Thoughts before lift off

On the eve of flying out to Taiwan to begin work on The 9 Fridas for The Taipei International Festival, some inspirational quotations seem apt:

The first from the ever encouraging Kurt Vonnegut, reminding me we need to take risks creatively, trying the new, the unknown, with no guarantee (or safety net):

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”

The next is from another personal favourite, the intense and pertinent William Faulkner:

 “Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” 

The final thought is a surprising choice for me – not a woman, not a writer, but Steve Jobs:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

I don’t know if it’s just people in our profession who find strength and succour in the ‘Patience Strong’ aphorisms of others… Maybe it’s because it’s such a lonely and difficult path we follow, without guarantees of success, financial reward or even personal satisfaction. To create seems such a vital compulsion, and one fraught with difficulties. It can be soothing to find like minds – or even words to live by.

More anon, from Taipei.

 

National Theatre Wales First Dramaturgs Group Announced.

Earlier this year I ran a post calling for applications for the first ever Dramaturgs group for National Theatre Wales (NTW). As one of the selection panel, I was keen to get as broad a range of applicants as possible, especially as only four of the six would be writers, the other two members could be from other disciplines – directors, scenographers, designers, composers, choreographers, whatever…. Today the results of our deliberation has been announced, in a blog by NTW’s artistic director John McGrath on the company’s community website: http://community.nationaltheatrewales.org/profiles/blogs/first-ntw-dramaturgs-group-announced

John McGrath writes:

Hi everyone, today we’re announcing the members of the first Dramaturgs Group – chosen from over 30 applicants by a panel of Kaite O’Reilly, Roger Williams, Lisa Maguire and myself. It was a very difficult decision, and we could easily have filled the group three times over, but we’ve tried to come up with a balanced and inspiring selection that will push the debate, and the level of support for writers, forward:

Following an exciting discussion about dramaturgy in Wales inspired by last year’s Dirty, Gifted and Welsh event and continued in our online Writers’ Group, NTW has now appointed a group of six dramaturgs to work with the company over the next year supporting writers and exploring the characteristics of theatre writing in Wales. We had an extraordinary set of applications to join the group – over thirty people put themselves forward, including many fantastic writers. It was genuinely a very difficult decision to choose the panel, but we can now announce that the group for the first year will be:

Janys Chambers, Richard Hurford, Mathilde Lopez, Ace McCarron, Louise Osborn and Gary Owen.

During our online discussion we explored a lot of questions, including the thorny issue of the collective noun for dramaturgs – (I think the winner was ‘a question of dramaturgs’), and the more fundamental subject of what exactly a dramaturg is (‘the guardian of the idea’ was a rather nice poetic response). We also agreed that the group would include 4 writers and 2 theatre makers from other disciplines. So Janys, Richard, Louise and Gary are our writers (though several of them do other things), Ace is our designer, and Mathilde our director. Everyone in the group is actively involved in working with other writers and wrote passionately in their applications of all the things a dramaturg could be. It will be an honour to work with them.

The group will meet four times over the year, and we will share as much as possible of the conversations and conclusions online in the Writers Group. (The group has been so intrinsic to this initiative that it feels, for now at least, like the natural home for these discussions rather than a separate Dramaturgs Group.) Members of the group will also be available to writers who have commissions or seed commissions with NTW to give dramaturgical support.

Of course I hope that this will be an initiative with a future, and that many of the people who didn’t end up in the group this time will bear with us and be part of the wider discussion and potentially join future incarnations of the group.

A big thanks to everyone who did the thinking work to get this off the ground.

Making language visual

Turning written text into visual, physical language – transforming words on the page into signs and gestures that take flight….  I love working with Jean St Clair. In her London apartment this week, I worked with her and Sophie Stone, transforming written text from my new play Woman of Flowers into flowing, beautiful visual language.

Jean St Clair's encouraging feedback

Jean St Clair’s encouraging feedback

Although I’ve been working with Jean now for a dozen years on translation and recreating English text into theatricalised sign, I always feel very privileged to be part of the process. We last worked together on Forest Forge’s production of my play peeling, also directed by Kirstie Davis. It’s wonderful to have Jean as our creative sign director.

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I send her the speeches from my play which we want physicalised in advance and then Jean asks me questions about my meaning, intention, and preferred aesthetic via email or text. When we gather, she will have already explored possibilities, but will always be led by the performer – in this case Sophie Stone, who will be performing the part in the Forest Forge production when Woman of Flowers tours the UK in the Autumn.

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Woman of Flowers is a new play, inspired by elements of the ancient Welsh treasure, The Mabinogion. I’ve been obsessed by the story of Bloudewydd for many years, since I moved to Wales to live.

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The story tells of a female ostensibly made from the flowers of the oak and trees in the forest to be companion to a young man cursed by his mother never to have ‘a woman of our race.’ Quite what this ‘ideal’ woman might be has enthralled and perplexed me for years. I explored the notion of  computer generated avatars in Perfect, a piece I made with John McGrath and Paul Clay ten years ago at Contact Theatre, and which won the Manchester Evening News best play of 2004.

Jean St Clair and Sophie Stone working on 'Woman of Flowers'

Jean St Clair and Sophie Stone working on ‘Woman of Flowers’

Woman of Flowers, commissioned by Forest Forge and directed by Kirstie Davis, will be very different. A mixture of prosaic everyday dialogue in spoken English, and the poetic inner thoughts of Rose (played by Sophie) using theatricalised sign, will hopefully be visually stunning and emotionally effecting.

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Our rehearsed reading at Salisbury Playhouse earlier in the month left some of the invited audience in tears. Many spoke afterwards of the lyrical nature of Sophie’s spoken and signed language, mentored and polished by Jean’s experienced eye.

I have asked Jean and Sophie if they will guest blog about their process, working between spoken and signed language, between Deaf and hearing cultures. They have agreed, and I can’t wait to share more of this part of the creative process, which is often invisible, hidden from view.

Tour details: http://www.forestforge.co.uk/shows/woman-of-flowers 

Y Labordy – new initiative for writers for TV, Theatre and Film

I’m excited to be involved in this new initiative for Welsh language writers for TV,  theatre and film:

Ty Newydd

Ty Newydd

New Initiative Y Labordy Calls for Experienced Welsh Language Writers for TV, Theatre and Film

Have you written the next must-have box set? Should your words be spoken and heard at theatres across the globe? Is your feature script one rung away from the silver screen?

A new tailored initiative for experienced Welsh language writers of theatre, film and TV led by Literature Wales, Y Labordy is a unique opportunity for four experienced and aspiring writers to develop their ideas alongside some of the most respected scriptwriters and producers in their industry.

This bespoke immersive course will expand your knowledge and skills culminating in the opportunity to pitch to an array of international financiers and commissioners.

The objective of this ground-breaking initiative is to create a pool of contemporary writing talent with the capability of writing high calibre scripts for different media platforms and to broaden ability for writing from an international perspective.

The four selected participants will bring with them talent and experience which requires support in order for them to succeed on a high end international platform.

Deadline for Submissions: 12.00pm, Friday 11 July

Contributors to the initiative include:

Jeppe Gjervig Gram (BAFTA award-winning writer, projects include Borgen), Lisa Albert (award winning writer-producer, projects include Mad Men), Kaite O’Reilly (award winning playwright and dramaturg), Rachel O’Flanagan (experienced script editor), Rebecca Lenkiewicz (award winning playwright and screenwriter), Lucy Davies (Executive Producer, Royal Court Theatre), Kieran Evans (BAFTA award winning writer/director), Ken White (independent filmmaker and screenwriter), Kate Leys (feature film script editor), P.G. Morgan (Emmy-winning writer/producer), Marina Zenovich (LA-based Emmy-winning director) and Angeli Macfarlane (film and TV story editor).

Content of the Course

The structure and content of Y Labordy will be designed with each individual participant in mind. Successful applicants will participate in a tailored 11 month scheme (not full time) involving residential courses at Literature Wales’ renowned Tŷ Newydd Writers’ Centre (the first residential course runs from 15 to 22 September), regular bespoke one to one mentoring, festival and conference attendance, business skills development and project specific guidance.

How to Apply

To be selected for a place on Y Labordy, participants must have at least one professional screen or theatre credit, and will have to submit a letter explaining your expression of interest, two original story ideas to be developed into a script for TV, Film or Theatre as well as a sample script of your own work. Published novelists are welcome to apply. We regret that this initiative is not for new writers.

For more detailed information and the full guidelines for Y Labordy Call for Submissions: http://www.literaturewales.org/news/i/145128/desc/y-labordy/?

In partnership with S4C, the Arts Council of Wales, Film Agency Wales, and Creative Skillset Cymru.

 

Spoken language, Visual language – Woman of Flowers with Forest Forge

Sophie Stone signing, not singing.

Sophie Stone signing, not singing.

I’m in a small sound studio in Camden, watching Sophie Stone transform my written text into three dimensions. She has been working with my long term collaborator Jean St Clair on translating sections of Woman of Flowers, my commission from Forest Forge Theatre, into theatricalised British Sign Language (BSL) or visual language. I was unable to make these earlier sessions as I was at the Cork Midsummer festival, so Sophie and I are refining the work, preparing for a rehearsed reading of the script at Salisbury Playhouse in front of an invited audience.

This project is something of a dream one. Kirstie Davis, the artistic director of Forest Forge, came to see the National Theatre Wales production of my performance text In Water I’m Weightless in 2012, and fell under the spell of Sophie Stone, one of the performers. Kirstie and I sat together in the cafe after the show, scheming, plotting, dreaming up a way of working together again, and including Sophie. ‘If you were do something original for Forest Forge, what would it be?’ she asked, and I told her of a contemporary retelling of an ancient myth, filled with transformations and magic, desire and murder – a world where nothing is quite as it seems. ‘Oooh, yes, we’ll do it!’ Kirstie said as our imaginations entwined, and we clapped our hands and jumped up and down in our seats, laughing.

Laughter is continuous when working with Kirstie Davis. Her rehearsal rooms are joyful and creative places, filled with possibilities. Even in these austerity times, when funding is increasingly difficult, the arts given less and less value and projects are constantly under threat, Kirstie and her team at Forest Forge still make things happen, and with smiles on their faces. Sadly, it is so easy to be negative about the future of the arts in the current climate, but Kirstie and Forest Forge are resilient, inventive, and optimistic. They have a loyal and supportive following, too, which buoys the company up and is massively appreciated. A fundraising drive earlier in the year saved this production of Woman of Flowers and I’m grateful to all who supported the company, for the opportunity of making this work, which I hope will be inventive, emotionally engaging, and with resonance for our times.

Actors Sophie Stone, Andrew Wheaton, Liam Gerrard and choreographer  Junior Jones

Actors Sophie Stone, Andrew Wheaton, Liam Gerrard and choreographer Junior Jones

Woman of Flowers uses a mixture of spoken and visual languages, and will be surtitled throughout. I will write of the content more in a future blog. It will also incorporate movement, choreography, video, live music and an original score by Rebecca Applin. When we gathered at Salisbury Playhouse to read the script aloud for the first time, designer David Haworth was also there, presenting his model box design for the production.

Designer David Applin presents 'Woman of Flowers' design to the cast of the rehearsed reading, Salisbury Playhouse.

Designer David Applin presents ‘Woman of Flowers’ design to the cast of the rehearsed reading, Salisbury Playhouse.

After just five hours of rehearsal, we presented the work to an invited audience. As a playwright, it is always magical hearing the words you have written outside your own head that first time. The choices the performers make are often surprising, and enriching – their questions stimulating and often challenging. I strive to give a lot of space to my collaborators, especially when working with this kind of material, shape-shifting and poetic, where nothing is quite what it seems. Some of my answers to specific questions are ‘open’ – ‘yes, it could be she is lying; but then again, she might be telling the truth.’ I’m sure such apparent evasiveness can be frustrating to an actor who seeks a strong foundation to build their performance on, but it’s easy to give definite answers and for me, that is a closing down of possibilities rather than an opening up. Once in rehearsals, there will be three weeks of exploration and discovery, and so I always endeavour to leave space for the director and actor to make their work, and, invariably, surprise me with their interpretations and discoveries.

This issue was taken up in the Q&A after the reading, and both Kirstie and I spoke of the necessity of trust. I am fortunate to have worked with her before, on a production of my play peeling in 2011, and a strong, mutually-respectful relationship was built then. I find Kirstie a wonderful collaborator. Apart from her imaginative and inventive productions, she has a wonderful regard for the audience and awareness of that dynamic between the spectacle and the spectator. That focus brings an immediacy to her direction and alongside the excellent performers she casts, it creates a strong connection with the audience.

I was shaken to see members of our invited audience in tears after the reading, and several spoke generously about the emotional impact the work had and how excited they were by the content and the presentation. This was immensely gratifying for us to know – a large part of a rehearsed reading is to test the script and see if it is working – and the emotional response reflects the commitment and skills Kirstie and the actors brought to our short rehearsal process.

Given the response to this early part of the process, I can’t wait to see what happens when we are deep in it.

 

In praise of theatre and collaboration

Making theatre can be life affirming, Sometimes when I collaborate with others, I realise how remarkable humans can be. At the great risk of sounding like some evangelising naïf who has just undergone a religious conversion, or taken too much MDMA, I have to say working with Gaitkrash, The Llanarth Group and Theatre P’Yut has been one of the most rich, harmonious and satisfying experiences of my working life.

And this wasn’t just because of the cultural diversity, and the astounding connections we found between Irish and Korean cultures (one of my favourite moments was the interweaving of Irish Sean nos -‘old style’ solo singing mingling with Sal Puri, a dance from the Korean Shamanistic tradition for the release of han); it was the generosity of the individuals involved – performers Regina Crowley, Bernadette Cronin, Jeungsook Yoo, Sunhee Kim, Jing Hong Okorn-Kuo, cellist Adrian Curtin, sound artist Mick O’Shea and all the interns from Cork, the young practitioners and technicians working with us, notably Josephine Dennehy and Katrina Foley. It was the joy of working with my long-term collaborator director Phillip Zarrilli, the speed and ease of our interactions and dialogue, the swift comprehension and response of our co-creators, the generosity of so many, not least our Fundit supporters, who assisted in making this happen.

In a difficult time, when so much feels compromised and austere, challenging and aggressive, when education is run as a business and integrity has been leached from our economic and financial structures, to collaborate and work generously and with commitment with others, seems, frankly, miraculous. It is good practice. It is communicative. It is political. It is thoughtful. It is communal. It has flow. It is efficient. It is creative. It is building many things – not just an experience for an audience, but team work, communication skills, an understanding of good working dynamic, problem solving, a sense of community and our individual and collective roles in that. It teaches patience, encourages understanding and empathy, creates a forum where difference is explored, ideas are shared, debates are made, connections possibly felt. As drama and art are cut totally from the school curriculum, as the arts are seen even more as a luxury rather than a necessity, as culture as creative endeavour is driven increasingly out of our lives, I am increasingly aware of what we are losing and feel we must resist this at every cost.

‘Bump in’

Regina Crowley and Jeungsook Yoo in the tech

Regina Crowley and Jeungsook Yoo in the tech

An early start for the ‘bump in’ to The Granary Theatre with Playing the Maids. The morning starts with checking the copious amounts of flowers used in the design are fireproofed, then Éadaoin Looney, Aoife Bradley and Katrina Foley help me create bunches of blooms to be suspended from the rig to delineate the playing space.

Flower girls Aoife Bradley, Katrina Foley and Éadaoin  Looney

Flower girls Aoife Bradley, Katrina Foley and Éadaoin Looney

We’re assisted in the get-in by fantastic technical interns, who hang the lanterns, string flowers onto fishing lines, suspend them from the gantry and deal with whatever other odd request we make without batting an eyelid.

Sinead Devoy, Jack Holland, Aoife Bradley, Jospehine Dennehy and Alan  Mooney

Sinead Devoy, Jack Holland, Aoife Bradley, Jospehine Dennehy and Alan Mooney

We are in the midst of focusing and preparing for the tech dress at 6pm this evening as I write at 5.15pm…. but it’s looking good under the initial lighting states…..

'The Maids'

‘The Maids’