by Mike Elliston
Growing up, Shyanne was the apple of her daddy’s eye. Until he disappeared and her momma went oﬀ the rails. Things were never quite the same after that, especially when she ﬁ gured she could make easy money by dancing in the nude. Frankie was ‘daddy’s little girl’, but something inside her was screaming that God had made a mistake and given her the wrong body. When Fate steps in, Frankie and Shyanne’s lives are changed forever. The two misﬁ ts ﬁ nd comfort in each other and, for the ﬁ rst time, make a place they can call home. A trailer park in deepest, darkest Texas. Home is where they close out the hostile world around them, where diﬀ erences can be forgotten, and shame is a dirty word. It doesn’t matter that the rest of the world thinks they’re trash. Because they’ve learned to love themselves and each other, and most of all, because they believe that just around the corner, the good times will roll for them. And that’s something worth paying the ultimate price for.
As part of the original Arts Council funding bid for the research and development of TRAILER/trash, I needed a writing mentor, someone whose opinion would carry weight and who would be fearless in providing feedback. When I approached Timberlake Wertenbaker, one of the world’s most performed female playwrights (probably best known for Our Country’s Good), she originally politely declined. After all, Timberlake is one of the busiest writers around and a visiting professor at the University of East Anglia.
Undaunted, I oﬀered reassurance about my own commitment and my understanding, as an experienced writer, of Timberlake’s limited availability. Much to my surprise, Timberlake agreed to mentor me. We talked through the themes of the play over several meetings and I was thrilled (but also nervous) that she was able to attend the 2015 rehearsed reading of TRAILER/ trash at the So & So Arts Club in London (also directed by Dominic Kelly). At our next meeting after the reading, Timberlake oﬀered highly constructive feedback on all the points that she thought worked, and where others didn’t work, or needed to be ﬂeshed out. It was a strong, honest critique including ‘you might be among the ﬁ rst, or even the ﬁ rst, to tackle this on stage’. Being able to draw on feedback from an artist I respected, knowing that the feedback was honest and with no agenda other than serving my needs as a playwright, was a crucial factor in leading me to believe that TRAILER/trash could be developed further and that it had both a real purpose in its message – and this shot of self-belief gave me added purpose, too.
TRAILER/trash is the result of many years of writing, researching and redrafting. I wouldn’t like to put a ﬁ gure on which draft this version is – but it’s a big number and it’s (ﬁnally) the ﬁnal draft. Writing this play hasn’t been a lonely process. I’ve had the good fortune to work with numerous theatre practitioners who have helped me put it on its feet over some years since my ﬁrst self-funded production in 2012, after which I let it settle for a while. In 2015, I received funding from the National Lottery (Arts Council England) to redevelop it as a research piece in collaboration with the salon:collective. That redrafted version saw one of my original characters, Dottie, reinvented as Shyanne, an African American sex worker. Frankie was redrawn as a more credible non-binary younger person wishing to transition from female to male. The resulting play, a dark comedy set in Texas, is not a work that aims to slam its message ‘in yer face’. Instead it tells a story in which race and gender are secondary to the characters, but yet form the underbelly of the play.