Alan Ayckbourn: Professor of Contemporary Theatre at Oxford University

In 1992, Alan Ayckbourn was appointed the annually appointed position of Cameron Mackintosh Professor of Contemporary Theatre at Oxford University. During a talk in 2017, he discussed some of his experiences during the year.

Royal Society of Literature

In 2017, Alan Ayckbourn talked about some of his experiences in Oxford as part of an event at the British Library organised by the Royal Society of Literature.

"I wasn’t university educated so I had no idea about the common rooms or the junior common rooms or seminars or tutorials and so on. I gave some tutorials and one-on-ones. I picked about 14 people out of hats, some of them were students, some of them were housewives from the Oxford area and there was one very old don, who fancied his hand at writing. So we sat there for a year between us discussing the possibilities of getting them to write a play, which very few of them did. There was one girl who kept getting stuck at page 30 and by the end, I was almost screaming ‘if… jumped out of the window, at least it’d be something!’ ‘No, no it’s not right, it's not right.’ I got one little play - 40 minutes - from this boy, who said, ‘I don’t think it’s very good.’ I said, ‘it’s a play. It’s got a beginning, middle and end and it makes sense and well done.’ My jewel from my year. So I directed it for him and we got some professional actors to do it for him in the old fire station, in Oxford. And he came to the first night and I said, ‘wow, this is exciting, I can remember my first play…’ I said what are you working on next and he said, ‘I don’t think I want to do anymore writing.’ And he joined the BBC and became a researcher, so my one writer had vanished. It’s never that easy.

"We had fun, but I was expecting as a non-university guy to go there and be asked lots and lots of very erudite questions by the students about construction and motivation and so on. And all of them had the same question… how do you get a job? So I said, ‘I’m not a labour exchange, mate.’ One or two of them I found jobs for but its very difficult and my good advice that I practised I put into writing
The Crafty Art Of Playmaking.

"Being at the High Table was a very daunting dinner. I remember it very distinctly. I’m a lousy dinner party person and I turned to the women on my left and said, so whats your subject and she said I’m a crystallographer and I said, ‘oh really. Erm.’ And I turned to the other one and she said, ‘I’m an immunologist’ and I said, ‘ah, yes. Our cats just been immunised.’ She looked at me like I was a… And I thought, well if you can’t beat them - everybody talks about showbiz and everyone has - as one producer said to me - everyone has two businesses show-business and their own business. So everyone’s an expert on show-business, ‘Oh, I know how to improve that show…’ So I got into showbiz and before long the conversation had lapsed into the Chippendales. I don’t know how we did it, and the other solitary male guest was looking at me incredulously and thinking how did we get from a Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters discussion on their respective merits down to the Chippendales - thanks to you. And I brought St John into disrepute immediately! But they were very nice and very charming and it was a jolly nice meal."

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