I’ve always hated the star-making machine – the way even early in career actors can be labelled ‘leading man’, ‘character actor’, ‘supporting role’, etc. Unfortunately I’ve observed this in various actor-training establishments, where the fate of a performer seems decided even before they’re out past the (drama school) gate.
I’ve been invited to final showcase productions for the industry, where graduating actors hope to attract agents or interest from casting directors. I’ve seen young in career performers snatched up immediately and thrust before the cameras (several graduates I saw a few years ago are appearing in major roles in block-buster television series this autumn). I’ve also seen the bias of some of these showcases – the way there are lead parts and other less demanding parts… I’ve seen the disparity in stage-time and tasks of the actor – so when director Kirstie Davis approached me about writing a text for the LAMDA showcase she was directing, I was more than willing.
We settled on a re-working of La Ronde (originally Reigen), Arthur Schnitzler’s scandalous expose of sexual mores across every strata of Viennese society, first produced in 1897. It has an intriguing dramatic structure – a ‘daisy-chain’ of duologues, where two figures interact, then are seen again, with a different partner, in a new setting. When considering how to approach the text, I was less interested in the sexual aspect of the original, and more engaged with the various encounters the characters might experience. Following the feminist notion of self, I was interested in exploring how we are not ‘fixed’ solo entities, but shape-shifters, changing in our roles and engagement depending on context.
The result, LIE WITH ME, was a commission from London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, presented by their FdA Professional Acting and FdA Stage Management and Technical Theatre Students, performed in the LAMDA Linbury Studio and directed by Kirstie Davis in 2017. The play is an exploration of the connections and degrees of separation between individuals in post-truth, contemporary urban life. In my writing, I sought to reflect the realities of our times (Brexit, climate crisis, vloggers/virtual ‘influencers’, refugees and zero hours contracts, et al) – and in a fair and balanced way, with parity to all the cast.
The dramaturgy of LIE WITH ME gives equal playing time to all the performers and when writing, I set myself several tasks: each character had to have some kind of monologue, a meaningful action, and dialogue. The focus was on ensemble acting, and enabling each actor to show their breadth of their skills in two contrasting scenes.
It was terrific to see the work come to live back in 2017 with Kirstie’s stunning production. I always hoped that the text would have a chance for another outing – and so am delighted to reveal it has been selected as the final production showcase for ITI – Intercultural Theatre Institute in Singapore this November.
INTERCULTURAL THEATRE INSTITUTE (ITI) based in Singapore, trains artists who want to make original, impactful contemporary theatre. ITI is shaped by theatre doyen Kuo Pao Kun’s vision of intercultural learning that draws from a matrix of traditional theatre systems and modern theatre-making.https://www.iti.edu.sg/acting-school-singapore/
I have a long relationship with ITI and have been teaching seminars on Intercultural Dramaturgy there for over five years. I believe it is an unique training opportunity for today’s theatre makers; its faculty and alumni are impressive and filled with both vision and integrity. It is therefore even more of a pleasure and privilege to have one of my plays feature during their showcase at the stunning Esplanade Theatres in the Bay in November 2019, directed by Phillip Zarrilli.
The challenge that faces me now is adapting the script for a Singapore context, but the student actors are more than capable of guiding me on this. We recently had a readthrough of the text via Skype (certainly not the first time I’ve participated in rehearsals via Skype!). Phillip and I also set the cast specific tasks, from researching possible locations for the scenes to the cultural and political perspective on subjects as diverse as economic migrants, sexual identity and military service. I will document our process as we develop and when I join the company in Singapore later this autumn.
Meanwhile, closer to home, Taking Flight theatre company’s production of my play peeling has embarked on an autumn tour (trailer and details below). Here also is work and a company resisting the normative ‘star-making machine’ – a cast of Deaf and disabled performers presenting a metatheatrical play which interrogates representation of difference on stage, and the position of ‘atypical actors’ in this image-obsessed industry. I wish the cast and crew all the best on the tour and thanks again to director Elise Davison and producer Beth House.
It is only through writing new work, with new protagonists and dramaturgies we may make space for those beyond the limited normative notion of ‘leading ladies’ and the ilk. It is only through the collaboration of directors like Kirstie Davis, Elise Davison and Phillip Zarrilli, and organisations like ITI who challenge and expand the essence of what ‘actor-training’ is, that other voices, other bodies, and other stories get their fair time and space on our stages.
18th Arlington Arts 01635 244 246 https://arlington-arts.com/
20th TheaterFestival Grenzenlos Kulture, Germany
24th Hertford Theatre* + 01992 531500 https://www.hertfordtheatre.com/
25th Malvern Cube 01684 575 363 https://www.malverncube.com/
26th The New Wolsey Theatre 01473 295900 https://www.wolseytheatre.co.uk/shows/pulse-presents-peeling
28th Wolverhampton Arena 01902 321 321 https://www.wlv.ac.uk/arena-theatre/
2nd The Welfare, Ystradgynlais 01639 843163 https://thewelfare.co.uk/
3rd Courtyard Theatre, Hereford* 01432 340555 https://www.courtyard.org.uk/whats-on/
4th Bedales Theatre 0333 666 3366 https://www.bedales.org.uk/events/our-venues
5th Jackson’s Lane 020 8341 4421 https://www.jacksonslane.org.uk/
Matinees at these venues
+ BSL interpreted post show Q & As at these venues
Funded by The Arts Council of England, The Arts Council of Wales, Ty Cerdd and Birkdale Foundation.