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National Youth Theatre cast in The Merchant of Venice (2015), Helen Maybanks

Sarah Solemani Interview

19 January 2016 Lydia Cooper

Actor and writer Sarah Solemani chats to London Calling about her recent appointment to the National Youth Theatre board, the importance of young people in theatre, and her upcoming projects.

London Calling: During your gap year you were a member of the National Youth Theatre [and starred as Elaine in The Graduate]. You recently joined the NYT board and are involved in the 2016 audition process. How does it feel to experience it from the other side? Do you have any advice for budding actors?

Sarah Solemani: It’s always interesting to see any casting situation from the other side! I think the secret to a good audition is to be prepared - you don’t know how nerves will affect performance. The NYT auditions are open to absolutely everyone aged between 14-25, irrespective of background and experience. It’s £42 to audition, but last year we gave away £100,000 in bursaries, so don’t let that deter you! Auditions take place all over the country, and they take the format of a two-minute prepared speech from a published play. It launched my career and it’s a resource all aspiring actors should know about and use.

LC: For the National Theatre’s Connections festival, you wrote Crazy Sexy Cool Girls’ Fan Club, which follows the dynamics within a teenage group of girls obsessed with “The Band”.  One thing I liked about this project was that it left a lot of room for interpretation in the script, allowing young people to have creative input into the production. Key Youth Theatre wrote the song “Baby, Baby, Baby”, which The Band performs. Was that your original intention?

SS: The reason I felt confident writing for the Connections brief was because I’d had the privilege of writing a play for NYT before, and I’d learnt a lot about what young people need when they have a play written for them. I deliberately wanted it to be underwritten so that their energy and their voice could be put into it during the rehearsal period, and that’s exactly what happened. It just demonstrates what else the NYT offer - as well as counsel, training, dealing with texts, voice, breadth, movement, you get the opportunity to find your own voice and character. I couldn’t have written that play without my own earlier experience.

LC: ‘Blow Up Dolls’, a project you have in development with FX, sounds intriguing.  Can you tell us a bit about it?

SS: I’m in the middle of writing it. I’m working with Rob McElhenney [from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia] and the pitch was great, it’s nice to be working in America. I can’t reveal too much, but it’s about women in the workplace - do they need to behave more like men to get ahead?

LC: Your strong interest in feminist and class-based issues is evident in your writing. Who are your favourite funny and empowering women?

SS: I love Sharon Horgan. I’m actually developing a project with her at the moment. Tina Fey, obviously, and a lot of female scriptwriters with an original voice.

LC: What’s the best play that you’ve seen recently?

SS: I really enjoyed Dinner with Saddam at the Chocolate Factory. The Win Bin at the Old Red Lion was excellent. It was written by Kate Kennedy, who’s also an NYT alum, and definitely one to watch.

LC: How hard have you found it to get your writing produced since becoming a more public figure? Have you ever had to abandon an idea you’ve really liked?

SS: It’s definitely easier to pitch things but I still get rejected all the time. Part of the nature of the profession means that you obsess about something until you realise it’s probably time to put it away.  Each script is an opportunity to get better though!

LC: Are there any future roles you’d love to play on stage, from canonical or new writing?

SS: I really enjoyed the Julius Caesar and Henry all-female Shakespeare at the Donmar. It makes you realise that women can play the classic “big” roles. I was recently reading Virginia Woolf’s essay “A Room of One’s Own”, and it says of a female author, “Give her a room of her own and five hundred a year”, and we’ll see what she can produce. We still have a lot of time to catch up on a century later, in terms of the roles we can play.

LC: Would you ever like to direct a major theatre project yourself?

SS: Yes, I would. I recently helped an ex-NYT comic Lauren O’Rourke, with her one-woman show Welcome to the Kerryman. I definitely want to stick to writing for the moment though.

LC: What are you up to in 2016?

SS: I’ve got a show called The Five coming out in March, a ten-part thriller for Sky, which was a bit of a departure for me. I recently finished filming Bridget Jones’ Baby, which will be out in September, and I play Bridget’s new best friend, who gets her into a lot of trouble...

The National Youth Theatre is holding open auditions for those aged 14-25. The deadline is 15 February 2016. More information can be found here.

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