Pain and truth and learning…. the playwright’s progress…

So what really goes on when you’re writing a play? So often I see narratives that miss out on the difficult bits – those moments where, in my experience at least, the learning happens. In these sanitised versions the play somehow falls, fully formed, onto the page and thence into the mouths of actors in the rehearsal room… Where’s the sweat, the not-knowing, the doubts, the sudden moments of clarity and certainty? Creativity comes from problem solving. I move on as a writer when I’ve struggled with something – and if not learnt something new, have found the strength to let something go.

And so onto the blogs by dramaturg and playwright David Lane. I featured some of his earlier blogs on first idea to final draft here. David emailed me again today with an update on his ACE-funded writing process public engagement blogs. ‘I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences more widely,’ he wrote, ‘particularly the painful and truthful ones!’ Which are the rare ones – and the ones I like to read, to absorb, recognise, and hopefully learn from.

So with David’s permission, I share them with you….. Painful and truthful blogs on the writing process…..

http://www.davidjohnlane.com/writing-treatments-knowledge-and-magic-ace-blog-5/

http://www.davidjohnlane.com/the-play-you-wished-youd-written-use-it-ace-blog-6/

http://www.davidjohnlane.com/how-many-drafts-make-a-play-ace-blog-7/

http://www.davidjohnlane.com/post-reading-facing-hard-truths-ace-blog-8/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A director’s perspective on research and development: Phillip Zarrilli on ‘Cosy’

I’m often asked about the research and development process attached to any project – What goes on? What purpose does it serve? The answer differs from project to project, depending on where in the process the r&d may take place. Sometimes it is to scratch the surface and begin exploring possibilities around a concept, perhaps collaborating with a team of actors/devisers/co-creators. For my work in progress ‘Cosy’, an Unlimited commission, the polished first draft was already in existence, written between productions over the past few years. I wanted to ‘hear’ the text in the air and outside my head, to try out some new sections, put it before an invited audience to get feedback, and to then reflect on possible future revisions.

A director’s purpose and focus for research & development hadn’t really occurred to me before (oops!). In my experience as a playwright, my own needs have always been paramount, so I’m grateful that Phillip Zarrilli, director of ‘Cosy’ let me reproduce his report on our two days research & development last month here:

'Cosy' r&d. Photo: Mike Salmon

‘Cosy’ r&d. Photo: Mike Salmon

Just as the initial two days of research and development on ‘Cosy’ have been of great benefit to Kaite O’Reilly as the playwright, our process has been immensely beneficial to me as the director. Very early in our process (1-2 May 2015) we auditioned a wealth of disabled and non-disabled actresses. We then spent one and one-half days (June 17-18, 2015) working on the script in the rehearsal room in Cardiff, and had a reading of the script-in-hand for an invited audience at Graeae Theatre Company’s Studio in London.

My first task as director of ‘Cosy’ is to assist Kaite in developing the best script she can within the context of what appears to be a ‘family drama’. Throughout our process, including our two days of research and development, I have provided dramaturgical feedback to Kaite as she has been refining and further developing the nuances of the script for the reading.

My second task is to actualize as best I can the potential of Kaite’s script through my work as we select the best cast we can for the six wonderful roles Kaite has written, and to guide the actors’ as they work on the nuances and complexities of Kaite’s script. ‘Cosy’ has a cast of six women including Rose (76 year old matriarch of the family); her three daughters—Ed (56), Camille (early 50s), and Gloria (late 40s); her granddaughter (Camille’s daughter, Isabella, 16); and Rose’s ‘friend’—Maureen. For the two day R & D period, we cast the core ‘family’ with five Welsh actresses: Rose [Sharon Morgan], Ed [Ri Richards], Camille [Ruth Lloyd], Gloria [Llinos Daniel], Isabella [Bethan Rose-Young]) who created a wonderfully dynamic and complex family at the reading. Finally, we cast Welsh actress, Sara Beer, as the quirky ‘companion/friend-to-Rose/outsider-to-the-family’.

Our first day of R & D began with a simple reading of the script so that Kaite could hear and respond to her first draft. After this initial reading we had an extensive discussion of the script, allowing actors to raise questions about their roles, and discussing some of the unique demands the script has for actors—the juxtaposition of the comedic element arising from the family dynamics once the female clan has gathered at the family home with the existential impact of how an aging woman faced the ‘facts’ of her aging and the loss of agency that confronts women as they age.

Having directed the premiere productions of two of Kaite’s other plays, ‘The Almond and the Seahorse’ (Sherman Cymru, 2008), and ‘the 9 Fridas’ (Taipei Arts Festival with Mobius Strip and Hong Kong Rep, 2014), I know how difficult a task it is to guide actors toward the kind of nuanced playing of the types of characters that Kaite and the complexities of the situations in which she places her characters.

The cast of The 9 Fridas. Photo: Phillip Zarrilli

The cast of The 9 Fridas. Photo: Phillip Zarrilli

Our remaining session on the first day of development, and final session in London prior to the reading of ‘Cosy’ were devoted to (1) trying out new text Kaite was writing in response to the initial reading and our work on the script; (2) having ‘working’ rehearsals on each of the five scenes in order to begin to explore the nuances of each scene; and (3) providing directorial feedback to each actor on the playing of specific/key moments in each scene.

From my directorial perspective, it was a ‘luxury’ to have these days to work with this potential cast of six. In our day and a half of development work with the cast collectively provided our audience with a highly credible initial reading of Kaite O’Reilly’s second draft.

These two days together have allowed me to get to know each of these actresses as individual professionals, as well as how they might work together on Kaite O’Reilly’s dynamic and highly complex script.

What plot is – in a sentence

There are books written about plot – how to… what it is…. and a plethora of other elements. Yet I came across this today from Kate Mosse and it made me smile and go, yes….

Kate Mosse said you get to the end of a novel and say:

Of course! Because that’s what plot is – the hidden chain of cause and effect that takes a whole novel to explain.”

 

Book Giveaway – Alison Jean Lester’s ‘Lillian on

It was my great pleasure to befriend the terrific Alison Jean Lester at the Singapore Writer’s Festival last November. Sassy, sophisticated, intelligent and filled with joie-de-vivre,  I fell immediately for Lillian, the protagonist in Alison’s first novel Lillian On Life – qualities shared with the author herself.

I was fortunate to read an advance copy of the debut, which is wise, poignant, sexy, and unexpected. It’s been no surprise to learn of its success in the US and elsewhere in the world, and I anticipate a similar positive reaction with its UK publication next month (I gather it has been selected as a Book of the Month by WHSmith – so we’ll be seeing this glorious cover a lot over the summer….).

Alison knows of my involvement in disability arts and culture, and so asked me to help promote her giveaway of three copies of the large print edition to visually impaired readers based in the UK. You can find out how to get your hands on a signed large print copy of Lillian on Life, below. For those interested in reading more about Alison, please see her fantastic answers to my ’20 Questions’ on writing, creativity, life and all on this blog. You can read it here.

Large print cover of 'Lillian on Life' by Alison Jean Lester

Large print cover of ‘Lillian on Life’ by Alison Jean Lester

Alison Jean Lister writes:

I’m very excited about the paperback edition of Lillian on Life coming out in the UK on July 2nd. They’ve created a brand new cover, with endorsements from Karen Joy Fowler (“I completely loved Lillian on Life. What a great voice, what energy and wit.”) and Adele Parks (“A beautifully written, deft debut; edgy, elegant Lillian will stay with you.”) on top of praise from Kate Atkinson and Erica Jong. Pinch me!

I’m equally happy that I’ve just received three copies of the large-print edition, and I’m doing a Twitter campaign to give them away to visually impaired readers. All they need to do is follow me and tweet to me, @A_J_Lester, and I will be in contact by Direct Message to get the winners’ postal addresses. Alternatively, contact me via my website (below), with a few words on why they’d like to read it, and I’ll choose three winners to whom I’ll send a signed copy.

More details on the book are available on my website here: http://www.alisonjeanlester.com/lillian-on-life/.

DEADLINE FOR THE GIVEAWAY: July 10th 2015

Ali Smith, The Baileys, and what lies beneath…

Congratulations to Ali Smith on winning The Baileys with How To Be Both. I recommend the interview with her in The Guardian, illuminating on many fronts. As someone who has just written an essay on form for a forthcoming on-line ‘special’ for New Welsh Review, and whose mind has been deliciously engaged for weeks on storytelling across  genres, I read her thoughts on narrative avidly.

I was particularly struck with a passage about what she coined ‘the not-said’ – the undertow, the subtext, what lies beneath:

‘This seems to me to be what narrative does all the time, beautifully. As we are reading, what really gets us is the undertow: what is not being said. The not-said is so ferocious. lt is important. Which is why Henry James is such a master, because the not-said is always pressing against the surface of the prose, and we can feel it in our skin, we can feel it in our bodies; it is physical, a physical pressure in narrative.’

I love this, her insistence on the corporeality of storytelling, the tangible impact good writing can have on our bodies…. Something we can all aspire to.

Voices from the Gallery, plus a workshop and launch of a writing competition

I’m delighted to be appearing with poet Chris Kinsey at Oriel Davies, Y Drenewydd / Newtown on Friday 26th June 2015 at 7.30pm: Voices from the Gallery. Chris has been enticing me back into performance and spoken word events, and I have had the joy of sharing a platform with her on previous occasions in Wales. Details follow, along with information about a workshop led by Chris on 13th June, to launch the Oriel Davies Writing Competition:

 

 Voices from the gallery: Poems and Monologues 26th June 7.30pm

Hosted by Chris Kinsey, with Kaite O’Reilly

KAITE O’REILLY writes for live performance, radio and prose. She received the Ted Hughes Award for New Works in Poetry for her version of Aeschylus’ Persians with National Theatre of Wales.

‘Poetry crosses time, the old play becomes the new poetry. Here’s the truth of language colliding with the clichés of politics and the advertisement of war. This verse play is entertainment, challenge and a lie detector.’

Jeanette Winterton and Gillian Clarke on “Persians

CHRIS KINSEY was Oriel Davies’ first Writer-in-Residence 2011 -13. She is the author of 3 poetry collections: Kung Fu Lullabies and Cure for a Crooked Smile published by Ragged Raven Press and Swarf by Smokestack Books. Chris was BBC Wildlife Poet of the year in 2008. She writes a regular Nature Diary for Cambria and won Natur Cymru’s last prose competition, ‘Inspired by Nature’ and she has also written short dramas.

Friday 26 June

7.30pm Admission: £7

Oriel Davies Gallery, The Park, Newtown, Powys SY16 2NZ

To book: desk@orieldavies.org  or 01686 625041

images

FLORA – a writing workshop on the theme of Flora to launch the Oriel Davies Writing Competition. 

Saturday 13th June 10am – 1pm. £10 

Come and experiment with words.

See which ideas germinate.

Open to writers of all levels of experience – the aim of the workshop is to inspire fresh ways of considering plants. Workshop led by Chris Kinsey.

To book: desk@orieldavies.org or 01686 625041.

For further information contact Sheela Hughes informallearning@orieldavies.org

 

Creating a Deaf and hearing theatre ensemble in New Zealand.

 

'At the end of my hands'. Equal Voices Arts. Photo: Sycamore Media

‘At the end of my hands’. Equal Voices Arts. Photo: Sycamore Media

A GUEST BLOG FROM LAURA HAUGHEY IN NEW ZEALAND:

I write this blog post after sitting down for the first time to reflect upon Equal Voices Art’s latest performance project, ‘At The End Of My Hands’. It opened at the beginning of May to full audiences in Hamilton, New Zealand, and is currently in preparation to go to Auckland at the end of May.

What a whirlwind adventure the process has been!

I arrived in New Zealand 15 months ago to start teaching theatre studies at the University of Waikato. I don’t have a traditional background in theatre, but trained as a physiotherapist, whilst working as a performer in a professional Deaf-led dance theatre company. Consequently, the body, how we move, how we communicate and how we share what it is like to be a human being with other human beings (a concern of theatre I make!), are all primary concerns of mine.

I wanted to make a show with Deaf actors and hearing actors, and work on developing an aesthetic of manual languages fused with voice, gesture, physical storytelling and visual vernacular. Deaf actors inherently understand what it means to work through the body and to place the body at the centre of the work.

Inclusive theatre is still emerging in New Zealand, and I couldn’t find any current professional activity of Deaf actors or performances designed for Deaf and hearing audiences, so finding a starting place was key.

This starting place came in the shape of Kayte Shaw, a community development Kaituitui (Kaituitui: Maori word for creating links, and connecting people) working for the wonderful organisation Deaf Aotearoa. As a hearing person from overseas, I needed to tread carefully and sensitively. I am not new to Deaf culture, having worked within Deaf-led theatre for my formative years, but I was new to Deaf culture here in New Zealand, and needed to show my respect to that community by making connections slowly. Kayte enabled me to offer introductory sign theatre workshops to the Deaf community in Waikato. We recorded videos for the Deaf community so all the information was in their first language (New Zealand Sign Language) and Kayte worked hard to get the news out to everyone who may be interested. We booked an NZSL interpreter to support me in delivering the sessions as I sign in BSL (British Sign Language), and am new to the unique manual language that is NZSL. The languages have similarities (BSL, NZSL and AUSLAN all belong to the same family of sign languages), but there are specific cultural and linguistic differences that make NZSL unique.

The theatre workshops were a success. We had between 15 – 17 Deaf people attend the workshops, which I led using BSL and the interpreter helped me to make the leap to NZSL (as well as lots of side coaching from the group!)

 

'At the end of my hands' by Equal Voices Arts. Photo: Sycamore Media

‘At the end of my hands’ by Equal Voices Arts. Photo: Sycamore Media

The workshops enabled us to build a shared physical language for ways of working, starting points for telling stories, and choreographic improvisations. The workshops allowed us to see which ‘theatre specific signs’ weren’t familiar to the group, and to attempt to find ways to explain the concepts behind such signs.

From the workshops came the auditions. We were looking for four Deaf actors and two hearing actors (who were familiar with Deaf culture and physically strong storytellers). The final ensemble consisted of 4 Deaf actors who have NZSL as their first language, 1 hearing actor with Serbian as his first language and 1 hearing actor who was familiar with sign language and Deaf culture and had attended the sign theatre workshops.

We also booked an experienced interpreter, Kelly Hodgins (who has interpreted for stage shows), for the rehearsal process. Alongside Kelly, we also worked with Nicola Clements, who has theatre experience and is training to be a NZSL interpreter. There is very little work like this going on in New Zealand, so it was an experiment for all concerned. Nicola helped us to make the connections I needed to make the working process a reality.

Beginning a devising process which crosses cultures and languages needs to find a starting point where all can move from, so we started by telling stories. Stories about communication, culture, making friends, Deaf culture, the oppression of Sign Languages (three of our Deaf actors were banned from using sign language in school in the dark days of oralism) were all explored and told, without words and signs at first – just using our bodies. Signs and words followed, as did visual vernacular, gestural storytelling and universal modes of expression.

'At the end of my hands', Equal Voices Arts. Photo: Sycamore Media.

‘At the end of my hands’, Equal Voices Arts. Photo: Sycamore Media.

The piece emerged quickly and strongly. These were stories that needed to be told, and they jumped from people’s hands and bodies. There was an immediacy and urgency to set them free. Not all the performance is signed, and very little is spoken. All that is spoken is not interpreted into sign and all that is signed is not interpreted into spoken English. Instead, the two languages sit side by side, explored equally (and given equal status), but not in parallel. The Deaf audience get a slightly different narrative to the hearing audience, and this is deliberate. Most of the Deaf audience know these stories, they know sign languages worldwide were banned, they know what that oppression has done to the development of the language and cultures in the Deaf communities worldwide. For most of our hearing audience, these stories were new, and shocking. And watching alongside a Deaf audience changes their perceptions hugely.

The feedback from the sell-out Hamilton shows was hugely supportive, warm and affirmative of the stories shared.

The piece is looking forward to going to Auckland next, where it will be performed on the 30th May at TAPAC (The Auckland Performing Arts Centre).

We can’t wait to see where it will go next…

 

This project was funded by the Contestable Research Fund from the Faculty or Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Waikato and supported by Deaf Aotearoa. Equal Voices are grateful to Kaite O’Reilly for mentorship and guidance throughout.

Laura Haughey

Laura Haughey

BIOG:
Dr.Laura Haughey is a theatre director, movement director and actor trainer with an interest in the body and communication. She moved to New Zealand in 2014 to teach theatre at the University of Waikato. Laura runs Equal Voices Arts ( http://www.equalvoices.co.uk), delivering projects in both the UK and NZ.

Copyright Laura Haughey May 2015.

Photographs of performance ‘At the end of my hands’ courtesy of Sycamore Media