Tag Archives: collaboration

Balance and confidence: The tricky tightrope of being freelance

 

writing

It’s tricky, being a freelancer. We need to exude confidence but avoid arrogance, appear reliable and professional, whilst maintaining a creative edginess. We have a precarious vocation, but can’t be seen to court convention or the prosaic. Being the innovator or blue skies maverick often gets us jobs (and certainly pushes on form and content), but some ideas can be too ‘out there’ for commissions – and when the means to support ourselves relies on a regular income, the rope we tread is high and tight indeed.

Quite how we support ourselves in this increasingly challenging and, frankly, anti-arts and culture climate is a perennial problem. I have no solutions, just a steadfast impulse that we need to be true to ourselves. We write and create for many different reasons, and for me the sense of communing with myself, knowing my thoughts and reactions in response to the times I inhabit is a pleasure I can’t underestimate. This alone, however, doesn’t put grub on the table. In this capitalist system we need to work, and the product of our labour needs to be valued in monetary terms. How we go about making a living whilst having a life is a constant negotiation, but there are a few things I’ve observed which I feel don’t help.

For years I’ve seen artists and writers trying to second guess directors, producers, editors and literary managers, or considering shaping their emerging work towards whatever is currently doing well. It’s an understandable impulse, but deadly. Never try to jump on a bandwagon. Whatever is currently trending would have been seeded over eighteen months ago. By the time ‘your’ version amounts to something, it will be very much out of date.

I’ve also seen colleagues compromise ‘too much’ with the work, and that can leave a taint on the tongue. I’m all for collaboration and negotiation – I have grown substantially as a writer by exploring avenues I would never have travelled if left to my own navigation. It becomes a problem when artists or makers by their own admission feel they have conceded in some way, or given too much to a premise, aesthetic, or product not conversant with their concept or plan. Finding the balance between being a flexible and responsive team player and the assured primary creative is essential, and something that requires fine tuning. Again, we need confidence, but not egotism.

And as to what ‘they’ want…? What every director and literary manager and producer I’ve ever spoken to is looking for is fresh work made with energy and skill and passion, about subjects that matter to you, communicated in a way that has resonance to all, relevant to now. They want strong, developed, realised ‘voices’ with something to say. They don’t want mynah birds, or would-be mind readers. They want to be surprised, moved, excited. They want to hear what you think is important, in the form and aesthetic you want to use. Given the insecure nature of our profession,and the hourly rate which would defy any notion of ‘minimum wage’, much of our remuneration for the effort put in is not in financial form.  Even more reason to check the balance and trust your own voice and your own passions.

Rushton Unsung – bringing to life a forgotten Liverpool hero

 

Rushton - Unsung

Rushton – Unsung

Last year I was privileged to mentor two fantastic writers – John Graham Davies and James Quinn – as they negotiated their way through early drafts of an historical play about the great unsung Liverpool radical Edward Rushton. As this blog is about creative process, I asked James and John to write a guest post about their collaborative process writing this epic, and also touching on our mentoring relationship. What are the temptations and dangers writing from history? How can two playwrights write one script with consistency in style and ‘voice’ and without falling out? You can read their great post, below, and support their crowd-funding project to celebrate this fascinating radical, campaigner, abolitionist and poet. Heady stuff.

Writing Unsung: A Guest Post by John Graham Davies and James Quinn:

When we were originally asked by Kaite to write about the mentoring process of our play UNSUNG we were deep in research into slavery and the abolition movement. Although both of us are writers, we have both been primarily actors. After years of trying to make bad soap lines sound good (yes, I know, it’s not always like that) maybe we thought that the meat and potatoes would lie in the dialogue. We can both write dialogue. It will be alright.

But historical drama, particularly when your play centres on an unjustly ignored historical figure who is determined to have his voice and exploits acknowledged (“fuck turning points and dramatic development, tell them about my amazing sea voyages in the 1790s!”), has a tendency, if you’re not careful, to suck you into a factual fog.

For about nine months we attempted to honour the extraordinary blind abolitionist Edward Rushton, and the vast number of human rights campaigns he was involved with. It seemed like a pleasurable duty. A famous letter to George Washington, being rescued from drowning by an ex-slave and friend, who as a result died himself, hiding clandestine human rights campaigners in his tavern in Liverpool, campaigning and writing poetry in support of the French revolution, the American revolution, the Irish Brotherhood, being shot at in Liverpool for his opposition to the press gang, going blind as a result of ministering to suffering slaves below decks, his establishment of the first blind school in Britain.   Any of these activities would make a play in itself, but Rushton’s life was so rich, and his anonymity such a shameful omission that we were determined to crow-bar in as much as we could. To do less would be a dishonour.

We are now about eighteen months into the project, with nine months to opening. What has been the process?

We started with a fractured narrative, attempting to cover all aspects of Rushton’s campaigning and poetic life. The sea story, and his story once he arrived back, blind, on land, were woven together non-chronologically, and framed at the beginning and end of each act with scenes depicting his last, and finally successful eye operation. Kaite thought that this was faithful, yes, but both confusing and undramatic. In our determination to crow-bar everything in, we had paid insufficient attention to dramatic development, and the absence of a stable location made the action confusing.

In writing the second and third drafts we have tried to take on Kaite’s feedback. Both of us having been very involved in politics, we’ve both been equally keen to touch on as many of Rushton’s fascinating political campaigns as possible. But we now have a consistent location to which we return – Rushton’s bookshop – and we travel through it chronologically. However, the scenes to which Rushton is taken by his conscience figure, Kwamina, are not chronological. We may stay with this, but are still not entirely sure if the fractured narrative is potentially confusing.

In the first draft we had a Brechtian style narrator, in the form of a West African griot. This character has now been subsumed into Kwamina. Rushton’s friend from his youth, and a former slave. Kwamina is both a real character, in scenes set on ship in the Atlantic, as well as a Ghost of Christmas Past conscience figure. In this latter guise, he takes Rushton to places in his past. We have also, at Kaite’s advice, developed our use of SLI, so that our signer not only signs, but also participates in scenes. She recurs as a servant/menial in different locations, rather like the Common Man in A Man for All Seasons. Sometimes she will sign neutrally, but in other scenes, particularly in scenes dominated by movement and action, she will be an active dramatic component of scenes. We are taking on board Kaite’s warning that this is potentially confusing, and trying to find ways to clarify.

We have made some more cuts today, losing some historical material about George Washington. We still need to root all the scenes in the overarching drama. There are a couple of scenes which don’t really earn their place. One is set in Parliament, in a chamber adjoining the main chamber. The grand setting is theatrical, and the dialogue and conflict within the scene is effective. However, it doesn’t really grow out of the ongoing dramatic dilemmas facing Rushton, and we’ve shortened it.

As the piece has a strong inclusion goal, we have incorporated imagery and sound montage from the beginning. Audience members who are visually impaired will have a strong aid through the use of recorded words and music. Some of this will be to establish mood, but a good deal of it will help to accurately communicate location.

A word on our approach as collaborators; basically around three quarters of the writing is done solo with the two of us coming together to edit/rewrite drafted scenes. As we live at opposite ends of the East Lancs Road – James in Manchester (the light side) and John in Liverpool (the dark side) – Skype has been a useful tool in this regard. In terms of what each of us brings to the table, John brings the serious, conscientious craft to the project and James adds some ‘witty dialogue’. More seriously, it has been a fiendish story to tell. It is not enough to tell the story of a ‘great man’ – particularly one who nobody has heard of. The first draft of the script definitely leaned too much to that as we looked to do justice to Rushton. Now we are at a stage of being much more selective and looking to capture the essence and significance of Rushton in the context of a strong, compelling dramatic narrative, centred on the question, ‘What drove Rushton to undertake a series of painful eye operations’? Was he driven by a desire to see his children and wife (he was blind when he met her) or were there elements of guilt associated with his friend, Kwamina’s death. Is he trying to shut out memory, by regaining his sight? We want this piece of theatre to reach out beyond theatre audiences and followers of Edward Rushton and create a stir among the widest possible range of people. Naturally, although this is to some degree a biography of a historical figure, the show must be utterly contemporary. Through themes which have a contemporary echo (the corruption of parliament, the importance of the individual conscience speaking out) and stagecraft (using our signer as an integrated character and link with the audience) we hope we have achieved this, to some extent.

Another thought on co-writing (John this time). I didn’t find it easy in one respect – you have to rein yourself in when you have an urge to go in a certain direction, and that can slow things. Fortunately we have worked before as actors and when writing sketches, but this was much more ambitious. Historical drama requires large amounts of research, and finding a speaking style which echoes the period rather than recreating it, is not easy. James doesn’t have an ego, which made things a lot easier – his characteristically self-effacing earlier comments being testament to that – and writing with someone I didn’t know well would have been much harder than with an old friend.

As for our esteemed dramaturg, I had never worked with one before, but it was immensely helpful. I think Kaite realised early on that we are a pair of old pachiderms, so she was pretty direct with her comments. She needed to be I think – we’re also hard of hearing. Virtually all the time her feedback struck a chord with things we were already groping towards, but having someone outside say it made it that much clearer.

We write this just moments before our first meeting with the play’s director, Chuck Mike. It is a moment of great anticipation and excitement for us. The man is a giant (literally and professionally). A disciple and collaborator with the great Wole Soyinka, he has offered nothing but positivity and encouragement about the piece. We are in the South Bank’s Festival Hall, looking for a six feet eight inch Afro-Caribbean with a white beard and benign face. What words will he have for us today………………..?

To Be Continued……

To Support Rushton, Unsung:

rushton

 

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/rushton-unsung/

https:/www.facebook.com/DaDaFest.Deaf.and.Disability.Arts

 

 

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.

Letting go…

Mandel ja merihobu_kodukassuur

It’s strange when your work goes out into the world and starts finding an existence of its own. I always expected to have a close relationship with productions of my plays were I fortunate enough to have additional productions after the premiere. I anticipated being as involved as I am with the first production – speaking at length with the directors and cast, sitting in on rehearsals, or working closely with the translators if the productions were using languages other than my native English.

At first I thought I’d be deranged and dangerous – ‘The Controlling Author’ – sort of late career Bette Davis, fag in mouth, martini in hand, screeching out from the darkened auditorium during rehearsals: ‘ It’s not said like that! Didn’t you see it was a four dot pause, not three?’ as actors and directors wept copiously and swallowed handfuls of diazes…

Thankfully it didn’t work out like that. I found it more instructive, creative and beneficial for all to have a loose hold on the script and see what the skills, experiences and imaginations of the director, cast and company brought to the material. If there were certain points where I felt my intentions weren’t being presented, I would step in and make my case, but luckily for me, by easing off from being ‘the expert’ on my script (and the only voice), I have learned, grown, made good relationships with my collaborators and had much better productions.

So far so good…. But things are different again when the productions are not in the country where you reside…

I’m currently working in Berlin, and have a show opening tonight in Estonia, and needless to say, I shan’t be at the premiere. It feels distinctly odd, this sense of something so intimately connected to me – which came from me – having its own place and existence in the world without my connection. I don’t know the cast, have no notion of how the director hopes to stage it, and didn’t liaise with the translator. In fact, I didn’t even know this production was happening until earlier this week and I suspect this then is a kind of rites of passage. There reaches a point when our work is published, or out in the world, and totally independent.

Early in the process, I control it. I write it, I decide who gets to see it, who even knows it is in development. When it is completed in early draft stage, I am the conduit through which it goes, selectively, into the world. As the work gets polished and ready to be seen by a wider audience than my selected ‘first readers’, the narrow stream widens, and it is my agent who is placing the script under noses and so the tap root expands from there. What I’m experiencing today is what happens when work is published and readily available to whomever wants to read it, across the world. Gifted translators transform my words into another language and so its pathway into the world grows even more.

I’ve had productions before in other countries where I couldn’t travel and so see the work. I’ve had readings and productions in thirteen countries across the globe and I hope the productions were creative and successful and that the experience was a happy one for all involved. I hope each made the work fresh, and truly theirs – without any sense of a controlling authorial eye, or a ‘thou shalt not’ limiting imaginations.

So this evening, I’m letting go, and raising a glass to ‘The Almond and the Seahorse’ at Theater Endla in Estonia – wishing joy and broken legs, toi toi toi, and all those other superstitions. I will dream of what an Estonian Sarah, Dr Falmer, Gwennan, Tom, and Joe may be like – and hope that sometime over its long run in repertoire, I get there to see it.

Trailer at:  http://www.endla.ee

Finding the plot

“I guarantee you that no modern story scheme, even plotlessness, will give a reader genuine satisfaction unless one of those old-fashioned plots is smuggled in somewhere. I don’t praise plots as accurate representations of life, but as ways to keep readers reading.”
- Kurt Vonnegut

Narrative, character, motivation and action have been my lodestars of late. I’ve been developing a treatment for an independent television production company, and returning to the basics has been both a struggle and a joy. It feels like a very long time since I considered story arcs and chronological throughlines and even consequential action… The past few projects I’ve worked on in live performance have been using either non-western structures (Told by the Wind and Japanese Aesthetics of Quietude) or post-dramatic dramaturgies (Playing the Maids). It always takes time to shift between media and adjust to their different demands when you work, as I do, across genre, style, and form. I feel like I need to acclimatise, or pass through a decompression chamber, so varied are the atmospheres and their related demands.

So after spending months considering Yugen, the untranslatable Japanese aesthetic principle which means something akin to ‘the hint’, or ‘what lies beneath the surface’, I now have to make the components which create the drama visible, tangible, concrete. It goes against every fibre in my body. I’ve spent months invisibly structuring, and denying narrative closure to create what Ota Shogo described as ‘Passivity in art’ (no ‘meaning’ or narrative is foisted upon the audience – rather, they are invited to participate in the creation of it). As a warm-up I attend a Pitch Your Film workshop led by the very excellent Angela Graham. If anyone can shake me from my current aversion to formulaic structure and GOAL MOTIVATION CONFLICT, Angela can.

And she does, with great aplomb. I love her directness, her clear instructions and thorough understanding of shaping material for the particular medium of film. She cuts through my froth and resistance, giving me clear directions in what I need to do to mould this material for the specific medium and for the activity at hand: a Pitch.

I’ve always loathed ‘loglines’ (‘Jaws in space’ – Alien), and I resist the highly codified and formulaic structures required to give the essence of the drama, even whilst understanding the need of these for such an expensive and commercial enterprise. After much struggling the penny drops – a pitch is told in a three act structure – and with some satisfaction I find my own way to supply what’s required without ‘compromising’ on my writing style and storyline too much.

If that sounds snobbish, I certainly don’t mean it to be. It’s simply a description of this particular writer’s struggle across and between media and form and what each demands. After working as a dramaturg with collaborators on a co-created piece of live performance, it takes a while to activate and then strengthen certain creative muscles which haven’t been used for a while. My character-driven naturalistic action/reaction and then and then and then narrative skills had become flabby. It hurt to flex them, and it was immensely difficult to motivate myself into using my imagination in this way after such an absence – especially when I knew it was well-honed and strong from working in other ways. After Angela’s work-out and then some very serious activity alone, the muscle sprang back surprisingly quickly, and I again started to enjoy working this way. It’s all stuff I know and have encountered as a reader, as a student, as a writer, as a maker, it simply takes a while to re-remember it, to re-enter this particular atmosphere, and with all the equipment needed to breathe and prosper there.

 

 

 

Enabled -Manifesto Project. Call out for disabled performance artists, Berlin, May 2014.

Performance artist/curator Rebecca Weeks emailed me, requesting I share this call out for Berlin-based disabled performance artists:

Please note: I am not not involved in the organisation of this project, I’m simply passing on the information, so please don’t contact me or the blog about the call out. Any correspondence and/or applications needs to be through Rebecca by 10th March 2014 at  rebecca@artdept.org.uk 

Rebecca Weeks writes:

MONTH OF PERFORMANCE ART, BERLIN. MAY 2014.

Call out for disabled performance artists – deadline March 10th 2014. 

http://www.mpa-b.org/noticeboard.html

 ENABLED – MANIFESTO PROJECT – BERLIN

9th -11th MAY 2014

Expressions of interest are sought from performance artists who are living and working with disability who would like to participate in a workshop and performance event/ sharing to take place 9 -11TH MAY 2014 as part of the MPA-B 2014 programme to be hosted by SAVVY Contemporary, Neukolln, Berlin.

This project is intended to offer group activities and dialogue whilst supporting individual approaches to making work within a small informal friendly group. The workshop will result in a manifesto of some kind that addresses the participants concerns, needs and desires in relation to disability and performance art and will result in a performance platform/sharing event/and or discussion as an outcome to be shared with an audience within MPA-B 2014.

The project supports SAVVY Contemporary’s ongoing work as a laboratory of forms and ideas engaging with conceptual, intellectual, artistic and cultural development and exchange.

English and German will be spoken within the workshop.

Participating artists will also be offered a communal meal prepared with love by Joseph Patricio.

The project is curated by UK based performance artist/curator Rebecca Weeks, and supported by UK artist led organisation CAZ, UK based artist/graphic & web designer Ian Whitford, by Berlin based artists Marcel Sparmann and Joseph Patricio and MPA-B and the project will be hosted by SAVVY gallery, Berlin.

TO APPLY

EMAIL: rebecca@artdept.org.uk by 10th March. Successful applicants will be notified of the result of their application in April.

Please email Rebecca with a brief statement outlining: your contact details, your performance practice, your interest in participating in the project, and what you hope to achieve through participating, a CV/biography and a few photos of work as jpegs. Rebecca is interested in hearing from emergent, mid career and established artists in order to encourage cross – generational dialogue.

For more information about CAZ: www.cazart.org.uk

For more information about SAAVY: www.savvy-contemporary.com

For more information about Rebecca Weeks & Ian Whitford: www.weeksandwhitford.co.uk

For more information about Marcel Sparmann: www.marcelsparmann.com

For more information about Joseph Patricio: www.nowherekitchen.com/about

Diary of a collaboration.Day 3.

props During our previous two days collaboration, we shared song, sounds, music and dance representatives of ‘Madam’ figures from our respective cultural backgrounds; we’ve explored initial texts generated by individuals of the ensemble in response to the stimulus text (Genet’s The Maids); we’ve made physical and text-basd improvisations in response to the sound environment Adrian Curtin and Mick O’Shea created, and in response to themes such as ‘siblings’, ‘servitude’, ‘distance’ and ‘intimacy’. This morning we begin with the starting point of props, puppets and costumes. props 2 Gaitkrash (Bernadette Cronin, Regina Crowley and Mick O’Shea) brought a treasure trove of objects from their Cabinet of Curiosities, which emerged from the ensemble’s first collaboration in 2007.

Cabinets of curiosity, a phenomenon of the Renaissance, traditionally presented the rare, the exceptional and the marvelous, encompassing both ‘God’s creation’ and man’s art. Performed by hands in the twelve mini-theatres of the cabinet, curious objects – animate and inanimate, organic and inorganic – shift, morph and mutate under the spectator’s gaze. The visual images wrestle, dance and pause in conversation with unique sound sculptures. no stories or narratives are offered – these take shape in the mind of the spectator. This wondrous cabinet of sound and vision beckons the spectator to dream-time.                                                                                     source: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=500824779954141&id=276412909061997

Phillip Zarrilli with one of Mick O'Shea's puppets

Phillip Zarrilli with one of Mick O’Shea’s puppets

Phillip brought out various puppets, with which we explored agency and manipulation, prompting various instantaneous improvisations, where Sunhee and Jeungsook manipulated Adrian as he played the cello.

mainds and adrian

Already, even after such a short period together, we are beginning to see possibilities for assemblage – content that has resonance and complicity – counter-point and dissonance.

We begin to give names to sounds and combinations Mick and Adrian are making so that we may be able to identify and recreate them once we begin to montage. We could continue generating material forever, but already I am itching to put certain structures, texts, and physical scores together….