Tag Archives: Paul Whittaker

20 Questions…. Paul Whittaker

Continuing my occasional series on probing process and creativity with a wide range of artists, I’m delighted to introduce Paul Whittaker’s 20 Questions

Paul Whittaker

Paul Whittaker is a Cardiff based Artist, Writer and Filmmaker. Having worked as a freelance Filmmaker for over a decade, Paul completed his Masters in Creative Writing at Swansea University achieving the grade of distinction. Since he was diagnosed with Bi-Polar Manic Depression whilst studying for his BA in Film Paul has spent his life exploring his own condition through the Arts and working with the Public Sector. Several of his projects made with Public Health Wales have received National and International recognition. Driven by a desire to continually expand his knowledge base Paul has exhibited as a digital artist, worked in theatre, television, dance as well as independent film. His numerous clients include – The Sherman Theatre, The Old Vic, Channel 4, Mind Cymru, The Kevin Spacey Foundation and Arts Council Wales. His play Gods and Kings opens at The Sherman Theatre, Cardiff, 6-9 September 2017, details below.

What first drew you to writing/directing/acting?

Ever since I could remember writing has been a way for me to purge my mind of thoughts that if left unexplored would become rules that limit my existence.

What was your big breakthrough?

As an 18 year old I worked for my father’s architectural practice and people used to come into the office to do photocopying. One day I noticed a man copying a script. It turned out that his name was Glenn Chandler and he was the creator of Taggart. One night I got the courage to buy him a pint and told him that I wanted to be a writer. He accepted the drink and told me to give him a sample of my writing and if he thought I showed promise then he would sit down and talk to me. After reading my work I had three years of weekly writing sessions until I left the village.

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

Due to my mental condition I have often written for the wrong reasons. I have written through negativity, arrogance, revenge, contempt, ignorance – my words weighted to make my case in the firmest way possible; but I have only ever experienced success when I write from a place of openness and honesty.

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

 Throughout my childhood I constantly read books of fantasy and adventure and every few years I still re-read The Swiss Family Robinson but the writing that changed me was Billy Bob Thorton’s screenplay Slingblade. I saw it after I had been diagnosed and it was the first honest voice about living with a mental illness that I encountered.

What’s more important: form or content?

 For me content has to be first but choosing the correct form to write that content can make or break a project.

 How do you know when a project is finished?

 I don’t know when a project is finished. I have written to deadlines and had to accept that my time was up but, if I can, I like to let work sit and revisit it at a later date so I can read it with an emotional distance and a critical eye.

 Do you read your reviews?

Gods and Kings by Paul Whittaker. 6-9 Sept at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

 

 I am a man who does not do social media or google himself but reviews are different – but you have to know how to read them. The first play I wrote was in response to a lack of authentic characterizations of mental illness. Whilst the members of my audience with lived experience thanked me for my honesty, a reviewer, who generally liked the play, felt unconvinced by the portrayal of my condition thus proving my point.

What advice would you give a young writer/practitioner?

 This may seem against conventional wisdom but I believe you should read less and write more. Meaningful success only comes when you discover your voice and stop emulating the voices of your literary heroes. Writing is a craft and you must learn it through hard work, dedication and openness to criticism.

What work of art would you most like to own?

 Though technically not a work of art I would like to own the carved edifice of Hamelin Cathedral in Germany.

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

 I think the biggest myth is that people are out there looking to steal your ideas so you must hide them away under lock and key instead of talking them through with others.

What are you working on now?

 I have my first solo art exhibition coming up in 2018 and I am collaborating on a number of theater and dance productions. Just like every writer I am also always working on a novel that may or may not ever see the light of day.

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

 I think I would have liked to have created any of the works from the Old Masters simply because I cannot paint and I am in awe of their skill. I was so bad at drawing bowls of fruit at school my teacher let me sit in the corner and write to save us both the pain of my efforts.

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

 I wish I had known I had some ability. I have countless anecdotes of professionals that I respect telling me that I can write but even as I type this I am still unsure.

What’s your greatest ambition?

I’m not going to lie and not say – be financially secure. It is what we need to follow our dreams. In lieu of that I would be happy just to help someone understand themselves or others better.

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

 The only way I have found to counter insecurity is to surround myself by people I respect and listen to their voices over mine.

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

 It wasn’t honest.

 And the best thing?

 I still think about it.

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

 In my case if I don’t give my mind something to nourish itself on then it starts to consume itself.

What is your philosophy or life motto?

 Be a shepherd or a wolf but never a sheep.

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

 People care and are willing to give of themselves greatly to ensure that a project succeeds.

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

 Hannah Gordon.

Gods and Kings by Paul Whittaker

Paul’s production of God’s and Kings runs at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff, 6-9 September. Challenging perceptions through powerful drama – further information and interviews here 

Booking details here

For further information about Paul Whittaker and his work, please visit www.hideproductions.co.uk

Five languages, spoken and signed: at work on ‘The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’

Ramesh Meyyappan and Sophie Stone ‘The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues’ by Kaite O’Reilly, an Unlimited International Commission

I have known performer/visual director Ramesh Meyyappan since 2004, when I saw his non-verbal physical theatre adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell Tale Heart at The SubStation in Singapore. Since then our paths have continually crossed – at DaDaFest in Liverpool in 2005 shortly after he relocated to the UK, at the Vienna Deaf Theatre Festival around 2006, where I was presenting a paper on my work and was able to participate in his performance workshop. Over the years we have continued to meet, building a friendship and an appreciation of each others’ work. I’ve longed to work with Ramesh since I first saw him on the stage thirteen years ago…. and finally it is happening, in a project which unites the place where we first met with the place we now live.

Ramesh is a performer and visual theatre director for my Unlimited International Commission And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues

I am immensely excited about his involvement in this ambitious project, an international dialogue about disability, Deaf experience, diversity, and difference, from opposite sides of the world. I will be writing future blogs reflecting on our process – it is complex, a multi-layered project involving grassroots engagement and research. My collaborators Peter Sau and Lee Lee Lim, plus other members of the Singapore team are amassing material from interviews  which are inspiring the fictional monologues I am writing. Time is short… We will soon be combining the UK and Singapore teams, collaborating in September to present r&d sharings at Centre 42 in Singapore.

Ramesh Meyyappan and Sophie Stone in T’y-n-y-Parc Studio. The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues

This project has allowed me to indulge in playing ‘fantasy cast’…. Once I knew Ramesh was on-board, I knew I had to bring him together with Sophie Stone, a long-term collaborator who I have written parts for in my Unlimited Commission/National Theatre Wales 2012 production In Water I’m Weightless and Kirstie Davis’s production for Forest Forge Woman of Flowers (2014). I also suspected that these two innovative artists wanted to work together – so to be able to bring them together at our initial exploratory workshop at The Llanarth Group’s T’y’n-y-Parc Studio in beautiful west Wales was a dream.

Unfortunately owing to other work commitments, Sophie is not able to travel to Singapore with us in mid September, so we were sure to capture her presence through the project’s filmmaker, Paul Whittaker. The project will combine live camera, pre-recorded material with live action, so it was excellent to film Sophie so she can join us in the r&d as a mediatised presence.

Sophie Stone

This initial weekend of exploration in early August 2017 enabled me to try out emerging material and experiment with multiple languages. Completing the company was director Phillip Zarrilli and performers Grace Khoo, and Sara Beer.

I had given text to the company to translate or reinvent in different languages in advance of our workshop: Sara into Welsh, Grace into Mandarin, and Sophie BSL and visual language, Together  with Ramesh using Singapore Sign Language, we layered five spoken and visual languages together, resting on the baseline of English.

One of the monologues – ‘What Not To Say To A Person Who Is Depressed’ – was explored as an ensemble, simultaneously cutting between BSL, Welsh, English, Mandarin, and ‘Singlish’ – a variety of English spoken in Singapore incorporating Chinese and Malay. I began to appreciate the possibilities of humour as well as poignancy in this multilingual experimentation.

Grace Khoo, Sara Beer, Sophie Stone in rehearsal. The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues by Kaite O’Reilly

It was a phenomenally creative weekend, experimenting with multiple languages and form. Ramesh started creating a physical ensemble piece, responding to texts I had sent him and some extracts from some of our research interviews, and we had a chance to discover collaborative modes.

Sophie will of course be hugely missed when we gather in Singapore in a month’s time – but at least we will have her digitally….. and I can’t wait to get the full company together to start this creative and cultural dialogue.

For more information on Unlimited, go here.

Commissioned and supported by Unlimited, celebrating the work of disabled artists, with funding from Arts Council of Wales and British Council.

playing ‘The Maids’ video – Wales, Ireland, South Korea, Singapore, Austria….

Earlier this year I was dramaturg and co-creator of an intensely exciting intercultural production between The Llanarth Group (Wales), Theatre P’Yut (Korea) and Gaitkrash (Ireland): playing ‘The Maids’. Documented elsewhere on this blog, we responded to issues in Genet’s ‘The Maids’ in the contemporary global context of austerity and boom.

Flyer_playing_the_maids_FRONT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Whittaker of Hide Productions documented several performances, and I’m really thrilled to be able to post the link for a stunning film he has made of the work.

You can see the work here

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to make a trailer. The Echo Chamber. The Llanarth Group.

Poster for The Echo Chamber, The Llanarth Group, 2012.

Poster for The Echo Chamber, The Llanarth Group, 2012.

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We know that live performance is ephemeral. We know that much of the energy and impact of a theatre production relies on the relationship between the spectacle and the spectator. It is famously tricky to document, especially with moving images as opposed to, say, a stark mood shot in grainy black and white. A video of a show often comes across as empty and hollow, lacking the dynamic and life of the original performance.

It is also immensely difficult to condense and translate material from one medium into another, whilst staying true to the integrity and tone of the work.

Owing to this, I have great respect for film makers and editors who can take footage from a performance and transform it into a trailer, retaining a sense of the mood, aesthetic, and content of the original. It seems to me to require very particular skills – a deep understanding of the concept, content, and any visual metaphors or symbolism the performance uses, the ability to transpose this from one form to another, a good eye and strong editing skills combined with a mastery of montage. I feel a good trailer should suggest and intrigue. Like a good appetiser, it should prepare the palate for more.

Given all this, I was delighted to receive the trailer made by Paul Whittaker of ‘The Echo Chamber’ by The Llanarth Group. We previewed the show earlier this year in Cardiff, working with Peader Kirk, Ian Morgan, Ace McCarron, and Phillip Zarrilli.

I see the piece as very grown up, dark, and concerned with existence and the wider universe. See how terrible that sounds, and I was the writer/dramaturg of the piece! What chance would Paul have in communicating something of the tone and atmosphere, when a co-creator flounders?

Please have a look yourselves and make your own conclusions. I include the link, below, to the trailer on youtube. It’s best watched full screen, volume high, in the dark. And if you feel like it, please come back here and tell me what you think.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpSoq-qPvnI