Thoughts from preparing our trailer
Thoughts from filming our trailer
Thoughts on preparing our autumn show trailer
Don’t be proud, this is about getting the piece ‘out there’, allow others to help realise that in this very different medium.
Me and Dan were asked of we'd be interested in doing some storytelling as part of the Friends of Highams Park for their Viking themed day in May. We had to say 'yes'.
It was great opportunity to do some research in to the Viking myths, an area, I must admit, I am a bit vague on. And I have to say the Vikings are pretty grim and graphic in their myths, it was tricky taming them down and doing so without losing the eternal themes of the pieces.
We chose Sigurd and the Dragon and Edun and Her Apples. Sigurd is the basis of Wagner's ring cycle (again something I don't know, I have got to find the time for that) but something I vaguely knew but I had never heard of the apples story. For children they are great as they all you want for a journeying story, particularly the Sigurd myth. A Prince with a prophecy attached to him, gathering the tools a hero needs, finding the mission, travelling to the mission, a dragon, gold, eating of dragon hear, deceit and retribution and finally a moral decision, and not a traditional fairy-tale decision either.
I was a real joy seeing children become engrossed in these stories and I'm looking forward to our next one.
Having spent an exciting few days recently further developing The Haunted Man, I’ve been thinking about the R&D process. After our session in August last year on very general explorations of the story’s potential, working with scenes Chris developed on his writing week, our next step was to explore key themes and the framing device, in particular looking at clarity of the narrative in its new form.
Supported once again by Proteus Theatre, a couple of weeks ago we spent 3 days working on honing visuals, puppetry, movement and structure, culminating in a work in progress showing at Proteus’s regular Friday night Theatre Lab.
Working towards showing something to outside eyes in a short time period can be daunting - it’s so easy to fall into thinking ‘its a performance!’ and get sidetracked by that rather than the creative exploration. Being aware of this we used the time in a very specific way and decided to work on only 3 or 4 scenes, each with a very particular purpose, or question in mind that we wanted to pose to the (paying!) audience.
For work-in-development, this can be an invaluable process, testing conventions, discovering what obstacles and challenges might come up in the full production, a sense check of how things sit with the audience and an opportunity to involve them in the shaping of the work (key to our ethos at Kindred). Yes, it can be scary (‘what if it doesn’t work….?’), but a hugely exciting opportunity as well. As performers we are often expert at reading our audience and adapting our performance in the moment, but rarely do we get the opportunity to ask for and receive direct feedback in creating the piece.
In this instance, the experience was overwhelmingly positive; many of the things we had planned to ask in the post show discussion were raised un-prompted by the members of the audience themselves - the theme of Dementia, juxtaposition of different timeframes, interaction of puppets with actors, the Dickensian text. There were some useful thoughts on design concepts, and even one suggestion from the audience that potentially solves a big challenge raised by the R&D. Likes and dislikes were explored, and at the end of the evening we were left energised, with a confidence and clarity of vision in where the production was heading.
We can be very protective of our creative ideas, and unwilling to let others into the process, but I would really urge you to be open to it - the whole can so often be greater than the sum of the parts.
If you’re planning on some R&D, devising or have a work-in-progress planned, some of our thoughts on what we’ve discovered are below.
1. Actors who are good for R&D need particular Skills - Huge imagination, freedom to explore, always inventing, ability to switch between broad brushstrokes and detailed work, not timid or fearful they need to produce something there and then every time, not be scared of failing.
2. Pinpoint what you need from the R&D, and aim not to deviate - If other things crop up note them to work on at another time. For example we wanted to test the concept for framing the piece, multi-layered dialogue, one character being played by a puppet, what presence the protagonist should have, how to make/show/represent the Phantom.
3. If there’s work-in-progress showing DO NOT think of it as a performance - work out exactly what you want to learn from the audience and make it clear it is work-in-progress. As part of the process you can give a brief explanation of each scene and what we has been worked on rather than make it a seamless presentation.
4. Be prepared but not OVER prepared - It’s a chance to play and discover. Come with questions to answer - everyone will have a different thought. Come with some ideas of how you’re going to explore, but try not to be too rigid or fixed in your process, respond to what comes up.
5. Look on negative feedback or criticism as CONSTRUCTIVE - An opportunity to address points that might alienate an audience. They may only be opinions, but do listen to them - sometimes objections thrown up can be the biggest creative opportunities.
And at the end of it all, with discoveries made and questions answered, you may not have everything set in stone, and in fact have further specific questions - R&D is an important tool to reach some goals in the creative process, but it can sometimes be really just the beginning.
Thirteen people sat by candlelight in a warm, newly opened cafe…… That was the beginning of our recent storytelling event, a new venture for both Kindred Theatre and our partner for the evening, Elsie Cafe & Deli in Crouch End, bringing together a group of people who had never met to share stories on the theme of 'New Beginnings'.
As someone who often plans rigorously, and though I had loosely prepared a story to share, I had purposefully attempted to not plan too much this time, as I wanted to be open and listen to what other people were saying (rather than be ‘rehearsing’ in my head) and respond to the atmosphere of the evening. And I'm glad that I did.
As a company, myself and fellow director Chris, have recently been talking a great deal about the work of Mike Alfreds, in particular the ethos of the 'shared experience’, something that is fundamental to the way Kindred Theatre works. We had hoped that at this even this present would take communal responsibility for sharing stories, sharing roles - audience and the 'performer' - and shape the night into whatever was wanted. And it felt like that happened.
Chris gave a short introduction to outline how the evening would work - if you wanted to share a story, you simply had to put your name on a bit of paper and put it into the box to be drawn out at random. No pressure, just if you felt like it - and more than half the group did.
The first thing I’m sure we all shared was a sense of trepidation - how would this work, would our stories be good, would we be any good? As one of our first story tellers Lisa put it, the rush of adrenalin was palpable. But everyone made that courageous step toward a new beginning, simply by stepping into the role and the unknown.
The stories themselves were great - eclectic in subject and telling style, and utterly transportive. There was an intimacy with us, the listeners, all of who were rapt and engaged. The power of the story took over, for both the teller and the listeners, and I felt an integral part of the story.
The evening was a poignant reminder that a story doesn’t exist or have purpose without a listener and that all that is needed for a connection to happen is something to say, someone to say it and someone to hear it. And when the stories you hear are real, personal and told utterly in the moment, you very easily recognise events and sensations, and connect them to your own life - it becomes a shared experience that we can all identify with.
Best laid plans…etc. I was going to religiously chronicle my writing all last week while up in Wark on the Northumberland Moors (well actually it was a cottage pretty much in the middle of no where 7 miles from Wark), but I got distracted, partly by the incredible location but mostly because, well, because I was writing!
The point of sending myself to the moors was to reduce distractions (very poor internet connection, so almost zero Facebook) so I had little to do but walk and write - mission accomplished! However, the most important gift I was able to give myself was time. Time to think, wander and muse. All I had to achieve was some material (a very generous five scenes) to take to the next session of R&D. I didn’t achieve all five scenes, but certainly enough material to give us something to work on. I was not having to rush or pressurise myself all I had to do was let the writing happen. And it did.
I also able to find a system. Afternoon - write. Anything. Evening - hate what I’d written, it’s rubbish. Morning - re-read, not terrible, tweak and fiddle, make it better. Afternoon - move on to a new bit and start the process again. This produced 30 or so pages of first draft material, some of it is questionable, the odd bit good, the bulk disposable, but plenty to allow me to the exciting bit which is ‘fixing it’. This system was made possible by time. Try doing that, however, in london when in the morning you have a load of emails, followed by earning money in the afternoon, then a meeting the next day, and plotting and planning future work in the evenings, and…so it goes on. But it is important to remind ourselves that these are things that everyone has to deal with whether you live in a city or the Outer Hebrides, we are all distracted; very few people’s situations are ideal for what they are doing with their lives.
However, last week taught me a huge amount. The actual writing time was smallish, maybe a couple to three hours at a time, the head space to work things out, unpick and re-sew, straighten the conceit and have the ease to throw stuff out, was, however, utterly invaluable. That, of course is harder to find once home, but it may/can can be found by allowing pockets of ‘not doing’ (to include stopping Facebook, Come Dine With Me, pointless job applications etc) and being a bit moe disciplined. Yes, two hours in stunning countryside walking and figuring (with voice-memo in phone on tap to record thoughts and changes as I wandered over hills - good discovery!) might be more attractive than the 10.31 to London Bridge, but you have to take what you can where where you (though I concede it is far from ideal).
What has the proved? That the time to actually write need not be great, you just need to have headspace to play in. Belief that you can actually do it is a start, but sitting and doing, proves that is possible, so…just do it.
And now, back in London, with noise, anxiety, deadlines, earning money etc - here begins the challenge. However, an absolutely key lesson from last week, putting aside the views, the space, the wood burning stove, the hills, the snow etc. was that when in full writing mode, I was only conscious of one thing, the world of the play.
So what to bring back home? Imagination goes with you everywhere, London or Northumberland, that doesn’t change, so use your time and let the writing, with the imagination, take you to a better place and simply play there.
View of some understandable distractions
David Bowie died last night. That’s a sadness to wake up to on a Monday especially on a week that began with such positivity and bodes such opportunity for creativity.
This is my holiday week, a week I have set aside to visit the moors of Northumberland to write. This is my time to get a synopsis and some material together for the next stage of R&D for The Haunted Man. This is an opportunity to walk, write, drink wine, eat cheese. I am assured that I will be forced to stay in my seat by the wonderful Kim until I have something down on paper (screen). I acknowledge it is a luxury and a privilege, and the only way I’m likely to find the discipline to concentrate. This is an opportunity to stop worrying about the emails, telephone calls, cleaning jobs, visiting the gym, looking at Facebook (just f@@k off with that one) and every other tool of procrastination that I can invent (and believe me I can invent many) and just feel and write.
The past 5 years have been full of change, London does that, it’s also been filled with treading water, London does that too. This city is distracting, noisy, confusing, wonderful, hateful, frustrating and very VERY unconnected, well, I’m not connecting with it anyway. So it’s time for something else, again, and that’s fine and great and exciting. So lets see what this week can do.
And Bowie dying? Well, I’m reminded this morning how listening to Bowie when younger, sitting in bedrooms, smoking Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes, laughing, dreaming, wearing stupid clothes and talking bollocks, was so positive was so creative. And we could do anything we wanted to because we didn’t check ourselves, and we were shown by Bowie that if one thing didn’t work/became boring/was a bit crap, you did something else. So, this week/year/life is about keeping moving and playing and making… something. Anything,. simply doing.
For the past two months my mind has been swimming with The Haunted Man, or rather with its contemporary equivalent. Since looking at the modern world of this adaptation it has been constant mind wandering of character invention and development. Am I very far on with writing the actual play? Not really, no. And that’s scary. However, what is interesting is the state of suspense it has out me in.
I was recently asked to read and have some thoughts about Write A Theatre Script in 25 days (and 10 Hours) by Tony Craze. Following the process laid out by Craze was an interesting and a surprisingly creative couple of weeks. It generated some fascinating scenarios and a whole file of background material for a potential 50 minute piece. I very much enjoyed the experience. However, the problem for me was simply lack of time to work to the deadline set out in the title. Having to find between one and two hours plus every day to write was impossible. Well it wasn’t if I didn’t want, or need, to have to switch off and find space in my head for a rest from everything else I was doing. However, the revelation was the concept of free writing and allowing characters to write themselves.
So that, along with brilliant tips by Simon Stephens (click here for said tips) and the intuitive work I’ve recently done with Brian Astbury, have opened up a whole world of writing possibilities. Both Craze’s and Astbury’s ideas are simple, write without self-censorship and characters and story will begin to take on their own lives and histories, traits, ambitions, neuroses, loves and physicality; all you have to do is let them develop through you.
WITHOUT CENSORSHIP that is the key.
This is the challenge I have set myself with The Haunted Man and has, so far, brought about some surprising characters with rich histories and personalities. It has bumped up some characters roles and got one sacked and replaced by someone younger (such is life).
The real pleasure of this process has been placing the characters in situations and simply seeing what they get up to. It’s a bit like getting actors to improvise to build a back story but in your own head instead. And on paper. It’s not necessarily in script form either, some of it’s third person narrative, one piece was a poem written by a character, another was their mission statement for a job application. Basically whatever is needed to explore character and their interactions and personalities.
Simon Stephens holds, and it’s a pretty spot on notion, that if the characters are solid and you know them inside out, then the play will write itself. In the talk he gave us at Birkbeck he said (and this is paraphrasing) ‘if you know your characters well then dialogue is simple to write as a character can only say one thing in response to whats been said to them’. Sounds simple…
However, is all this avoiding actually writing a draft? Yes. And no. It doesn’t feel right to start writing yet, I feel I should get together the characters first, ‘cast’ it properly so I can place them in the world of the play. However, I have set aside a week in January to travel north to a friends house on the moors of Northumberland to actually get some writing done. I am hoping to get a draft done before then so I can get on with the fun bit of ‘fixing’.
So currently no draft but I am enjoying the suspense of not actually writing.