How can we help our children to be brave when we don’t feel brave at all? An interview with Siân Owen, writer of Dirty Protest’s new play How To Be Brave

Cardiff Family life
How To Be Brave

*Disclaimer: I am working with Dirty Protest in a freelance PR capacity but have not been paid to write this article

One of my other jobs is working as a freelance PR, helping companies promote what they’re doing to the press. I’ve recently had the pleasure of supporting Dirty Protest – the award-winning and highly acclaimed Welsh new writing theatre company which creates imaginative and bold new works which it stages not just in theatres but alternative venues, including pubs and clubs, music festivals, kebab shops, hairdressers and forests

Dirty Protest’s latest play – How To Be Brave – is written by Siân Owen, a mum of two children aged seven and four who grew up in the Glasllwch area of Newport. I was lucky to see a draft of the script – and it moved me to tears, so much so that I was desperate to interview Siân for Cardiff Mummy because I knew her words would resonate with many of you. Just to be clear, this isn’t a post that Dirty Protest have paid me to write; I’ve chosen to write it myself away from the press work I’m doing for them.

How To Be Brave is a one-woman play told through the eyes of Katie (played by Laura Dalgleish – as featured in the main photos), a mother determined that her young daughter will never lose the powerful, fierce magic she arrived into the world with. Katie herself has gone from a little girl who used to climb trees, ride bikes and go on adventures to an adult who worries about everything – and she is determined not to let the same happen to her daughter.

How To Be Brave

It is based on Siân’s own experiences as a mother in a fast-changing and confusing world, as well as being a love letter to the city that made her.

The play follows Katie’s journey as she gets on her old childhood BMX and rides around Newport to find what she’s really made of. By listening to the unheard voices of the city, she begins to ask what the women who have gone before can teach her about how to be brave.

It asks whether we get less brave as we get older and asks how we can teach our children to be brave when we our world is crumbling apart and we don’t feel brave ourselves.

In this interview Siân talks about the inspiration behind the new play, how motherhood has shaped her writing, as well as how she’s learning to become braver herself to help inspire her children.

How To Be Brave is at Chapter, Cardiff from Wednesday 13-Saturday 16 March, before visiting Torch Theatre, Milford Haven om 19 March; Le Pub in Newport on 21-23 March and Galeri Caernarfon on 27 March. Visit the Dirty Protest website here.

The Friday and Saturday matinee performances at Chapter are relaxed performances – and as well as being suitable for those with additional sensory needs they are also open to parents with babes in arms (please note the content means it’s not suitable for older children).

Laura Dalgleish as Katie in Dirty Protest’s How To Be Brave, written by Siân Owen. Photo by Kirsten Mcternan

Where did the inspiration for How To Be Brave Come from?

So much went into the melting pot for this one. Being a mum, the amazing women I know, science, magic and the spirit and history of Newport. And lots of really interesting articles I was reading at the time.  You know that amazing BBC interview where that little girl burst into the room when her Dad was being interviewed on Skype? I read a really interesting article highlighting how awesome that little girl was and it asked, why don’t we walk into rooms like that when we get older-like we can save the world, or like we are totally fearless? That got me thinking – a lot.


How much of Katie’s experiences are based on your own?

I am not Katie. This isn’t an autobiography, I promise. But there are some really personal bits in there. I hope that gives the piece a truth that others will relate to.  But it is for everyone and I hope the feelings and themes we look at are universal.


How different is writing a one-person performance to writing a play for more than one person? 

Massively different! It is the first one person piece I have written. I got huge support from the Dirty Protest team to help me with that. It was a big change from writing dialogue between multiple characters.  But I loved the process and loved concentrating on Katie.


The play asks whether we get less brave as we get older. Has this been true for you?

Yes. I think of all the things I did – when you are little you climb and explore and run and jump.  Go on proper adventures.  And then it did go.  I wonder if it’s that we are told we shouldn’t do things anymore as we get – or do we get more alert to danger?  More scared of getting hurt because you don’t bounce back like you do when you are small?


As a mum, how do you encourage your children to be brave? Have you found yourself doing brave things in front of them that you might otherwise have not?

How To be Brave Dirty Protest

Siân Owen is doing braver things – including running a marathon – to encourage her children to brave too

I try! I am a total fret monster. I have proper anxiety, which I have had to ask for help with, and so I have really had to think about what I say to them and how to act when they are trying things. I used to freak out if they climbed too high, or ran too far away but I am really trying to get that balance right. I don’t want my worry to go into them, you know? But it is so hard sometimes! And I have, as a consequence, tried to do braver things again. I have started playing rugby. I ran a marathon. And during the writing of this play I have really pushed myself to be brave. I got on a bike again for the first time in 20 years, made myself go to places I was perhaps scared to go before.

My kids are way braver than me. They are awesome. My little boy has additional needs so he has to be brave and get over barriers every day. This has certainly made me re-evaluate how brave I need to be.


How has becoming a mum affected your writing?

I was worried I couldn’t write anymore if I became a mum but if anything, the opposite has happened.  What you go through, the feelings and emotions, it is all such a deep pool to draw from. Also, the magic and imagination my kids have has totally rubbed off on me. I am a braver writer now and love their wonder and interest in things. It rubs off on me and helps spark ideas and stories. My process is different now too. It is more extreme writing-short bursts of intense work. I don’t have time to procrastinate anymore so that seems to help and I seem to jump in quicker and deeper.


What do you hope audiences – and in particular mums – will take away from the performance?

I hope that everyone laughs and cries and feels united.  I think we are often afraid to say how hard it all can be so I hope that it can be easier for someone to say after watching this.


The play is also a love letter to Newport. How did the city shape you as a person and a writer? 

I hate how Newport is so often maligned – looked down on. It is a city full of courage and tenacity and history and I wanted to explore and explode this spirit. As a person, I think my family and friends in Newport taught me everything about loyalty, kindness, humour, graft and how to get up when you’ve been knocked down.


It’s great to see the story of a woman, a mum, in her 30s being told on stage – we are often ignored!

It was so, so important for me to tell this story. I want to keep writing stories of brilliant women. They are full of awesome and so deserve more focus. It was so important for me to tell my truth too. We are complicated and confused and courageous-sometimes all at once. I have found this part of my life to be so full of crazy and brilliant and hard and sometimes really bad. We need to tell our stories. We should be allowed to tell them. I wanted to write this for me and my friends and the women in my life-who do brave things every single day-women need celebrating.


What are you working on next?

I’m currently writing an Indie Musical with Box of Tricks Theatre Company. It’s full of magic and music and women!


How do you and your husband structure family and working life? What challenges does this bring and how do you overcome them?

Oh, the juggle is the struggle! Some days I drop all the plates. It can be so hard, can’t it? I also work part time as a librarian too. And there can just be so much stuff. Remembering things for school, nursery bags, packed lunches, appointments (we have lots of medical ones) play dates, parties, ALL THE THINGS! But I have an enormously supportive husband and family. I often write in the evenings when the kids are in bed. I honestly don’t have the answer. But working with a brilliantly understanding company like Dirty Protest also has helped massively. They have understood and supported my big picture. That kind of help is so incredible.  I guess what helps is-writing lots of lists, awesome people around me, planning when I can work with the family.  But most of the time it is mayhem.

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