A Word From Our Sponsor: An Interview With Alan Ayckbourn

In 1995, Simon Murgatroyd interviewed Alan Ayckbourn about A Word From Our Sponsor prior to the play opening at the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

Simon Murgatroyd: You’re about to move to a new home, the Stephen Joseph Theatre, and have written a play dealing with sponsorship and the arts - do we read anything into this?
Alan Ayckbourn:
On one hand A Word From Our Sponsor is a sort of medieval morality play. On the other it is about arts sponsorship - which is quite near to my heart! You could certainly draw parallels with the new theatre if you wanted!

The play is centred on a vicar attempting to stage a medieval mystery play and looking for sponsorship.
It all becomes very Faustian. Can you sell your soul or piece of artistic premise to a sponsor whose purpose is contrary to the aims of the play?

It sounds as though it could be quite a heavy piece.
It is quite dark, though not as dark as Henceforward… - and it gets quite creepy and scary in places, but it will be definitely fun as well.

Why choose a play with music to tell this story?
I had the idea for A Word From Our Sponsor about two years ago and I played around with it for a long time. I couldn't quite make it live because it has these exotic elements. It suddenly occurred to me it was a musical idea, by putting it to music, you could make it more credible and meet its exoticism.

You’ve teamed up again with John Pattison, who you created
Dreams From A Summer House with. How has this play differed from that?
It's been quite interesting, when John and I worked together on Dreams From A Summer House, it was much more of a dialogue musical, but this is a serious musical, it has 12 big songs in it.

You’ve said you very much enjoyed collaborating with John on
Dreams From A Summer House, what was this collaboration like?
I think John's a terrifically exciting composer, he's not a precious composer and I hope I am not to precious a writer. I hope we can help each other and make contributions to each other's work. What is fun is normally if you're writing and directing your work it's a lonely job. With John on the music, you have someone to discuss each other's contributions.

Finally, one can’t help but draw parallels between the play and the new theatre. What are your views on sponsorship and the arts?
In the play Earl [the local drug baron], along with many potential sponsors, can't see anything in it for him. Like many people he says why waste money on the arts as there's no return. Which is obviously a problem all too prevalent today as theatres compete for diminishing funds from the Government and private bodies. It's frustrating because people always have good reasons why they don't want to sponsor something. And when money is available, where people think the money should go is not always what's best for everyone. The ones that desperately need it often only get a small slice.

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