Monday, 24 April 2017

The Braw and The Brave Meet.....Lawrence Crawford

Since starting this blog last year, Lawrence Crawford has been on my interviewee wish list. Despite working alongside each other on the same project for a number of years now, sat in many an-all day meeting together, I had never had the opportunity to actually sit down with him to discuss his work as an actor, director, playwright and filmmaker....until now that is.  

Coming through the ranks of youth theatre, Lawrence remembers a sense of not fitting in at secondary school and it was going to study a BA in Drama Studies at the tender age of 17 at Glasgow's RSAMD (now The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) where he finally felt at home."It was somewhere I could do silly voices, be myself and no one would comment on it". After graduating, he threw himself into acting, constantly commuting back and forth to London for auditions. In 1995 he was cast as a young officer in Bill Bryden's production Big Picnic about young Glaswegian soldiers in WW1. Starring well-known Scottish acting talent such as Jimmy Logan and Dave Anderson, Lawrence recalls the experience with real sentiment, with the attention to detail seeing him trained by an ex-army officer and the grandiose scale of the production being so fondly etched in his memory. However it was the bond formed with his fellow performers and his time spent with Jimmy Logan that made a lasting impression. "One thing he taught me was to let a laugh breathe. He knew about timing. You need to read your audience".The cast held a 20th anniversary reunion in 2015 which was tinged with some sadness at the loss of some their fellow cast members over the years. It is clear his time spent on this particular production has made a lasting impression and he is immensely proud to have been a part of such a large scale, prominent piece of Scottish theatre. 

Despite his success as an actor, which included appearing in the film Bent starring none other than Mick Jagger,  Lawrence found it increasingly frustrating at being typecast as the stereotypical Scottish junkie, young thug, alcoholic or car thief. "As actor you don't have a lot of power. You're reading someone else's lines. You're being told where to stand and what to do by the Director. There is a degree of creativity but you don't really have the power to change things".  It was then Lawrence decided to start making his own work and returned to his studies, this time at RADA in London. An intensive year of studying and working full-time to pay for his bed-sit saw him complete a masters degree in Theatre Text and Performance. Writing and directing, soaking up the London life and culture, after five years in the 'Big Smoke' Lawrence finally decided it was time to return home. Scottish theatre had gone through some significant changes in the time he had been away and he was now keen to get involved in the thriving scene. 

Directing plays for the likes of National Theatre of Scotland, leading adult theatre groups for South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture, The Arches and Falkirk Youth Theatre, Lawrence over the years has worked with a variety of organisations producing and facilitating. He enjoys devising new pieces with his actors, as well as creating theatre that delves into themes that interest him personally. "When I'm writing I try to imagine someone actually saying the words. I try not to be too precious, so when you hear it read aloud in rehearsals there's room to change things". Inspired by the works of Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Iain Heggie, Lawrence likes to give some ownership back to the actors but also include his audiences. His 2010 play COMA forced the audience to play the role of the doctor who decided the fate of an unconscious patient on life support. "It's about finding the balance of getting them involved but not to the point where they find that off-putting".

COMA by Lawrence Crawford

In more recent years, love for his homeland and a fascination with some of his Scottish heroes has encouraged Lawrence to produce new work that sheds light on some untold stories. His play Connolly in 2016 about the 'Big Yin' turned back the clock to Billy Connolly's child hood and his life in the shipyard industry. Research is paramount when creating this kind of theatre and this is something Lawrence revels in. "When you find out something you did not know it's exciting to think how you will include it to inform your audience". Currently he is working on staging Alan Bissett's novel The Incredible Adventures of Adam Spark.  Set in Falkirk about Falkirk young people, Lawrence has made it his mission to breathe life in to the adapted for stage version of the novel which to date has never been performed. Tackling themes such as racism and homophobia, set during the Tony Blair/Iraq War years, Lawrence feels such issues are still ever-so current and important for youth theatre to take on . "Alan attended our first read through with the cast. He'd never heard young people read it aloud before. The very people who he'd written it for". 

Connolly by Lawrence Crawford

In storytelling Lawrence recognises the weight of responsibility that also comes with his work. As a filmmaker he recently had the opportunity to give a voice to those who at one time were silenced by their circumstances. His film The Kids Aren't Alright tells the harrowing stories of four young girls from Ayrshire who have lived through parental substance abuse. Involving the young people in every aspect of the creative process was critical as Lawrence was adamant that they were comfortable with any decisions made. "In capturing their stories I knew I had to start with a blank page. It had to be told by them". From holding auditions to editing, the young people were given the chance to contribute at every stage, giving them some ownership over a situation they previously had no control over. A screening was held in January of this year and the film has been greatly received. Tackling such a difficult subject matter was a challenge but one which Lawrence was very keen to undertake, in a bid to encourage other young people suffering in silence to speak out. Plans to share it with youth groups and schools across the country are underway and there is hope that it's message of hope will resonate and reassure young people in similar circumstances. 

The Kids Aren't Alright by Lawrence Crawford

Working as a freelance artist Lawrence finds it imperative to constantly challenge oneself in order to make work that is both fulfilling and inspiring. "It's about putting yourself out of your comfort zone. Giving something of yourself when you're asking others to do so".Collaborating with songwriters and choreographers allows him to not only bring his vision to life but to also see how things look from another creative's perspective and to continually reevaluate his decisions. With experience comes confidence but Lawrence isn't one to rest on his laurels. Having several strings to his creative bow and always looking to challenge himself, his most recent project, making a film about his father's battle with Dementia, may be his hardest but most rewarding endeavour yet. "I feel it's helping me to deal with the situation". Never one to pigeonhole himself, Lawrence believes that as an artist your journey is more important than the destination. "Don't give up, keep on setting yourself goals and don't compare yourself to others" are his mantras and they are clearly serving him well. Famed for his distinctive, very dapper sense of style Lawrence is keen to put himself out there in the hope that others will feel more at ease in expressing themselves through drama. "If wearing a silly shirt breaks the ice, I'm more than happy to get teased". 

First single you ever bought?
"We are Glass by Gary Numan. It was a 7" single from Woolworth's. I used to buy one every week and I still have them!"

Favourite film?
"One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. I have a theory that actors are at their best when they're still hungry and for me, that was a role Jack Nicholson was born to play. He was an unknown and at an age where most actors have given up. The actors had spent time in mental institutions to prepare for the film and I think you see that"

Biggest pet peeve?
"Ignorance. Any kind of isms. I hate to see videos of terrible things happening on public transport with people standing by and not intervening. You have to question why we live in a society where we're happy to stand by and film these sorts of things"

I'm happiest when....
"When I'm around people I love"

Best invention?
"Electronic music. I used to be a DJ and I'd have to carry my entire record collection to gigs. Now you can store 1000s of albums on a laptop!"

Favourite song lyric?
"John Lennon "a working class hero is something to be". If the common man likes you, you're doing alright.I guess it's because something else that I'm passionate about is that the arts should be accessible to all."

1 comment:

  1. What a fantastic interview of a fantastic talent. Thank you for this! Lawrence Crawford is definitely one of Scotland's greatest emerging assets!