After 77 plays, Alan Ayckbourn knows his way around a theater. Ayckbourn has won every possible accolade during his long career, but even a 2006 stroke that left him with limited use of an arm and leg hasn't stopped the prolific writer and director.
The award-winning British playwright is in Seattle directing the American premier of his 2003 play "Sugar Daddies." It's the story of a young girl, Sasha, from the north of Britain. She's come to London to make her way as a chef-in-training. When the audience meets Sasha, she's just rescued an elderly man from a rough encounter outside her apartment. The play is the story of their unfolding relationship as well as an exploration of the nature of good and evil.
Alan Ayckbourn was almost as young as his character Sasha when he got started in his career: just 17 years old. Neither of Ayckbourn's parents was involved in theater, but he cheerfully admits his choice must have been genetic: "My maternal grandmother was a male impersonator in the music halls."
I'm still fertile!
Ayckbourn intended to be an actor, but his career took a different path not long after he started working. He was unhappy with a role he was performing and was challenged by his director to write his own script. Ayckbourn did, and he gave himself "quite a large role." Three plays later, all of which featured juicy roles for himself, Ayckbourn says it dawned on him the other actors were, "I daresay, better than me!" He turned his attentions to writing and to directing.
Flash forward five decades. Ayckbourn's plays have been translated into 35 languages, performed to great acclaim in Great Britain and in the United States and honored with a plethora of awards, including Britian's Olivier and America's Tony.
Ayckbourn directs the premiers of all of his own work. His one concession to his stroke was to step back from directing other people's plays. "I don't want to jeopardize their precious works," he says. But Ayckbourn happily tackles his own plays, which he seems to churn out with regularity.
After his stroke, Ayckbourn says he lay in his hospital bed, worried that he had no creative thoughts. It was the first time since he was 13 years old that he hadn't been bursting with ideas. But as his convalescence progressed, the playwright began to feel like stirrings in his brain. The ideas were back! "Oh my god," he remembers thinking. "I'm still fertile!"