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The street playwright

May 18 2009
Ward: Ward:
Chris Ward draws inspiration from life on London‘s streets. He speaks about his big breaks, breakdowns and breakthroughs The creativity to be found among the UK's sidelined society is famous. The streets have housed musicians, painters and poets living on the margins of their ambitions. But one artist, playwright Chris Ward, has made the journey from dreamer to theatre, carrying his baggage with him along the way. Mr Ward started dabbling with poetry and stories early on, and his flair for writing soon developed: "It seemed natural to write for the stage, as my family enacted countless dramas in their personal lives everyday," he jokes. Mr Ward missed school as his family moved around, but learned his trade from the books he found - "It was like being left in a room with explosives." As a teenager, Mr Ward worked backstage in London theatres, but his big break came when he was accepted at the London International Film School. "Those were the days when it was still possible to get grants," he admits. His luck did not run out there, and soon he was working with leading directors, writers, actors and former musicians. "All of sudden I was surrounded by rock stars, tagging along to recording studios and nightclubs," he said. "But you soon find out how soulless and empty the whole circus can be." It was after this flirtation with fame that Mr Ward began what he calls self-destruction. "I was in hostels and sleeping rough on and off for years in an attempt to eradicate my former existence," he explains. "Now, when people mention what I used to do, it is like they are talking about someone else." But one memory remains strong from this period; an old 'geezer' who approached Mr Ward with the words that were to become his mantra: "You must bleed but never die." The anger from this chapter of his life remains and is reflected in his plays. Although the setting for each play has varied from terrorist hideouts to a decaying stately home, they all follow a similar theme. "They mostly involve a group of people holed up and under threat from outside forces," says Mr Ward. "Despite this, they try to find some kind of meaning and value out of all the brutality and injustice." This notion of a minority group against the world ties in with his past, the area Mr Ward gleans most inspiration from. "Being an artist, living has to be your inspiration," he explains. "Whatever that consists of, no matter whether or not it is a shit deal. It is your state of being, and the journey and direction it takes you in. The danger of not knowing what is around the corner is what keeps you alive." Mr Ward believes it is his natural curiosity - and his awareness that every person he encounters is somebody with a story to tell - that has helped him to write so many plays. But, even though he sees himself as an Everyman artist, there are certain characters he is drawn to: "I have always had a fascination with rebels, the so-called misfits and outcasts of society," he said. "They were the people I admired the most, the people I felt most drawn to and had an affinity with." His plays are showcased by Wet Paint Theatre, Mr Ward's own attempt at anarchy, which is suitably sporadic with its appearances. The group set out to prove it was not essential to be drama school trained to be on stage, which Mr Ward claimed was much to the annoyance of the Establishment and press. "We began to recruit from bands and chance encounters at gigs, squats, anarchy centres and sometimes even from casual conversations in the street," he said. "As our reputation grew, people got to know where to seek us out, which was a real buzz and saved us the trouble." In time, Wet Paint Theatre has come to be regarded by its founders as a kind of cultural drop-in for anyone who wants to contribute. But trained actors have provided some discipline in this organised chaos. He encourages anyone else who feels they wish to shout out loud about their experiences on the streets to get involved. "I despair at the lack of opportunity out there - it is about conforming and not upsetting the status quo," moans Mr Ward. "But for those individuals still with some 'divine spark', we will be up and running again soon. We need you." At present, Mr Ward is working simultaneously on a new play, set in a failing comprehensive school and a novel about a young woman sleeping rough. Further details for Wet Paint Theatre's return will be in The Pavement soon.
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