19 August 2020
“My name’s Mari and I’m an Actor and Writer, originally from Bridgend!
I think I came out of the womb pretty certain that I was going to be an actor (apart from the moment I wanted to be the next Hayley Williams to which my Mum scoffed at me and that dream very quickly died) but like so many others from large working class family, we didn’t grow up with a lot so were encouraged to use our imagination to make fun. So I guess being creative has always been a form of escapism and expression so with age and experiences perhaps comes a clearer idea of how you’d like to utilise that.
I remember writing my first script for a Youth Theatre Christmas showcase around the age of 11ish, about a family arguing at Christmas, in which I cast myself as the Grandma who’d had enough and threatened the arguing family with a (faux) gun and the more I look back at that moment, the more it makes me chuckle at how much I enjoyed dark humour even then.
But it was whilst training as an Actor at RWCMD that I realised that making your own work, if you had something to say was vital (not that any of my scripts were any good at that time!) but for me after leaving drama school I started to notice the kinds of things I wanted to see on stage and I realised that I couldn’t possibly sit back and criticise, if I wasn’t willing to be a part of the solution.
My ‘HELA’ journey started back in August 2018 when winning the Violet Burns Award allowed me the opportunity to write a piece for The Other Room’s, at the time, upcoming Violence Season. On the day that Dan Jones told me that I’d won, he also told me that they’d like me to write a piece that was very much a Welsh/Welsh Language response to sexual violence. I then had a year to come up with and finish the piece, with the upcoming January being the deadline for the first draft.
I won’t lie, I definitely had some wobbles along the way but Dan’s unwavering belief in the crux of the story meant that we were always on the same page, regardless of what hurdles came our way as a team.
From the first draft to the piece that is published, the core of what I knew I wanted to say was always there but structurally it changed an awful lot with the expertise of playwright and dramaturg Matthew Bulgo, what he brought to the table not only as a mentor but as a friend was invaluable.
I don’t think I’ve even began to process the Stage Debut nomination yet…for me it’s always been something that I’ve witnessed the likes of amazingly talented people be nominated for but I suppose in my head the criteria suggested it was very heavily London featured. So the chances of HELA getting a nomination, not only being Cardiff based but also in the Welsh language, I just assumed wouldn’t have ever been a thing. So I guess regardless of the outcome, we’ve already won just by making history as the first Welsh language play to receive such a nomination and that gives me a lump in my throat.
I’ve said this a million times but I have to thank every single person who was involved in the creation of HELA – it was the most magical of jobs to work on because every single human was so kind and always so up for the challenge (including YOU Alice!).
I struggle with asking for what it is that I want – for a long time I assumed that I had to be polite and if others thought I was good enough, they would come to me. But to quote Hamilton “I’m chasing what I want” and it has been the most freeing thing. Often as Welsh women not only our culture stops up from hyping ourselves up because we’re so self-deprecating as a nation but society tells us the same because of our gender, so we’re brainwashed to be “good little girls” but I don’t think any of my heroes are remembered for being that. Rules are meant to broken.
I’m very lucky that I am surrounded by incredibly strong, kind and talented Welsh Nonbinary folk + Women who inspire me daily. One of my best friends (Rhys Taylor), at the age of 12, told me in Tesco’s carpark “Not IF you’re an actor, WHEN!” and I think they were right…If you don’t believe in yourself and your abilities, then why should anybody else? Not that I’m advocating toxic positivity but I certainly think there’s a balance to be found – I think we can allow ourselves to take up some more space! Someone told me recently “That we discover who we are in the midst of adversity” and I think that’s true, there’s certain morals and qualities that carry us through even in our toughest of hours and it’s those moments that are probably the most revelatory to us.
It’s probably glaringly obvious to those that know me that of course the Welsh language, for me, provides a feeling of rebellion. The world has been brainwashed to think that it’s a dying language, so the act of taking that narrative back and actively steering it away from it, just by using/learning/speaking/writing in/advocating it makes me feel empowered. But don’t get me wrong, I acknowledge there is certainly a feeling of exclusion that needs addressing, particularly when it comes to correctness of usage of the language (even I’ve been on the receiving end of it as a fluent speaker!) but in the end, I think being Welsh is unique to each of those who chose to identify with it and that the language belongs to anyone who uses it.
Obviously the pandemic has messed with almost everyones plans as to what is next…I’m supposed to be working on a feature film, but that like so many others across the world, is Coronavirus dependant as too when that can happen. So I’ve chosen to spend this time levelling up my writing skills. I’ve a place on the MA Writing for Stage and Broadcast Media at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama that starts in October and I’m really REALLY excited to continue learning and at the end of the course have a body of work/tools that I wouldn’t have had before.”