Connor Allen: Stormzy, time and ‘The Making of a Monster’
Stormzy, time and ‘The Making of a Monster’
Catching up with the poet and current Children’s Laureate Wales, Connor Allen, I was privileged enough to witness a few minutes of the rehearsal for his first play “The Making of a Monster”.
There were two skate ramps, two sets of stairs and two very sweaty actors running around with microphones on stage. They were both sprinting left and right while blasting and rapping along to loud beats, the words of which were “Life is fucking shit, without a dad in it.”
A tune I found to be annoyingly catchy on the bus ride home.
Writing “The Making of a Monster” involved Connor pushing himself, mentally and physically, as well as the boundaries and norms of theatre.
The play itself is described as a “grime-theatre mashup”, which is not a mixture commonly associated with the theatre scene in Wales.
He confessed: “I’m not saying I’ve coined that term of course, but I was like… it’s like a grime theatre infusion. Grime theatre is just fusing those two energies and those two cultures.”
Connor grew up around grime and rap music and wanted to simply “take the energy and culture of grime and then just fuse it together with theatre in a way that’s interesting, and a way that I hope will push boundaries in the way of how do we tell stories”.
He admits having a particular fondness for Stormzy, Skepta and Little Simz. “Because, the stories that they’re telling in their raps and their music, it means something. You can relate to that. And you have that power to storytell then. To commit a message through one song. That’s 3 minutes. Imagine having that energy and that ability and you carry it on through 75 minutes of a storytelling device that is theatre. It gives me chills because there’s something so interesting about that.”
This piece of theatre is his story, which he has previously used some in some of his poetry in the past. But words on paper are far more different than what they transform into in the theatre. Here’s how he thinks that putting his work on stage is different…
“My philosophy is always many brains in a room is always better than one. It’s always nice to have different voices because I understand that, for example, I’m not a director, I’m not a lighting designer, I’m not a set designer. So I have ideas, I can envision it. But, I’m like ‘This is my idea. Make it better. Because you guys are far more quick than me.’
“I think sometimes that one of the easiest things is to remove ego and not to be like Oh, well I have to know everything. I have to do everything. It’s a journey, and I’ve learned so much stuff doing this process that I can apply to my next show.
“Like having caps. I’m wearing different caps but I’m trying to understand like ‘So I need to take this off because I’m not performing, and now I’m the writer.’ It’s like different hats. And, that’s a skill in its own. And I’m learning that because it’s my first time really. I’m a lone wolf.
“There’s some things I could say in poetry that I could never say in theatre. Because as much as people are like ‘Poetry is there to be read,’ I do push back on that a lot because it is, and you can read people’s words, but there’s something very different when you hear them.
“They’re giving you a piece of them. In that poetry. You could read that poem a thousand times but that delivery and that moment and that time… you’ll never get that back. That’s why I think theatre mimics that because, theatre’s live.
“Poetry, for example, I’ve got 100 words. So I’ve got to paint you a picture and tell you a story in 100 words, whereas in theatre I’m at 10,000 words. Words matter. Bringing that into theatre is very different. ‘Monster’ is the story of a moment in my teenage years. ‘Monster’ is the recipe, everyone else is the ingredients. ‘Monster’ is just the blueprint. The recipe.”
We face many obstacles in our daily lives, but as an artist there are so many factors going against you whilst trying to produce a piece of theatre, or a poem, or a song. Connor faced various challenges while writing “The Making of a Monster.”
“I think time. Because, I’ve been developing and writing ‘Monster’ for 5 years. The first draft of ‘Monster’ I wrote in 2 weeks. That would have been 5 years ago. But, was the world ready for this story? Was I ready for this story? Those are the big questions that you have to ask.
“We’re finally having open and honest conversations about race, and about identity that we probably weren’t having 5 or 6 years ago. It just goes to show you can have a whole shift of a cultural movement in Black Lives Matter, and people now want to listen to those stories.
“So, I feel, not that it was an obstacle, but I think time and just knowing that sometimes the right story at the right time, the right moment, can have a far greater affect. Just being patient. Just understanding that it’s a universal story. I will engage with people when the time is ready.
“Just being patient, I think, was one of the biggest obstacles. And, obviously, COVID happened, which is another massive one. And also understanding what to give and what not to give.
“Because there are elements which are semi-autobiographical. Elements that are my life and that actually happened. How much do I give audiences and how much do I strip back? Lots of people want to pay for tickets to a show and watch you re-live your trauma. I pay the price for my trauma. For exploiting that. For audience value and audience gain. What do I give and what do I not?
“It’s very interesting sometimes to feel like you can give someone everything. ‘I give you all of me,’ but then what are you left with? What’s the story? And, what’s good for the story?
“Sometimes, what’s good for the story isn’t what’s good for you as a writer or you as an artist. That balance. It always has to be about what’s best for the story. Because that’s the recipe. If the recipe goes wrong, then the dish is wrong.”
“I feel extremely blessed. Privileged that I am able to come and tell a story. A universal story about identity, where you fit in and the trials and tribulations that come with that. Being a young person.
The beauty of ‘Monster’ is that, you don’t have to be a young mixed race man. It’s about identity. Where do you fit in? You could be tackling gender, sexuality, disability, class. There’s so many things that go on within our lives that affect the way we look at our life.
“I just feel really privileged that I get to put on a show and allow people the space to have empathy and to really reflect on ‘I am who I am’, and that is a superpower in itself. Just being you and being here right now and that’s enough.”
“The Making of a Monster” runs from the 9th to the 19th of November at the Wales Millennium Centre and you can buy tickets here. Personally, I am excitedly awaiting the opening night, and I’m sure Connor is too.
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