Interview with Will Burns, writer and performer of Butter Fingers

Will Burns is an up-and-coming writer, yet he already has several productions under his belt. As the lead writer for By The Play theatre, and a keen performer himself, Burns has quickly established himself as a creative superstar in the local arts scene.

His latest project is Butter Fingers. The one-person play is no doubt going to be fun, laugh-out-loud and totally feel good – which is what we all need right now. I sit down with Will to ask him all about his latest endeavour…

First things first… what’s Butter Fingers about?

In a chaotic series of events, a twenty something year old lad from Leeds concludes the only way to win back his ex-girlfriend is to catfish her with avant-garde musician Kate Bush. But, making her jealous isn’t going to cut it… he needs to save her guinea pig’s life.

What inspired you to write (and star) in the show?

I’ve always dreamed of having a one-man show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I wrote my first full stage play in 2019, Spilt Milk, which was the catalyst for writing more stage shows, produced locally with By The Play… Theatre Productions. When my final year of university approached, my creative dissertation lent itself to me finally biting the bullet and writing my play.

The process was lengthy and it took a lot of trial and error to find the right concept I was going to evolve. I have a passion for comedy, so there was no doubt it had to be just that. But I also love theatre that has a dramatic plot, sometimes an undercurrent to the laughs and gags that take you from beginning to end. Butter Fingers is unique, and carries my personal tone and voice throughout, so I knew I had to play it… besides, no one else would be crazy enough!

How would you describe your writing style? Do you have a particular writing process?

My writing style is based on real life, and follows the northern tongue I’m familiar with. There’s often an extended metaphor in the picture and it’s almost always grounded in comedy. At university our first ever submission was to write three pages of script. Some people wrote about zombie apocalypses, mythical battles, or drug gangs… I wrote about a woman in Morrisons trying to return a banana!

In terms of my writing process, I have to find that voice. Who’s telling the story? Whose story is it? Why is it them? Once I’ve cemented their tone, a world around them starts to form. Arguably, the writing process never ends and I’m looking forward to using Butter Fingers‘ first showing as an opportunity to develop the piece further subject to audience reaction!

Do you often perform in your own pieces? Do you find it brings a new perspective to both your writing and acting?

From my experience, performing in your own work gives an entirely different perspective to it. You literally step inside one of the characters you’ve created; they immediately feel real, and you pay rich and undivided attention to ensuring it does the script justice. In saying this, sitting back and watching a cast perform your script is potentially the most precious gift to a writer. These characters are now people, and you notice and observe each one in a way you cannot when you’re a member of the cast itself. I’ve been extremely lucky to have worked with some very talented actors who have allowed me to see the story played out for real.

Do you have a favourite play? What’s been your biggest inspiration so far?

I really enjoy reading plays. I sometimes find it a little difficult to commit to reading full novels, but give me a play and I’ll have it finished that same day. One play I thought was excellent was Cyprus Avenue by David Ireland. I first saw a live recording, from The Royal Court Theatre London in Lockdown. It was funny, political, alarming, and dealt a heavy punch at the end. I bought a copy of the script and read it through and through to examine how Ireland balanced both laughter and shock from his audiences.

To prepare for Butter Fingers I read a lot of one-person plays. My favourite is Girls and Boys by Dennis Kelly. I took myself off to a café, enjoyed a pot of tea and got reading. It remains one of the most influential plays in my library. Kelly crafts a voice that is so real, echoing familiar and warm tones, yet a dark secret is enmeshed in the play… which becomes clear towards the end. Technically, in terms of dramatic devices, staging and dialogue this serves a flawless, tragic and
outstanding play. However, I think Butter Fingers strikes a better comparison with being an alternative Fleabag.

You’re known for writing pieces for By The Play theatre – how important do you think it is for new writers to find a platform for their work?

Having a platform for your work is what takes it from being words on a page to a real live product! It’s the most valuable thing a writer can have, in my opinion. It takes some writers time to feel confident enough to put their work out there. I’d always say it’s worth it, though. Audience feedback, whether it be verbal, written or just hearing their reaction is what has made my writing grow. Give it a go!

Out of everything you’ve written, what has been your biggest risk? Are there any subject matters or genres you wouldn’t want to write about, or any that you’d love to try?

I think this can be a rather contentious debate. Does a writer have to have experienced something to make the subject matter feel believable? Is writing grounded in personal experience? It’s an interesting one. I tend to write mainly middle aged women characters, I just seem to find their voice comes to me most easily! I’ve also written about coercive abuse, bigamy and blackmail, which were all risks. However, not bringing any personal experience to it made me focus intently on the characters’ voices, tones and dialogue structures. Part of the writing process is hearing a cast read your script and what made these risks pay off was seeing the issues become convincing storylines. I think I would like to write something political one day, and you could argue everything is political, but I mean overtly political. I’m not so sure about that yet, though.

What’s next for your career? Are you focusing on writing, acting or a nice mix of the two?

I’d say a nice mixture of the two. First and foremost, I am a writer. I’ve been trained in it and so I am always looking to create new pieces, sometimes big, sometimes small but I also have a great love of acting. Butter Fingers is the ultimate project as it gives me as a writer a creative license to explore my own work, something I’m weary of when playing a character someone else has created.

So there you have it! Doesn’t the show sound simply fabulous? Butter Fingers is coming to Guiseley Theatre for one night only on Saturday 12th March 2022 – don’t miss it! Book your tickets here.

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