This week, we are joined by writer, actor and producer Ryan Walker-Edwards who delves into the transformative and developmental realities of writing and his experience of developing 'Boys Who F*, And Cry' - his first satirical stage production - with Sky Studios and The Birmingham REP.
Insight: Writing Satirical Comedies and Forging Opportunity with Birmingham talent Ryan Walker-Edwards
When writing your short stories and radio plays, where do you look to for inspiration? Are your characters inspired by real-life people and are the experiences inspired by real-life events?
Yes through the funny situations I have been in, funny scenarios and persons I have encountered (though I say that lightly in case my work gets me into hot water). When I first began writing, I would often focus on characters or stories that would affirm my views, leaving the plot binary. All this did was create an echo chamber of opinion writing certain characters without flaws or oddities – fascinating effects that make us human. Delving into the world of comedy and satire, I found the grey areas of characters comical and compelling, how people’s thoughts and views co-exist in space and how people have a difference of opinion on a subject. This conflict and comedy is something that I see with real-life friends and people I have met.
Can you talk us through the process of developing a story, from conceptualisation to the final piece?
The process of my writing is varied. Not sure if I have a plan, but let’s see. First, I have a collection of notes that I pray are hopefully coherent and make sense. These notes are collated together at some point (depending on the deadline). I then create the base of a story and characters.
Starting is the hardest part, I reckon. Writing can be an isolating task. It helps to focus my work and voices I feel confident to explore. Most of my stories are focused on or around experiences within the black community, usually based in Birmingham and regional settings. Writing blocks do happen, being disillusioned with work also happens. Speaking with other writers and creatives, we agree it's a good idea to have breaks from your work to come back to writing with a recharged mind. Story revisions are always part of the process. Rehearsed readings with trusted friends or actors also help the story evolve.
What sparked your interest in writing? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I started as an actor at the Television Workshop in Birmingham, now called the First Act Workshop. I did not go to drama school after that. I did have a few credits under my belt but decided to put acting on hiatus to study English Literature. Now looking back, studying gave me a great understanding of different texts. I somehow fell back into acting, but the roles were not necessarily there, especially for black midlands talent, unless you create your work. The team and friends around me suggested I write more to supplement this, then lockdown happened. During this bleak period - a story of mine (SAFARI) was commissioned for radio by BBC Arts and Rural Media for production. It gave me a little more confidence in my writing - I went back into my archive and decided to work on another called POSTED that was later commissioned again by BBC Arts, ICA and NTS Radio.
You’re currently in the process of developing your story, ‘Boys Who F*, And Cry’ with Sky Studios and The Birmingham REP. Can you tell us a bit more about the idea behind this particular story and its development so far?
Boys Who F*, And Cry is a light-hearted satire that will explore friendship and brotherhood amongst an unlikely set of childhood friends in Birmingham, who meet in Cannon Hill Park after ghosting each other for six years. Boys Who Cry takes a comical deep dive into the emotions of class, sexuality and racial politics through the lives of four young men starting their careers. Loosely influenced by experiences of moving away, graduating and not hitting the trajectory you hoped for yourself, returning home to former close friends and family and the funny clashes that happen because you now have new boundaries, principles and aims.
The process of developing a professional piece varies depending on what realm. Making audio dramas for radio is pretty fun and fast paced. But on stage, there are many different elements to consider, but Birmingham REP and Sky Studios have teamed me up with Director Iqbal Khan and Danny Brocklehurst. They have been great in helping and guiding the piece and giving their insight into different aspects to look at or delve into further.
Would you say that there is an underlying message/ narrative focus that underpins your body of work? If so, what do you hope people will take away from it?
Just a fun time. There are themes in the play that resonate with the audience - the mindfuck of returning to previous home spaces and reuniting with old friends. A situation heightened during the pandemic when jobs and lifestyles for young people came to a halt. These characters are pretty raw and flawed - they all have incorrect attributes. No one is a villain or hero in the play. Boys Who Cry is in a Birmingham dialect, underscoring working-class and regional black voices.
Could you tell us a bit more about your music and events movement ‘Incognito Radio’? How did it all begin and what kind of talent are you specifically working with? What do you hope to achieve through the movement?
Incognito Radio was a platform started while I was at university - as a response to the narrow music scene. Years later, our team has continued hosting parties in London and planning our second edition of COVERT - an electronic music festival in Dorset. The main aim of Incognito was to give a platform to upcoming DJs alongside already established artists within the electronic music scene.
What’s next for you?
Not sure what is next at the moment, as I do not want to burn out. Currently, I am enjoying therapy, but later down the line, I am looking forward to sharing radio projects I have worked on, doing more acting work and revisiting other stories I have stored. But other than that, just living in the present and having a good time.
Ryan's Round of Speed Dating with DMY
1. What is your go-to drink?
Sorell and Ginger (Big up my Jamaicans!)
2. What was the last thing you Googled?
Synonyms for words, to make me sound smart.
3. What was the last book you read?
I’m revisiting Percival Everett’s Erasure. It’s hilarious.
4. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
New York or Ghana.
5. What is your favourite TV show?
I’m enjoying Landscapers and Insecure at the moment.
6. What would be your ideal date?
Somewhere, I can sit in silence, a cinema maybe, but is that sociable?
7. What’s your guilty pleasure?
Kitsch and trash American TV shows from the noughties.
8. What’s the best and worst purchase you’ve ever made?
Best and Worst: I purchased a fancy lamp once…I broke it.
9. What was your first concert?
The Rinse FM Tour in the now closed Rainbow Warehouse.
10. Make a party playlist with only 3 songs:
Akito 'Carry On Comedown'
Miss Fatty 'Million Stylez'