Tag Archives: collaboration

20 Questions… Andrew Loretto

Continuing my series…. Twenty questions asked to creatives: actors, poets, screenwriters, directors, sculptors, live art exponents, burlesque performers, novelists, dramatists, and anyone else who seems interesting in between… My next interviewee is director Andrew Loretto, who I collaborated with recently on 20 Tiny Plays About Sheffield, which opens next week – and is already sold out….

20 Questions… Andrew Loretto.

Andrew Loretto  For the Crucible Theatre Andrew has directed premieres of Lives in Art by Richard Hurford and LeanerFasterStronger by Kaite O’Reilly –

Andrew Loretto outside the Sheffield Crucible Theatre

Andrew Loretto outside the Sheffield Crucible Theatre

part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. As Creative Producer for Sheffield Theatres, Andrew curated a range of projects with local artists including the Crucible 40th Birthday fortnight, Crucible Writers’ Nights nd Sheffield Sizzlers.

Previous credits include: Dramaturg for Company Chameleon’s Gameshow; Artistic Director, Chol Theatre (2006-2010) – Beast Market (shortlisted for Huddersfield Examiner/Arts Council England Arts Award 2008), Space Circus (shortlisted for Brian Way Award 2009), Not For All the Tea in China (BBC2 Glastonbury highlights); International Young Makers Exchange; Sherman Theatre; Pilot Theatre; National Theatre Studio; Plymouth Theatre Royal; West Lothian Youth Theatre; Ulster Association of Youth Drama; Artistic Director, Theatre in the Mill, Bradford (1999-2003) and National Student Drama Festival (2003-2006).

What first drew you to writing/directing/acting?

Getting involved with extra-curricular music activities at school in Holywood, N.Ireland. Music fired up a passion for performing and making art; getting involved with school plays led on from that. To this day live music plays a big part in my theatre work where possible. Arts provision in schools is SO vital.

What was your big breakthrough?

To be honest, I don’t actually feel the breakthrough has happened yet! My career has been a slowly evolving one – but always with a focus on new work, multi-artform and creating opportunities for both experienced theatre artists and first-timers alike – of all ages.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work/process?

I guess I’m always asking organisations and individuals to take a risk on realising big ideas that can challenge the notions of what theatre is and what it can do. So in many ways that’s one of the biggest challenges – overcoming fear and/or set ways of thinking and being brave enough to forge on despite any reservations that might exist! The key is to bring on board like-minded collaborators, so that you’re not on your own.

Is there a piece of art, or a book, or a play, which changed you?

No – but I am influenced in infinitesimal ways by art in all its forms and by real life.

What’s more important: form or content?

I’ll give the politician’s answer: this really depends on the project – some pieces are led by form, whereas for others the content defines the form, and some projects have a mixture of both as prime motivator. They exist simultaneously as one in my head. It’s like asking what’s more important to make up a human being: a body or a soul?

How do you know when a project is finished?

A project never finishes. But alas we have defined production and performance dates and the money only pays for so much!

Do you read your reviews?

Yes. I don’t believe people who say they don’t. However I do absolutely understand and respect that some actors don’t like to read reviews whilst they’re still in a show.

What advice would you give a young writer/practitioner?

Get together with like-minded collaborators as much as you can and make your own work. Go and see as much as possible – there are lots of ways (especially for young people) that you can get cheap tickets for theatre. Do your research. Don’t leave it until your final year at university/college. Be polite to everyone – colleagues on your course will be future artistic directors/literary managers.

What work of art would you most like to own?

I fancy Tate Modern. All of it. I’d convert the top floor into a bijou city-living residence, the oil tanks could be dedicated rehearsal and performance spaces to make new work with lots of people. We’d have lots of people’s parties in the Turbine Hall. Can I apply for Grants for the Arts funding for this?

What’s the biggest myth about writing/the creative process?

That a writer sits in her/his own room as a tragic, isolated tortured soul. Rubbish: the writer is part of a collaborative process – if you don’t want to be part of a team, realising a live performance together, then theatre isn’t for you. That’s not to say that there isn’t an element of tortured isolation PRIOR to rehearsals though…

What are you working on now?

Andrew in rehearsals for 20 Tiny Plays About Sheffield, 2013.

Andrew in rehearsals for 20 Tiny Plays About Sheffield, 2013.

I’m about to go into production week for 20 Tiny Plays about Sheffield – a massive project with a cast of 60 actors aged 12-85, performing 20 short plays – all of different genres about perceptions of Sheffield  in the 21st Century. The show runs at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield from 8-13 April 2013 and has been fully sold-out for quite some time! We’re having to put in an extra public dress rehearsal so that people can see it. The 18 writers for the project are: Andrew McMillan, Andrew Thompson, Chris Bush, Chris Thorpe, DC Moore, Helen Eastman, Kaite O’Reily, Laurence Peacock, Louise Wallwein, Marcia Layne, Michael Stewart, Pete Goodland, Richard Hurford, Russell Hepplewhite, Sally Goldsmith, Stephanie Street, Tim Etchells, Tom Lodge.

’20 tiny Plays about Sheffield’ is the second production from Sheffield People’s Theatre – which I set up in 2011 for its first production ‘Lives in Art’ by Richard Hurford – achieving critical acclaim in the national press. I’m delighted that Sheffield People’s Theatre has since been awarded funding from Esmee Fairbairn foundation to develop its programme of work – of which ‘20 Tiny Plays’ is the first project to be supported. We’ve also got a Pearson Playwright bursary to support young Sheffield writer Chris Bush as part of the project and his year-long attachment to Sheffield Theatres. Chris’s work first came to our attention through the Crucible Writers’ Nights I’ve been curating over the past couple of years. Link to show:  http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/20-tiny-plays-about-sheffield-13/

What is the piece of art/novel/collection/ you wish you’d created?

I loved the recent production of ‘Constellations’ – design, writing, performances, movement and direction all knitting together seamlessly. Lucy Cullingford, the movement director on the show, is one of my regular collaborators – it was a brilliant showcase for her precise, detailed and nuanced work.

What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?

That I am just as entitled to have my voice heard at cultural tables as the posh Oxbridge boys and girls. Being a Celt, my default position is the ‘cultural cringe’.  

What’s your greatest ambition?

I’d love to get full eyesight back in my right eye (lost as the result of a violent attack in 2006) but I don’t think technology will evolve that quickly in my lifetime.

How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?

Surround yourself with good friends and confidantes – stay in touch with people. Invest in those friendships, give more than you receive. And make sure they’re not all involved in the arts!

What is the worst thing anyone said/wrote about your work?

Oh, I have fabulously bad review about the first full-length play I wrote. The reviewer was in a foul mood on the night he came to see the show – and I think my play just made him worse. I truly treasure it – it’s one of those reviews that seemingly starts off well, then the first cut is made. The knife plunges in and there’s a final twist at the end, leaving the entrails of the play steaming on the floor. Yep, one of THOSE reviews. Classic. I bumped into the reviewer at a Christmas party – he happily told me that the play in question was his single worst theatre experience that year. I’m happy to please.

And the best thing?

Oh it’s the personal testimonies from people who have been touched by seeing a show or by taking part as a participant and seeing how involvement with theatre projects can – literally – transform people’s lives.

If you were to create a conceit or metaphor about the creative process, what would it be?

I guess this is a cliché, but being a director is being like a mother: you conceive the baby, give birth to it, nourish, cherish and want the best for the baby as it grows into a young person, then a rebellious teenager. Then finally you have to let your baby go out into the world on its own as an adult – very often with little thanks for all the work you did other than the occasional card or phone call. That’s what directing new work can feel like!

What is your philosophy or life motto?

How do you want to live your life? (actually I stole that from my good friend Carri Munn, but it has stuck with me.)

What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?

That the majority of people in the arts are generous and kind. A minority are not so – and that’s often down to insecurities and fears. Focus on the majority.

What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask?

Age 17. Edinburgh.

Exit pursued by bear…. some thoughts on stage directions

imagesI recently got into discussion with two different friends about the same issue. It was not about Syria, the treatment of women in India, Cameron’s stupidity on Europe or even the distressing activity of the nasty party in the UK generally. We weren’t discussing the level of unemployment in Spain, or the depth of the snow in the East neuk of Fife. I’m afraid it was one of the geekiest of dramaturgical discussions. It was about stage directions.

When I teach, this is an issue which crops up repeatedly. How much information should we put into our scripts? What follows is a precis of some (but not all) of my thoughts on the issue of stage directions…

1) We are dramatists writing a blueprint for the stage. (Passionately) Please respect the skills and imaginations of those who read the work, plus the actors or directors who may produce it. (Sarcastic) It is a collaboration. Allow actors to surprise you with how they interpret a line. (With menace) Please try not to control your actors, nor infringe on their and the director’s process and creativity by trying to direct how a line ‘should’ be said by putting an impossible action (bursting into tears) in italics, bold, or brackets before a line of dialogue. (Laughing bitterly) You may discover they know better than you how to present the line, and in an unexpected, thrilling way, beyond the narrow confines of your own initial ‘hearing’ or interpretation provided by the voice in your head. Besides, they will no doubt ignore what can be seen as a vain and ridiculous attempt to nail everything down, to be in control. Sadly, you will only be revealing your own inexperience and distrust. If you have done your work well, the character, dynamic, and intention will come across. It will be there in the dialogue, the pace, the action, choice of vocabulary, the syntax, the subtext, the thrust of narrative and revealed characterisation. Of course errors and misinterpretations can occur, but please please please don’t give emotional stage directions anywhere in your text.

2) Be sparing in your descriptions of the set. You will discover that the detailed description of every stick of furniture, its placement Stage Left/Right/Centre, plus items on it (also known as props) will invariably not have been written by any playwright post 1956, but is actually the loving, exquisite work of the company’s Deputy Stage Manager, or DSM, who has recorded all from the production in ‘the book’. This then may have been the script sent to the publisher.  However, the tendency to write extremely long descriptions of an interior in excruciating and gnomic detail in the second decade of the twenty first century will invariably reveal that the playwright has probably not read a contemporary script, or a publisher other than Samuel French. I am not being snide, snobby, or bitchy about Samuel French – I think they do splendid and immensely useful publications, specialising as they do in presenting all the practical elements required for production (including prop lists, costumes, etc). The issue is when a contemporary playwright presents such a description of the set. It will either be seen as further proof of a control freak (see 1), or someone not widely promiscuous in the purveyor of play texts. I personally know that when we are first creating the world of our play, we need to write everything down (including description of set, costume, traffic of the stage, how lines are said, etc). Once the draft is developed, it will probably do the writer a favour to then cut these descriptions out. Allow your reader (and hopefully future director, designer, actors, etc) to create it anew – to ‘own’ it – and provide their own versions.

 3) A handsome man of above average height wearing a check suit under a buttoned-up mackintosh enters USR. With a barely perceptible smile he moves elegantly on a diagonal to the battered oak table, its surface ruined by coffee rings too numerous to count and generations of careless family use, sitting on a slight angle front edge pointing DSR on the elegant Persian rug CS. The moon glints in the window USL and falls on the exquisitely hand knitted Arran jumper worn by our heroine, sauntering with assumed nonchalance   

Had to stop, was losing the will to live writing that. See 2 above re-‘the book’ and DSM re-traffic of the stage and 1 above for being a tyrannical control freak.

Don’t do it. A simple indication of who enters or leaves will suffice. The director and actors will decide where they stand/move. The lighting designer will decide where the moon glints from (if at all). The costume designer will decide – etc etc. Our job is to write the play. We don’t like it when a director or actor tries to rewrite our lines or do our job. So respect, and let them do their job, also.

4) Assume you will have a production and there will be collaborators to deal with that other stuff (If you don’t want others to contribute, but want to do it all yourself, good luck, but I doubt you’ll have read this far, anyway).

5) There are of course exceptions to these – playwrights whose vision not only created extraordinary stage worlds, but who also rewrote the so-called rules, who challenged convention, transformed theatre, and brought in new forms, processes, theatre languages… They of course often used stage directions extensively (see Beckett), but not in the manners outlined, above.

I hope we will continue to have more such innovators, so as for everything I write, nothing is rigid, nothing is prescribed, but I hope it is stimulating.

(c) Kaite O’Reilly. 25/1/13. 

In praise of multi-tasking collaboration

Jo Shapland and Phillip Zarrilli in rehearsals, Told by the Wind. The Llanarth Group, 2011.

Jo Shapland and Phillip Zarrilli in rehearsals, Told by the Wind. The Llanarth Group, 2010.

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Increasingly I believe we have to be producer, fund-raiser, tour manager, and publicist as well as whatever our prime role may be (writer, director, performer, etc), in order to have some form of career. I am a playwright and dramaturg, yet some of the more successful projects I’ve been involved with, with real longevity, have been as co-creator with The Llanarth Group, in West Wales. There, I am officially the resident dramaturg, but also maker of good, strong tea, writer of performance text alongside press releases, ‘outside eye’ when necessary, documenter, publicist, and doer of whatever may need doing, frankly. And I love it. I love the new skills it brings to me, and the reawakening of old ones. I love the lack of hierarchy, but rather, the sense of cooperation and collaboration.

Working in this way is demanding, but also puts the artist very much in control. I’m often out of my element when I work with more conventional companies, or building-based theatres, where everyone has their particular role and task. I probably drive everyone demented for the first few days until I adjust to the culture of the company, and realise certain things may be considered inappropriate for me to do – ie, shut up and sit down, O’Reilly, they have a director or marketing department or stage manager to do ‘that’…

I feel immensely fortunate to have worked in both self-generated cooperative dynamics, as well as with theatre organisations, and am increasingly aware of the different skills set and cultures needed for each. Also, with the ever-depressing news of cuts in the arts, I’m aware so much more activity in future really may be this DIY version – so the sooner we get skilled-up for being Renaissance women and men, the better.

This all came to my mind when I came across an extract of ‘Told By the Wind’, a piece I made with Phillip Zarrilli and Jo Shapland, on Vimeo. Filmed in the inner sanctum of the Grotowski Institute in Wroclaw, Poland – The Apocalypsis Room (‘more the altar than a theatre space,’ as one of the resident technicians said). We performed there in 2011, to a huge audience squeezed in around the floor stage lights (‘I’m so sorry, you’ll have to move. If you sit there, right in front of the lantern, we won’t see the performers,’ I had to say on more than one occasion. I added more skills on this tour; usher and bouncer).

This short performance, informed by Japanese aesthetics of Quietude, is still in the repertory and still touring internationally. I’m not sure how I missed it before now on the net, but hope you may enjoy Jo Shapland’s terrific solo of the devised section we called ‘verb dance’.

http://vimeo.com/20741448

Managing expectations…..

One of my dear friends emailed me for some advice:

As a writer, when you were starting out, how do you manage your expectations?

It’s a question I’m familiar with – we don’t have to be ‘an emerging writer’ to struggle with the often gaping chasm between what we anticipate or hope for, and what actually transpires. Theatre is sadly not necessarily a meritocracy, although there are plenty of encouraging stories to keep the faith alive…

My friend also asked about dealing with the feeling of emptiness that can follow a project coming to an end, with perhaps no promise of a next step, be that production, touring, etc.

After I answered my friend, she suggested it would be good fodder for a blog, so I have filleted our conversations to share with others. My comments are based solely on my own experiences and beliefs – but I hope that along the way they may be useful for others…

  • define your own idea of success – don’t be swayed by others or what you feel you should be doing/feeling/getting…. Imagine you are creating a library of your work and always keep your eyes on the horizon ie, your own definition of success – most importantly, your own definition of what you want to write, what you want to achieve, what constitutes a career in your own eyes, what you want to communicate with the world.
  • what we do is important and has significance in our own lives. Expect to be upset, to be down when something is finished, and frustrated by what is unknown…. There are so many scripts I have written I would love to go further, have more productions, be readily available through publishing… All I can do is make contact with other artists and theatres and organisations – find my allies – those who love my work and ‘get’ me as an artist – and find those whose work I love and whom I would love to work with. Then it’s about trying to make relationships and it can take a long time – opportunities are scarce and may never come up – but it’s a network, and I try to avoid isolation by supporting those whose work I admire and hope this way we can make a community.
  • theatre is ephemeral – it is energy, a dynamic which is alive and not immortal as it is made by these people in this context in this time….. Once we embrace that and understand that everything ends, it allows us to seek out new beginnings and further engagement. When a company comes together it is a unit in itself, a family, and then it can be heartbreaking when the project ends and we move on… But connections made can be re-connected and also new ones made and new units created and new productions or sharings of an individual script. Often the onus is on us as writers to get the script out into the world – an agent helps, but the vast majority of work I do and the productions I have come through relationships I have built myself with other collaborators over the years.
  • help distract yourself from the emptiness of a project apparently ending with the next one. It always helps to have new projects and ideas ready to be developed, researched, or written. But don’t rush the next one. It will take as long as it takes. Breathe deep and give thanks for what you have achieved, and then give yourself a kick up the arse and set your sights on the next horizon……

The show must go on – and spectacularly so…. In Water I’m Weightless.

David Toole – In Water I’m Weightless. Photo: Kaite O’Reilly

It’s a cliche, the show must go on – and we know cliches exist because they are true…. In the break before the dress rehearsal for National Theatre Wales’s production of my script In Water I’m Weightless last Wednesday 25th July, one of our performers, the phenomenal Mandy Colleran, had an accident and had to be taken to Accident and Emergency. We cancelled the first preview the following night, and, under Mandy’s encouragements, began to consider our options for the performance continuing until she was able to join us again.

There were various possibilities: To get someone, probably the production’s emerging director, Sara Beer, to read in the lines, acknowledging our Mandy-shaped hole in the production, or to rework the complete performance, re-assigning Mandy’s lines to other members of the cast, re-casting, re-blocking and re-choreographing the performance. Cancelling more than the first preview was not, we all agreed, an option, so we chose to do the latter, reworking the whole performance in 24 hours. And so we set off on this Herculean task – and never have I been more aware of the humour, strengths, flexibility, and professionalism of a company…

In Water I’m Weightless is a collage of monologues which are performed collectively, chorally, bilingually, and as solos. It is an ensemble piece, so the cast are practised in working together as one entity – but as it is an ensemble, Mandy’s absence was sorely felt. Swiftly Sara Beer, John McGrath, and I re-allocated the lines, making edits, shifts, and cutting one scene. Overnight the actors – Mat Fraser, David Toole, Karina Jones, Nick Phillips and Sophie Stone – learnt new scenes and staging – appearing virtually word-perfect the next morning for rehearsals.

John worked us chronologically through the script, the technical crew and cast adjusting, amending, reinventing, but always staying true to the original concept and interpretations of the text. We broke for lunch – the actors dotted individually around the front of the Wales Millennium Centre, enjoying the rare summer sun, sandwiches and scripts in hand, running lines, learning the new texts, whilst in the dark of the studio, designer  Paul Clay and the technical crew re-edited videos and replotted the lighting design.

We finished rehearsing the new order in time for a run at 5pm – the whole company going above and beyond expectations in their focus and mastery of the new version – with just enough time for dinner before preparing for the opening, at 8pm. The show went up to a packed audience and with a mixture of pure adrenaline, professionalism, and extraordinary skill the cast and crew carried it off with aplomb. We have a new version which will work well until Mandy rejoins us – and now have a glorious week of performances ahead of us…

Tech rehearsal – In Water I’m Weightless

Karina Jones – In Water I’m Weightless – tech rehearsal

I love technical rehearsals – it’s when all the elements come together and we begin to get a sense of what the show, with all its components, will look like. Never is this more the case as when working on such a large collaboration with so many aspects – spoken, signed, and projected text; live action and choreography; live and pre-recorded film.

DSM Sarah Thomas standing in for actors in tech’.

This is also the time when the work of our fabulous designer and video artist, Paul Clay, truly comes into its own. It’s hugely tempting to reveal his work, so it is with restraint I reproduce these incidental images and hold back on his more spectacular visuals.

From monologues written alone, over an extended period – words on the page – we move into this complex, multi-layered theatrical experience – and I feel incredibly fortunate in what I do.

Olympic Questions: Further responses to LeanerFasterStronger

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Kathryn Dimery. Photo by Amanda Crowther

We are approaching the end of the run of LeanerFasterStronger at Sheffield Crucible, and have had a fantastic response to the work in the regional press, on twitter, and via the Guardian and Sheffield theatres’ website. This is the start of a period of reflection for me – what lessons might be learnt? How much of my initial ambitions and intentions have I achieved?

When I was approached by Chol Theatre with this commission, I had no interest  in sport outside watching Wales vs Ireland in international rugby matches, and no experience of participating other than representing Birmingham in the high jump as an over-excitable twelve year old. I’m a collaborator, not a competitor, so I wanted to understand this drive to succeed – highlighted by the strap line: ‘How far would you go to be the best?’ This was particularly important in relationship to commerce, sponsorship, and big business – the commercialisation of sport and the commodification of our athletes.

Apart from individual athlete characters and their pressures and challenges, I wanted to explore the bioethical issues around human enhancement, sports science, bio- and genetic engineering.

The internet has broadened the field of interaction, commentary and criticism, encouraging dialogue and discussion. Having access to members of the audience’s thoughts and reactions via chats in the bar after the show, to their online comments, can be tremendously useful to a dramatist. It allows a panoply of responses, from the professional critic to the amateur enthusiast, from fellow playwrights and theatre makers to the novice or occasional theatre-goer, perspectives from all walks of life, including sports engineers and elite athletes, the subject and focus of much of the script.

The timing of the production has been pertinent – many have commented on how some of the issues in the production will throw a long shadow across the upcoming Games:

‘…it’s a show bound up with the impending Olympics and the coverage surrounding that,’

the poet Andrew McMillan says on the Sheffield Theatres website:

‘…we’re all invited to be part of the Olympics through all mediums, radio, film, tv, even adverts now, the immersive nature of the piece, casting the audience as delegates watching conversations unfold, to me just simply continued this invitatiom to the Olympics, but examined sides to sport which might not readily be discussed. We debated some of the issues on the train ride home, and that is all an piece of theatre can really hope to achieve…’

http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/leanerfasterstronger-12/


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Ben Addis. Photo by Amanda Crowther.

‘As the Olympic torch moves around the country, I’ll be thinking and talking about LeanerFasterStronger’

playwright Richard Hurford wrote on the Guardian theatre blog: http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2012/jun/01/stage-reader-reviews-georgie-sinatra?INTCMP=SRCH

For me LeanerFasterStronger was a powerful and refreshing example of theatre which not only has something genuinely important to say, but also cares enough about its subject matter to say it in a direct and uncompromising way.

I’m no sports expert and I know little about biotechnology, but like everyone else I’m currently experiencing what it’s like to live in an Olympics host nation. The play rises above the hype, the hard sell and the emotional aerobics to offer a welcome, provocative perspective on the bigger picture. It’s no easy ride and you have to work hard to keep up, which feels appropriate given the themes of the piece. The text is sophisticated, witty and fierce and keeps on throwing out ideas at a relentless pace. However, it’s always accessible and illuminating and not about trying to beat an audience into submission. Rather it’s about encouraging us to keep on pushing forward to consider what actually lies beyond the finishing line, not just for the sporting life, but also for the human race.

The production sticks to the courage of its convictions by placing the text firmly at the centre, intelligently and subtly supported and enhanced by the other theatrical elements to create an effective unity. The moments when the full on debates are invaded by emotionally charged fragments of athletes’ lives -particularly the exchanges between the brother and sister torn apart by the demands of his all-consuming talent – are startling and disturbing. Throughout there’s a sustained and detailed physical underscoring, which at times bursts into the foreground with explosions of intense physical exertion, suddenly thrusting the close-up spectacle of bodies sweating and muscles straining into the faces of the audience.

The theatrical container of a sports conference and specifically the late night boozy discussions of a clutch of delegates from different sports sectors – importantly none of them are athletes and only the hanger-on boyfriend of one of the women seems to participate in any actual sporting activity – provides a clever vehicle to raise and wrangle over the issues on an informed and expert level. It had all the feel of one of those councils of the gods which regularly crop up in Greek myths in which the immortals bicker, throw tantrums and settle personal scores, while casually deciding the fates of humankind with lofty and chilling disdain. Like those immortals the sports delegates have little connection and less interest in what really happens down on the ground, in the stadia, boxing rings, locker rooms, lives and minds of the athletes whose fates and futures they’re shaping over another bottle of wine.

LeanerFasteStronger treats its audience with respect, while insisting we do our bit too. Theatre can engage us through the stories and the experiences of characters, but there’s also a place for plain-speaking. This is one of those occasions and the approach works for the complexity of the subject matter. Some might be tempted by a more conventional dramatic development of the athletes’ stories, but I appreciated the fact that the play kept leading me back to the debate and kept me focused on the ideas rather than lost in the drama.

I really value theatre which leaves me with something I can use in the real world and this is a seriously useful piece of work. As the Olympic torch moves around the country, I’ll be thinking and talking about LeanerFasterStronger.’

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Morven Macbeth. Photo by Amanda Crowther

Many people, including Jane Lloyd Francis, have commented on how they feel the issues in the play will have more relevance after the Olympics and Paralympics are over.

I was honoured when Paralympians Steve Judd and Suzannah Rockett Coughlan attended the performance. They were involved in my research  (see earlier blog: https://kaiteoreilly.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/leanerfasterstronger-a-week-of-olympians-and-paralympians/).

In an email after the show Suzannah said:

It was such an intense play with almost every possible emotion I have had in relation to my sport.
I must confess I found the scene regarding the end of ones career  particularly poignant, as this is an area the public rarely see or to be honest care about as the next star is ready to replace them. Also the family scene was significant and again an area which is rarely touched upon.

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Christopher Simpson. Photo by Amanda Crowther.

Such an honest and engaged response from an elite athlete is humbling as well as gratifying, for through Suzannah’s response I know I have achieved one of my intentions. I sought to tell less familiar stories around sport which revealed the particular stresses of being the national hope for gold.

I will continue reviewing the process, script, production, and response over the coming days and weeks, and give sincere thanks to those who have taken the time and effort to enter this dialogue between spectacle and spectator.

Finally, some thoughts from Julie Armstrong, who reviewed the show for the Sheffield Telegraph:

Sheffield Telegraph, Thursday May 31, 2012  Julia Armstrong

A STRIKING tableau greets the audience as they enter the auditorium, with the four actors striking sporting poses while balancing on stage blocks. This is the shape of things to come as the actors combine fluidity of movement, including rearranging the performance space, with words that move fast through various scenarios. The actors take on different roles to explore issues of what sacrifices elite sportspeople and their loved ones make, at how pure sport really is in our money-driven world and at how technologies could affect sporting achievement and all of our lives.

As part of the city’s contribution to the artistic response to the London 2012 Olympics, Kaite O’Reilly’s new play is a beautifully written and timely examination of issues that have far-reaching consequences beyond the sporting arena, perhaps even as to what it will mean to be human in the future. This is a chilling prospect as she says in her programme notes that she has been looking at the future of real elite sport science.

On a more intimate level, the actors Ben Addis, Kathryn Dimery, Morven Macbeth and Christopher Simpson perform compellingly as individuals and a team to look at what all this means for the people involved, from the athlete whose sister says his pursuit of his Olympic dream has damaged their whole family to the boxer who constantly pushes mind and body to the limit. A smooth-talking sports promoter hangs around in the background like a vulture assured of a next easy meal, ready to drop a star who is past their best.

LeanerFasterStronger, a week to opening: interviews and vox pop.

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Kaite O’Reilly, Dr Dave James and Andrew Loretto.

It’s a week now until the public dress rehearsal of LeanerFasterStronger at Sheffield Theatre’s Crucible Studio, and so preparations and publicity are stepping up. The Sheffield press have been delighted to discover I’m a graduate of the University, and there is some satisfaction in returning to the city and the theatre I attended frequently as a student, with my own production.

imove have produced some trailers for the project, short vox pops with director Andrew, co-producers Susan Burns and Dr Dave James, and myself. Please click on the following links for short videos on the production, from very different perspectives:

Kaite O’Reilly: http://vimeo.com/34130135
Andrew Loretto:  http://vimeo.com/34131024
Susan & Dave: http://vimeo.com/34127106

In certain contexts, I believe it’s important for the playwright to be around early in the rehearsal process to address any issues or queries with the script, but then to withdraw, and allow the company to make the work their own. In previous productions I’ve felt my presence in the room has thrown too long a shadow – the cast have wanted to please me and my notions of who the characters might be rather than freely discover their own interpretations. It’s time, then, to go. Unless we’re following a different process of continual co-creating, I will usually leave rehearsals during the second week of rehearsals, returning in production week with fresh eyes to respond to the work.

With the fantastic LeanerFasterStronger ensemble we have had a different dynamic, as from day one the cast’s ideas have impacted on the final revisions of the script. I saw a ‘stagger through’ on day nine of rehearsals before departing. I’m returning later this week to see a run, and am incredibly excited about seeing the work after a week. All the feedback from the rehearsal floor has been overwhelmingly positive, and I can’t wait to experience the work with the added layers of  Shanaz’s video projections and design, and Shane’s soundtrack.


Opening up the rehearsal process. Guest blog by LFS director Andrew Loretto

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A guest blog by director and Sheffield Theatres Creative producer Andrew Loretto, written on Saturday 5 May 2012: 

And here we are at the end of week 2 of rehearsals for the Sheffield Theatres/Chol Theatre co-production of the world premiere of LeanerFasterStronger by Kaite O’Reilly. Time has flown by in the rehearsal room, but so much has been achieved – including a rough stagger run on day 9.

The project has been an extraordinary two-year journey of collaborative research and discovery – and my aim now as director is to condense and continue this journey in rehearsals whilst also doing everything we can to realise a bold and vibrant staging of this remarkable new piece of writing, owned by all the artists involved. I want our Sheffield audiences to be thrilled, provoked and caught up in the rapid-fire sweep of the play’s arguments.

Having Kaite in rehearsals for the first two weeks has proved invaluable in terms of tackling nitty-gritty textual and contextual questions to help me, the cast and our designers achieve a shared understanding of the many worlds of the play. It has also been helpful for me to share physical and vocal thoughts on the floor with Kaite so that she can see the choices we are making and – crucially for a first staging – be part of those choices. One of the reasons I love directing new work is the joy of having the writer in the rehearsal room – that sense of taking collective creative steps into the unknown for the first time. It is both thrilling and daunting, but as director I place my trust in a wonderfully talented team who I know will get us to our destination.

Alongside interrogation of text, character, setting, emotion and logic, we are also constantly playing with the physical language of the play in response to Shanaz Gulzar’s intimate in-the-round design of video projections that interact with building blocks that can be constructed in various permutations – rather like an oversized child’s play set. I’m keen that we don’t try to literally show sporting sequences on stage. We are not trained, expert sportspeople, but rather a bunch of artists interpreting the essence of the athletes for our audiences. I also feel that a naturalistic physical language would not serve the post-dramatic nature of Kaite’s writing. So we have been playing with various conventions based on broken down scores, shared by all of the performers and interacting with the geometric shapes created by the dispersed set blocks. I have also been playing with the notion that an athlete is still when speaking to us whilst the movement happens elsewhere. This produces the sensation of the athlete being the external observer of him or herself. This serves the text well and helps the audience’s understanding of the thought processes of the athletes we encounter in the play.

We have a wonderful, intelligent and creative team of four actors – each brings generosity, enquiry and complementary skills to the process. My job is to get the cast to a place of embodying the same physical language whilst also celebrating their individuality. With this in mind, and based on the discoveries from rehearsals, our Movement Adviser Lucy Cullingford is charged with empowering the company with a choreographic language that we all understand and can use at various points on the play.

One of my driving forces for making theatre is how we can open up and make opportunities of excellence for others – it flows through all of my work, whether making a large-scale production with an eighty-strong cast of 12-85 year olds for Sheffield People’s Theatre, enabling a student company to tour work to international festivals, or opening up Sheffield Theatres’ spaces to local musicians, comedians, dancers and cabaret artists through the Sheffield Sizzler. It doesn’t matter to me what the scale, level or form of project is, we must find ways of opening up our processes and providing opportunities for others to learn, develop and show their own creative skills.

With this in mind, from the outset LeanerFasterStronger has been designed to carry a range of pedagogical opportunities, including multi-media workshops for local schools led by Chol Theatre, writing workshops and a facilitated play-reading with Kaite and post-show discussion with the company. We are also providing opportunities for members of Sheffield People’s Theatre to work with our cast and become involved in elements of performance as ‘supernumeraries’ (a new term for me). In my role as Sheffield Theatres’ Creative Producer I have been curating a season of workshop opportunities for students reading Theatre Studies at the University of Sheffield School of English. And so I arranged that their final workshop would interface with our rehearsal process.

This is, to my knowledge, unusual in mainstream British theatre practice. The rehearsal room is generally held up as the holiest of holies, not to be disturbed on any account and only accessible to those people most closely involved with the process. And yet we strive (or ought to strive in the publicly funded sector) to provide access to most aspects of theatre-making these days. So why not also the core of making theatre – the working rehearsal room? In the case of LeanerFasterStronger, I not only wanted to provide a workshop based on our process for the students, I wanted to lead a workshop that interfaced with an active actual rehearsal whereby the students would be making discoveries with the cast for the first time.

So it was today that our fabulous company of Morven Macbeth, Christopher Simpson, Ben Addis and Kathryn Dimery were joined temporarily by an extended ‘cast’ comprised of first, second and third year students Amy, Matt, Sarah, Esie, Jade, Naomi and Natasha. Together we were taken through a journey of ‘Viewpointing’ by Lucy, whereby we developed an improvised but highly detailed approach to interacting with the space, set and gestures related to the play. Combined with narrative, character and scenario parameters I set, we jointly developed a rich palette of physical choices that were full of pathos, optimism, moments lived, savoured and lost. The students approached Lucy and my collaborative approach to making work with open minds, focus and great humanity. Until this point our cast had worked as a team of four. Now they were fully able to be observer/participants and step back to observe the bigger physical picture. This was highly empowering and encouraging for the actors – who could see properly for the first time how the physicality of the play would work. Not only that, but the students were excited by the prospect that their ideas would feed into our process – and all of them were keen to come and see the show by close of play.

This got me thinking: why shouldn’t we open up all our rehearsal processes to local students? There cannot be a single creative process from which an aspect cannot be extracted to draw a line of genuine enquiry that can then be explored with students and cast together. Do it – as we did – in week 2. Enough time for the cast to have bonded and know the world of the play, but not too late for things to be set, and there still to be big questions to explore. And not at the delicate, later, highly focused and sometimes high-stakes stages of rehearsal.

Go on theatre directors – particularly those of you in the subsidised sector – plan for it in your schedules. And if facilitating workshops isn’t your forte, talk to your assistant director (if you have one) or a member of the venue’s creative development team. Do it now. What’s your excuse? If in doubt, here’s an extract from an email I received whilst writing this blog from a first year student who took part in our rehearsal:

 “I want to say a big thank you to you and your team for letting us step into rehearsals for the day. How refreshing it was to try something different in such a friendly and warm environment! Getting to do work with professionals was also a tad mind blowing! I found the work you were doing really different to all the training I’ve done in the past.”

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LeanerFasterStronger runs at Sheffield Theatres:  Wed 23 May – Sat 2 June  http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/leanerfasterstronger-12/

Dramatic Structure – Raising the Stakes. Sat 26 May

Make high tension stories that really matter! Learn how to shape plays that will have an impact on your audience and make them care about your characters. Led by Kaite O’Reilly, award-winning writer of LeanerFasterStronger.

http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/dramatic-structure-raising-the-stakes/

Taking the dramatic temperature of your script. Tuesday 29 May.     A practical checklist for effective and dynamic drama: tension, pace, plot, and emotional engagement. Led by multiple award-winning writer of this season’s LeanerFasterStrongerKaite O’Reillyhttp://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/taking-the-dramatic-temperature-of-your-script/

LeanerFasterStronger: collaboration between science and the arts

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Dr Dave James welcoming the company to the Centre.

It’s the first week of rehearsals for LeanerFasterStronger at Sheffield Theatres, and director Andrew has organised a company outing to The Centre for Sports Engineering Research at Sheffield Hallam University.

The project is a fascinating collaboration between scientists and theatre practitioners, part of imove, the Cultural Olympiad for Yorkshire.

In posts last year I wrote about the research residency Chol and Sheffield theatres had at the Centre for Sports Engineering Research, getting access to the motion capture lab’ and other sports science technologies, exploring movement and our attitudes to our disabled and non-disabled bodies.  https://kaiteoreilly.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1034&action=edit

Now, we’re back – the actors who will be portraying the characters I created informed by my research here and elsewhere, supported by the ever-enthusiastic Dr Dave James.

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Entering the lab’

The meeting is a crash course in Sports Science and human enhancement for the actors. It’s a context I’ve become familiar with over the past twelve months and Dr Dave James fields questions on blood doping, enhancement, and other issues the script touches on.

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Morven 

It’s fascinating seeing lines which I wrote informed by bioethics becoming dialogue between diverse but credible characters. When Chol first approached me with the commission, I never thought saying yes would lead me to a biomechanics and sport engineering laboratory.

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It has been a rich experience, collaborating with so many partners, and I’ve particularly enjoyed the challenge of taking academic material regarding human enhancement, placing it within a sports context, and endeavouring to make theatre from it.

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Kathryn in the gym

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