write or even think about writing, I had no energy left.”
This year, Sam is finding more balance between working, and not working (which paradoxically gives his work the space to evolve). Though there is no ‘typical day’ in the life, his days generally consist of reading one play or book, a long walk, and listening to lots of music or podcasts. “I don’t pressure myself to write every day, but as long as I’m doing some engagement with art or thought or creativity then I’m happy.”
You remember that there is no singular path forward
“I think there’s a perception that theatre is this inaccessible and closed off thing when it’s actually not. There are so many pathways for someone who wants to do it, especially for a writer.”
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