Tag Archives: David Eldridge

20 Questions…. David Lane.

Continuing my series on the same 20 questions asked to creative professionals from across the spectrum – from Burlesque to Ballet, poetry to photography. Now as his latest play opens this week, David Laneshares his answers to my 20 Questions…

David Lane

David Lane

David Lane is a playwright and dramaturg. As a writer he has been commissioned by Half Moon Young People’s Theatre and Theatre Royal Plymouth, the egg and Engage programmes at Theatre Royal Bath, Chichester Festival Theatre, Forest Forge, Salisbury Playhouse, Theatre West, Travelling Light, Immediate Theatre, Proteus Theatre, Blue Brook Productions and The British School of Beijing. He is Artistic Associate of Part Exchange Co’s interdisciplinary R&D project The Engine House in Bristol and has worked as dramaturg with award-winning devising companies including Fine Chisel, Dirty Market, multistory and with rural touring producer Beaford Arts. He is author of the book Contemporary British Drama, has written published articles exploring dramaturgy and new play development in the UK and writes the weekly playwrights’ information bulletin Lane’s List. His new play Free is at Half Moon Young People’s Theatre from 15 – 18 Oct then on national tour including Plymouth, Bath, Bristol, Portsmouth, Norwich and Canterbury. Click here for a 2-min video preview.

 'Free' by David Lane

‘Free’ by David Lane

What first drew you to your particular practice?

The Drama degree I was doing at Exeter University started a dramaturgy module in my second year, and it was about adaptation and looking at how scripts worked: I was given an assignment to create a season of plays by Contemporary Women Dramatists that I would then have to justify and ‘sell’ to an executive producer and artistic director (competently played by my two lecturers at the time). I read about 40 plays in two weeks and got hooked on structure and composition and how plays talked about the times in which they were written: it was my first training in looking at all the different maps for crafting a text that could exist, how they could all be different but be equally effective on stage, and why they mattered to the audiences of the time. I then tried to put this sort of studying into practice by writing a one-person Greek tragedy at the end of my degree, slavishly following the dramaturgical principles of a tragic narrative. It was embarrassingly rushed, but that was the beginning of my to-and-fro relationship between the right-brain of craft and dramaturgy and the left-brain of playwriting and creativity.

What was your big breakthrough?

My first commission with Half Moon Young People’s Theatre for my play Begin/End in 2007. Getting paid to write and having a play on tour and reviewed in national press felt like validation and being a grown-up professional for the first time. It shifted my attitude towards what I was doing and I began designing (though I didn’t realise it at the time) my process as a playwright.

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

I find creating characters takes me more time than anything else. Structure and dialogue and language and a sense of the theatrical are all things that I find much easier, but getting inside somebody else’s head and making informed choices about their actions in a story takes me a long time. I’ll often do a lot of research and very often the characters will absorb that information into their dynamics. It can make writing a slow process and I’m trying to challenge myself at the moment by writing quickly, reaching more inside myself than outwards to other sources of inspiration.

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

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was something I read at university, didn’t completely understand, still don’t, but which did that thing that sometimes happens when you encounter a significant text or work of art, of overwhelming you with its complexity – the sheer heft of thought and the reach of its ideas was mesmerising. I’ve gone back to it countless times and would love to adapt it for the stage. It’s just been adapted for radio by Peter Flannery in fact, so I’m looking forward to listening to it.

What’s more important: form or content?

Content. Form can help the heart beat stronger, but if there isn’t a heart, it’ll never live.

How do you know when a project is finished?

When I’m happy to have conversations with the rest of a creative team about it without feeling the need to go back and fiddle and change things: when I can leave the rehearsal room knowing it can speak for itself.

 Do you read your reviews?

Yes. I think getting over bad reviews (I’ve had a couple) is a good way of strengthening your mettle and a healthy reminder that you will never please everybody.

What advice would you give a young writer/practitioner?

Create the space where you can practice being a writer: don’t wait for somebody else to give it to you.

 What work of art would you most like to own?

If you could resurrect Rachmaninov and have him in the corner of my room to play his third piano concerto on tap whenever I wanted, that’d be great.

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

That inspiration will get you everywhere.

What are you working on now?

I’ve a new play for teenagers called Free about to go on national tour, which is exciting. I’m working on an adaptation of a brilliant adventure novel for teenagers called The Savage Kingdom by Simon David Eden for Chichester Festival Theatre; on Earthed, a site-specific audio-story in four parts about man’s relationships with the Earth across 40,000 years for Part Exchange Co; a play about the time-limited annual reunions of South and North Korean family members separated by the war 50 years ago, with director Sita Calvert-Ennals; and a play which is a response to the alleged chemical attacks by Al-Assad against his own people in Syria in August 2013 – a story that has now been consumed by much bigger media noises about Islamic State, but which I want to explore further. It’s about grief, parenting, art, protest and politics: so just a small undertaking. I also continue to work with other writers and companies as a dramaturg and workshop leader.

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

I hope I’ve still got time to create it myself!

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

What my writing process was.

 What’s your greatest ambition?

It would be hard to beat a play at the National at some point.

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

I talk to my wife who is still my best cheerleader and first-reader-of-drafts.

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

That it was narrow-minded, unfeasible, illogical and hard to swallow. It was a script-reader’s report on a play I wrote one day (as in, over the course of one day) whilst at university. It was a good lesson: they were right!

 And the best thing?

‘We’d like to commission it.’

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

Cooking. A passion to mix up what’s in the world and create something new from it. Trying to perfect a recipe. Some slow cooking, some fast cooking required. Various different sources of heat and energy available. Continually re-invented.

 What is your philosophy or life motto?

Whatever decision you make, make it the best decision you’ve made.

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

From David Eldridge: ‘at the end of the day, it’s just a fucking play.’

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

Nicolas Cage.

'Free' by David Lane.

‘Free’ by David Lane.

 

Playwright vs performance writer

There’s an interesting discussion going on National Theatre Wales’s on-line community in the writers’ group re- the difference between ‘plays’ and ‘live performance’, ‘playwrights’ and ‘artists/performance writers’, and the opportunities available to each. This has prompted me to engage on that site, and now here, with what is a very old chestnut indeed…

For years I’ve been contesting the separation of ‘playwrights’ and plays from ‘performance writers/makers/artists’ and texts. At various gatherings and symposia I’ve attended over the past decade and more (usually around that other unnecessarily loaded term ‘dramaturgy’), I’ve  almost come to blows when denying and descrying what I see as an odd and artificial schism. On one memorable occasion about eight years ago, I was denied kinship with the cool crowd of live performance makers because I’d written a three act play for the Birmingham Rep’ in 2000 and was therefore a ‘playwright’ and into realism and naturalism and the fourth wall and other forms of conservatism… When I challenged this with reference to my other work deemed by critics and academics as ‘experimental’ and ‘post-dramatic’, they didn’t know where I should belong, for it seemed never the two should meet….

It seems to me definitions have generally been:

Playwright = one often working alone, primary or solo voice/vision, usually (but not always) in more established classical Western theatrical forms (naturalism/ three act structure)

Performance writer = one working perhaps collaboratively, usually in more ‘experimental’ or less conventional forms (ie, not our three act structure with the 4th wall, etc).

It seems to have been useful for some in the past to create this division, and going by the NTW site, it still is causing disruption and discord, as well as engaging and interesting debate.

It reminds me again of the debates I was involved with last year at West Yorkshire Playhouse over ‘the end of new writing’ with Lyn Gardner, David Eldridge, Suzanne Bell, Dawn Watson and Fin Kennedy. Worth having a look again, if you’re interested, and Alex Chisholm’s original essay (links, below).

As to me… I just reiterate what I wrote on the NTW site: a writer is a writer is a writer and if we can be flexible in our approach and the forms we write in, so (in my experience, at least) can the funders and commissioners….

I’m sure I’ll come back again to this subject, but meanwhile leave you with those links past and present:

http://community.nationaltheatrewales.org/group/writers  (but you need to join the community before you can comment)

https://kaiteoreilly.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/the-end-of-new-writing/

http://exeuntmagazine.com/features/the-end-of-new-writing/

http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2012/may/18/new-writing-all-black-play

Progressive dramaturgy….

I recently met David Lane at a workshop I was leading in ‘Alternative Dramaturgies’ at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol. We were looking at how a script ends up being the shape that it is, considering some of the other dramaturgical elements involved in making a blueprint for live performance outside dialogue, characterisation and action. My interest was in exploring the organisational principles which might inform process and the dramatic structure, including aspects such as logic, tempo rhythm, metaphor, poetic/dramatic schema, and so on…

This exploration of dramaturgy continued this morning, when David sent me an email about his involvement in Hannah Silva’s The Disappearance of Sadie Jones, currently in production at Exeter’s Bike Shed Theatre. David and Hannah were in discussion earlier this week about process and dramaturgy, and a transcription of that conversation is available on Hannah’s blog, at the link, below. David wrote:

‘Our hope is that it not only creates a useful window on the work of the dramaturg but also opens up some vital questions about how new plays are developed, why progressing our dramaturgical thinking around what a play is might be useful, and how embracing different development processes for writers might entertain a broader range of new plays being produced.’ 

I fully support this and feel wider discussion is necessary. Lyn Gardner, Suzanne Bell, Fin Kennedy, Dawn Walton, David Eldridge and myself came to similar conclusions about the necessity for more flexible developmental processes for writers in our panel discussion at West Yorkshire Playhouse’s festival last Spring. Perhaps if we keep having these discussions, and publicising the debates, change may happen…?

(I’m hopeful…We’re playwrights and dramaturgs… we’re optimistic…we know about change…)

http://hannahsilva.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/progressive-dramaturgy/

The end of new writing?

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Is it time to get rid of the label ‘new writing’? What is the relationship between new performance and new writing? Are existing developmental structures in theatre companies specialising in new writing ultimately counter-productive and stifling creativity? How can we avoid being caught in development hell? These, and other issues, were part of a panel discussion I was part of at West Yorkshire Playhouse (WYP) a few weeks ago.

The End of ‘New Writing’? became a discussion point on WYP’s new writing blog, and the subject of an interesting feature by associate literary director, Alex Chisholm, in Exeunt magazine: http://exeuntmagazine.com/features/the-end-of-new-writing/

Alex clearly defines what she means by ‘the end of new writing’:

I am not talking about getting rid of writers, or plays, putting on plays by first time writers or young writers or not quite as young as they once were writers. I am still as passionate as I ever was about putting on plays written by all kinds of people.

What I am talking about is re-thinking and re-fashioning of the processes, assumptions and aesthetics that make up the sub-genre of British theatre known as New Writing, and most particularly an end to the, in my opinion, unnecessary opposition between New Writing and New Work.

I was in discussion around these issues at WYP’s writing festival with fellow playwrights David Eldridge and Fin Kennedy, director Dawn Walton, and Royal Exchange literary associate Suzanne Bell, chaired by Lyn Gardner, cultural commentator, blogger, novelist, and theatre critic of The Guardian newspaper.

My comments on this event are not necessarily representative of the wide-ranging discussion; being part of the panel has naturally favoured the points that were of personal interest or subject of my frantically scribbled notes as the event occurred. Despite these limitations, I hope that a fragmented partisan report will be better than none.

We were asked to make some provocations or reflections on the subject before the conversation began. What follows are some of my own:

Yes, I believe we should get rid of the term ‘new writing’ – it was a useful phrase and essential initiative nearly twenty years ago, establishing literary departments across the UK’s building-based theatres and promoting theatre writers and their plays – but it’s done its work, it’s time to move on. Shouldn’t processes reflect and engage with the ever-evolving  forms and types of live performance being made now? But before we throw the baby out with the bathwater, or allow economic demands to squeeze and insist one size fits all (it doesn’t), I feel we should be clear on the different processes and contexts within which new work/new writing is made – and the different concerns and skills appropriate for each to thrive.

I think it is important to differentiate between developing the writers – nurturing, advising, and supporting young in career writers – developing/ giving feedback on the script – and then the dramaturgical work which may occur when working towards production.

Literary managers – or literary associates/directors as they seem to be increasingly called these days – often get an unfair bashing. I salute these great allies – they are often the first contact between a writer and a theatre – they champion, nurture, and develop new, emerging, arrived, and possibly even on the wane writers. They are passionate about writers and writing and performance and will often insist – as Suzanne Bell consistently did in the discussion – on the importance of keeping the writer – and the writing – at the centre of the process.

(As an aside – I’ve stood many times in literary departments, both as a poacher as well as a gamekeeper, and shuddered at the pile of unsolicited scripts waiting to be read, and smiled gratefully at the faithful readers steadily working their way through the piles. In one memorable incident fifteen years ago, they were stacked from the floor to level with the bottom of my left ear lobe – and I’m five feet seven inches… From that moment, my respect for the inhabitants of a literary department swelled.)

This work is skilled and very much appreciated, yet all of the playwrights on the panel commented on the dangers and frustration of being trapped in a seventh circle of developmental hell – held in a holding pattern – being endlessly developed and workshopped, and not a production in sight…. We of course are not guaranteed a production, and much depends on economics. I’ve heard theatre companies say they would rather have rehearsed readings than no ‘new’ work – and often the only way to work with a writer or begin a relationship is through offering them development…

This forced us again to return to the question about existing developmental structures in theatre companies specialising in new writing… Is it too rigid, too prescribed? My concern is it can homogenise the talent and stifle creativity.

There seems to be a recognized ‘type’ of play in form and content which is ‘the new play’. Like the snake swallowing its own tail, this definition or notion of the content, style and form of what constitutes a ‘new play’ helps shape workshops and feedback, and how courses are run – and these in turn help shape a particular kind of play…. It can be a vicious circle.  I compare it to the recognisable  ‘style’ of short fiction which has been developed through creative writing postgraduate degrees, especially in North American Universities: it’s well done, polished, professional work, but it can be somewhat ‘safe’ and anodyne. Similarly, I feel a kind of ‘new play’ template exists – and woe betide those (and I write from painful experience from being in development both sides of the Atlantic) whose work does not easily or comfortably fit into this ‘one size and process fits all’ model.

Although I personally loathe the distinction between ‘new writing’ and ‘new work’, I want us to be honest about the different skills and understanding which is required when working across a broad range of theatre styles and dramaturgies. Many in literary departments have predilections and specialisms – like everyone else in the business. Few individuals have the skills and experience to advise and guide across the full range of possibilities, from naturalism to post-dramatic performance, sign theatre or multi-lingual texts, site-specific work or forms incorporating movement or music, physical scores or puppetry, and so on.

Too often an untrue and false delineation is made, where ‘new writing’ equals character-driven naturalism, with linear chronology and consequential action; whilst ‘new work’ covers the non-naturalistic, montaged, more experimental styles. ‘Writer’s theatre’ is often viewed as the former, ‘director’s theatre’ as the latter. I’m only one example of a large number of dramatists who work in many ways, both sides of the ‘divide’, writing scripts, through a variety of processes and forms, which encompass both ‘camps’. There is a danger in over-simplifying and compartmentalising – but neither should we believe there is one process or a sole system. In my ideal world, when going into development with the intention of production, the creative team would be custom-made to serve the work – chosen by their specialism, experience, and skills accordingly.

Everyone on the panel felt theatres specialising in developing playwrights and plays shouldn’t be viewed as a ‘one stop shop.’

Playwright Mike Kenny spoke from the floor, responding to the panelists’ general assertion that a script was more than words on a page, and so the focus on ‘readings’ and polishing the text central to so many developmental practices undermined the three- dimensionality of a play – and its collaborative nature. Mike reminded us we are playwrights – wrights – and our work is as much about architecture as words. He also felt there exists a haziness about our work – he felt strongly that the world didn’t understand what it is we actually do – and it is important that work is done, ‘otherwise you get a shambles.’

During the discussion audience members asked how we might avoid this ‘holding pattern’ when we may be in development indefinitely, and never deliver a final draft that would then go into production. Fin gave other models of creating plays and new work – citing his own experience as playwright-in-residence at Mulberry school for girls in Tower Hamlets, East London, between 2007-10. During those years, they took productions he had written, developed with the students, to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where they won a Fringe First, and created a credible alternative route to developing work. Fin writes about the process at: http://www.finkennedy.co.uk/The-Mulberry-School-connection 

In addition, we spoke of making grant applications to the arts council to fund the development of new work – something playwrights are entitled to do, but seldom seem to act on.

Interestingly, David Eldridge warned against playwrights’ expectation of having their scripts developed. He reminded us it isn’t actually a right to have plays workshopped, and felt there was an unhealthy expectation that this was a course of action all scripts deserved. He also emphasized the power our work has, quoting Mark Ravenhill’s assertion that we don’t have to be Tom Stoppard to say ‘can we not meet in the theatre?’ and so meet elsewhere, on more neutral territory, which might create a more balanced and healthy power dynamic in these burgeoning relationships.

I felt a keener example of how to avoid developmental hell was revealed when David spoke briefly of his own process – how the first draft he delivers to literary managers when under commission is actually usually his third. The work will therefore be more polished and developed than the majority of scripts at this stage – the playwright’s understanding of the world of the play will be so much more defined, technically it will be more accomplished and crafted, and so less likely to invite major discussion, feedback and advice on development, or be ‘fiddled’ with.

And so we returned again to the central question – whether it was time to get rid of the term ‘new writing’.  It was a motion the whole panel seemed in favour of, and several directors and producers in the audience commented, alongside Dawn, on the difficulties in securing bookings and selling ‘new writing’ in these cash-strapped times. I referred to National Theatre Wales and how ‘new writing’ has never featured in any description of their work – nor even, in my memory, the words ‘new work’ or even ‘new performance’. As a body, we wondered if we should simply call what we do live performance, or theatre, and leave it at that.

‘The new’ has also been in discussion this week, from a different perspective, at the literary managers forum, reported on the Writers Guild website. John Morrison writes:

The forum, hosted by the Almeida Theatre in Islington, brought together around 40 literary managers, mostly from regional theatres, to focus on whether the current stress on developing and promoting ‘new writing’ tends to discourage theatres from putting on plays that, in fashion terms, are almost new, but not quite. ‘In the last ten years we have seen a unprecedented amount of writer development,’ Amanda explained. ‘There’s a fantastic back catalogue of contemporary British work, but do we value it in the way we should? Are we seeing plays passed over in favour of the new, the new, the new?’

For the full report and some terrific provocations over the lack of second productions and the creation of a ‘Primark play – to be worn once and thrown away’ – go to: http://www.writersguild.org.uk/podcasts/296-literary-managers-forum-2012

There is also a podcast of the discussion, including the always excellent Suzanne Bell at:

http://www.writersguild.org.uk/news-a-features/theatre/283-theatrical-writing-fashion-zara-primark-or-oxfam

I hope this report has been stimulating and would to have readers’ thoughts and responses to these various events and debates. Please leave your comments, below. I’m sure this is a discussion which will run and run.

© Kaite O’Reilly 15/6/12

Is it time to get rid of new writing? Kaite O’Reilly on panel discussion, West Yorkshire Playhouse

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6 – 7.30pm.    30 May 2012.

Courtyard Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse,                           
Playhouse Square, 
Quarry Hill, 
Leeds
 LS2 7UP. 

Is it time to get rid of new writing?

Over the last 20 years British Theatre has witnessed a phenomenal growth in New Writing. But has New Writing become as much a curse as a blessing. In particular is there a harmful and false division between ‘New Work’ and ‘New Writing’? Is there too much development and not enough productions? Is there a ‘New Writing’ sort of play and is it killing off other kinds of writing? Come discuss these and other matters in a lively debate with:

Suzanne Bell
 New Writing Associate, Manchester Royal Exchange

David Eldridge
 Playwright

Fin Kennedy 
Playwright

Kaite O’Reilly
 Playwright

Dawn Walton
 Artistic Director, Eclipse Theatre

http://www.wyp.org.uk/what%27s-on/2012/is-it-time-to-get-rid-of-new-writing/