Updated: Aug 3
Written by OutStageUs 2023 Writer Connor Cooper
Beginning My OutStageUs Journey: From Idea to Concept
When I began writing my submission for OutStageUs, I had no concrete ideas and treated it as a fun writing exercise. I had no idea my script would even be shortlisted, let alone chosen to be performed. I knew I wanted to draw on my experiences as someone who is physically disabled and gay because I feel like that intersection is often ignored and would be interesting to explore.
After a while, I landed on the idea of two people on a first date- one in a wheelchair and the other able-bodied. The wheelchair user has to wait outside while their date goes into a shop without them, leaving them to monologue about their experiences until the Date comes back.
I felt like this was a good choice because waiting outside somewhere inaccessible whilst other people look around is something I have often done. It also felt like a fitting metaphor for how you learn to automatically make yourself and your disability as small as possible.
Only in the last few years have I learned to assert my boundaries and advocate for myself as a disabled person. Milkshake was inspired by slowly realising that a lot of able-bodied people do not know how to act normally when they’re faced with someone disabled and how frustrating that can be.
Script Evolution and Collaboration: The Making of 'Milkshake'
Although the story's corefocused is the same, the rest has changed quite a lot! Overall I am so much happier and more confident with the final draft. The original draft was less optimistic and focussed disproportionally on the negatives. This meant that the story was restricted because it was difficult to see the relationship between the two characters progressing. Some of the script was reworked so that the audience would root more for the two characters’ relationship. Now, it is a much more hopeful and light-hearted piece.
Overall, I think the lighter tone makes the emotional moments more impactful as well as being very fun and cathartic to write.
Working with Adam helped me realise that I had essentially written a romcom and once we had that framework in mind, fleshing out the script became a lot easier. His feedback and guidance were absolutely integral to Milkshake being where it is today. We spent about five hours over Zoom reworking the first draft and exploring the possibilities for the piece. He really appreciated gaining a deeper understanding of my experience being gay and disabled and made me feel very comfortable. This is the first script I have ever written, and I genuinely couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome on the first try!
In addition to the quality of the work, I feel like my script was chosen because Adam and Mike saw the potential in what I had written, and I am very grateful for that. I really appreciated all of Adam’s feedback and gained a lot from it. He was extremely complimentary but also let me know when something didn’t work. I think this collaboration is part of what led to Milkshake being so good. Both Adam and Mike were extremely welcoming and made me feel appreciated. They were both very keen to keep the core of Milkshake the same while also helping elevate and develop it.
It can be difficult to maintain perspective when you’ve worked on a script so closely, so the first Zoom reading of the script was really helpful. It allowed me to identify the weaknesses within it and to have a better sense of the pace. The first Zoom reading was when the script really started to take shape because it helped me centre the audience’s experience. From that perspective, I could clarify parts that I’d previously assumed would be understood by everyone.
The in person R&D session was so fun and incredibly valuable. Getting to work with actors and implement their suggestions was really useful. Seeing it performed for the first time brought it to life and allowed me to appreciate that I’d written a play. After the rehearsal, I felt a lot more attached to the characters, and I was very happy with the little world I had created for them both.
Character Development: Creating Relatable Narratives
The characters are probably what changed the most throughout the development process. Originally, the main character, Them, was a lot more jaded and pessimistic, and this didn’t fit into the romcom narrative. Their intentions were unclear at first, and it was hard to root for the date to go well. For a chunk of the play, Them laments on the typical gay coming-of-age experiences they’ve missed out on due to being disabled. Establishing this made the character more sympathetic and relatable to the audience which made a big difference to the tone of the play.
One of the key changes we made was developing the character of Date and giving him more to do, as well as a stronger personality. When I started writing, I wasn’t actually sure what kind of person he would be, even debating if Them should abandon the date all together. I needed to make it clearer that these people had a reason for being on a date and actually liked each other. That chemistry was really fun to write and build upon. One of my favourite changes we made to Date was deciding that he should be a tad pathetic but extremely endearing. (Hugh Grant and Colin Firth were the main reference points).
I purposely kept the characters' names vague because when I began writing, it wasn’t about the characters necessarily, but more about the situation. I also wanted to make sure that anyone could be cast regardless of gender. Because OutStageUs showcases LGBT+ stories, we made a change to make it more explicitly gay. In the first draft, disability was the main focus, but over time we elaborated upon the gay themes and focused on the specific ache that comes with never seeing anyone like you exist. My only stipulation was that Them be played by someone physically disabled to keep the play authentic.
From Creation to Stage: Lessons, Growth and Anticipation
The entire process has been so positive, and I’ve gained a lot. It has given me so much confidence in my own ability as a writer and shown me how capable I am. Knowing that my experience and story are worth telling has been very validating, and I really appreciate sharing that. It’s been such a fun project to work on and an amazing opportunity that I am extremely thankful for. This experience has taught me the value of trying even if you think nothing will come of it because I genuinely had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
I haven’t really thought beyond Milkshake being performed by OutStageUs because that is so much more than I ever hoped for! I am genuinely still so in awe that it is even happening, and I can’t wait for audiences to see it! I am so excited to see the story that lived in a Google Doc for two weeks be performed on stage and shared with so many people. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to share my experience as someone who is gay and disabled.
To know that other people with disabilities may see themselves represented is truly an honour, and I am so grateful. The main thing I hope audiences take away from Milkshake, especially those with disabilities, is that you never have to settle for less than you deserve. You do not have to make your disability smaller for the sake of other people. We deserve the world, and we are going to get it.
Nine months ago, I was in the audience for last year's OutStageUs writing a review, and this year I will be sitting watching my own play be performed! My advice for other writers is that there is no reason not to try and to remember that finished is always better than perfect. It is much more important that something is finished rather than flawless.
When developing my ideas, I tend to write everything I’m thinking down and tweak it later. It is much better to have something to work with, even if it’s not great than nothing at all. In general, just trust that you can do it and see what happens!