Tuesday, 31 January 2012

James Bond, post-its, and behaving very badly…

Almost three weeks ago, I wrote that I intended to track the process of producing 'Brightest and Best' on this blog. So the reason I’ve been completely silent is slightly ironic – the process of producing 'Brightest and Best'.

I suppose there’s been some other stuff going on, with the start of the Westminster term and seemingly endless marking. But the challenges of mounting a fringe production are pretty overwhelming all on their own.

My last post was just before auditions – which ended up spanning a week. We saw fantastic people, but after a while you feel you’re going snow blind. Still, we managed it and have now finished week #1 with an amazing team. And not just of actors. In fact, almost the most exciting moment for me was the first production meeting where I sat in awe listening to the designers and stage managers talk logistics. It’s such a privilege having all these people working to make the play a success. And hearing them chat about the technical kit they need to do it makes me feel like I’m in a James Bond film.

Now I’m taking more of a back seat. All playwrights make negotiations with directors over their involvement in rehearsals. It’s certainly true that vital re-writes come out of the experience of seeing actors test your scenes. But I think you have to put your trust in the expertise of the people you work with. Not everyone will agree, but I’m not sure a writer necessarily has the clearest vision of their own work. (Natalie is certainly able to describe 'Brightest and Best' much better than me.) Of course, it may be possible for a director or actors to misinterpret a play, but I’d rather take that risk, knowing that there’s a much greater chance their take will release new energy and ideas.

When I have been in the rehearsal room (barn/shed?), one thing I’ve noticed is that the wall is becoming increasingly plastered with bits of paper: the cast’s research into the play. It reminds me of the moment a colleague arrived at Westminster to share my office. The first things he noticed were post-it notes everywhere – my first attempts to plot out the structure of the play. It seems like the achingly painful process of writing can be summed up by the movement of small bits of paper stuck to one wall, to slightly bigger bits of paper stuck to another.

Another thing that happened on the bus home last night was that I bumped into my old French teacher. We had a lovely chat, although I guiltily remembered that I was one of his most annoying pupils. I was only eleven at the time, but I think I remember him sending a letter home to my parents about my terrible behaviour. That trauma aside, I'm hoping the meeting was a good omen..

So now it’s back to work on another crucial aspect of putting on a play: getting an audience. With that in mind, here’s a link to an article in today’s Guardian about how the fringe really is the place to be (and thanks to @peter_raynard who tweeted this earlier). Oh, and there's a link to tickets too!:

Sunday, 8 January 2012

New Year / New Words

The Westminster term hasn’t quite started yet, although I’ve worked out that I’ve read roughly two, decently-sized novels’ worth of student writing this Christmas! Some great stuff though – makes me anxious to do some of my own…

But there’s not much time for that at the moment, as I’m right in the middle of auditions for my new play ‘Brightest and Best’ (details on the link opposite…) In fact this term I have a bit less teaching, so for the next few weeks I’m going to be posting more on the practical side of things. ‘Brightest and Best’ opens on 15th February, and I think it’s going to be an exhausting (but exhilarating) task to get the show on its feet by then. The director is Natalie Ibu, who I’ve worked with on a few different projects and is one of the most inspiring people I know in theatre.

The audition process has been fascinating so far, particularly for the way that it starts to reveal the play in new ways. Hearing actors interpret and re-interpret scenes opens up so many possibilities, and I’m going to be re-writing / re-working for much of next week as a result of things I’ve learnt already. In particular two phrases, or questions, have really stood out for me – Natalie uses them a lot: What is the ‘offer’ the character is making? And what is the ‘cost’ to them of what they are saying/doing? Really, this is just another way of addressing dramatic agendas and stakes, but ‘offer’ and ‘cost’ are much more dynamic and evocative descriptions of those processes. I was reminded of Declan Donellan’s book 'The Actor and The Target' in which he talks about the weakness of the traditional question ‘what does a character want?’ and the energy that is released instead if you ask ‘what does one character need from the other?’ So much of the creative process seems to depend on the choice of words we use to describe what we’re up to.

The auditions have also been fun because I get to read in all the other parts.  It’s hard, being a frustrated actor…

Right, time to rush off to audition day #3. But for anyone who’s interesting in tracking the process of putting on this play a bit more closely, I’ve decided to take a jump into the twittersphere. So you can follow me, and other members of the creative team here…


Do sign up and keep in touch!