Tag Archives: performance writers

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.

Mentoring Course. Ty Newydd National Writers Centre for Wales: Sharing of work in progress

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Ty Newydd. Photo by Touchstone.

It is a cliche, but it is true: if you are immensely fortunate, mentoring and teaching can be a symbiotic experience. I’ve often seen books about creative writing dedicated to the students of the tutor/writer, and I fully understand that compulsion. I have just worked alongside eight playwrights over six months on the mentoring scheme at Ty Newydd, the  National Writers Centre of Wales. Our final weekend together looms and I feel I have probably learnt as much as I hope they have from our interaction and process together – if not more.

Dramaturgical work brings you to the heart of creating and constructing. I am constantly aware of the form, the medium, questioning and querying how it works, and how I can communicate that understanding to less experienced dramatists. The effort of engaging and trying to diagnose dramatic ills, to offer potential solutions or ways forward for the playwright to explore and decide what works best for her ambitions and intentions is edifying; to find the language to clarify rather than mystify during the process is challenging but improves my own articulation. To advise the playwright on his script whilst in the process is exhilarating and a privilege. I feel like a visitor in a photographer’s dark room – observing the characters and world of the play as they magically form in the developing fluid.

So this weekend brings the end of this most recent mentoring scheme, and we are keen to celebrate and share the evolving scripts. I also want to give the writers a taste – however briefly – of the rehearsal room and the revising process that may follow from that, so we are Doing It Ourselves. We also want to invite any interested parties who may be in North Wales this weekend along:

Saturday 13th October 2012

Lloyd George Museum, Llanystumdwy, Cricieth, Gwynedd. LL52 0SH.

7.30pm 

We will be reading excerpts from eight new plays by

Julie Bainbridge

Sandra Bendelow

Anne Marie Durkin

Sean Lusk

Martin Pursey

Marie Quarman

Maria Vigar

Tom  Wentworth

Admission free

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The Ty Newydd Mentoring Scheme is led by playwright/dramaturg Kaite O’Reilly. Over a six month period the eight selected writers on the course are supported throughout the process, from initial pitch to polished second draft.

A new scheme, for writers young in career will commence in December 2012, also led by Kaite. For further details on this course, please go to the Ty Newydd website or see: https://kaiteoreilly.wordpress.com/2012/08/08/mentoring-project-for-new-and-emerging-playwrights-working-with-kaite-oreilly-dec-2012-april-2013/

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

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/

Setting up a writers group …. Guest Blog by Sandra Bendelow

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Publicity for the Writing for Performance Group, set up and led by Sandra Bendelow – presentation on 19th April 2012, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, 7.45pm.

Kaite O’Reilly writes:

I first met Sandra Bendelow some years ago when she came to support the rehearsed readings of Travelling Light: The Mentoring Scheme I led for several years at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. We both live in West Wales and are acutely aware of the dearth of opportunities for performance writers here. Travelling Light was my way of contributing something, but Sandra has since gone above and beyond. I admire her immensely, as she has set up her own Writing for Performance Group – creating not just a community, but support and opportunities for herself and fellow writers and theatre practitioners in a place where there weren’t any, before. This Thursday 19th April the group are presenting The Town With No Traffic Wardens at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. I asked if she would guest blog about how and why she created this group, and what lessons she has learned along the way. I’m delighted to reproduce her email, below:

Sandra Bendelow writes:

It is almost a year now since the Aberystwyth Writing for Performance Group met for the first time. The reason for setting up the group was simple, I wanted a writing group to go to but there wasn’t a performance writing group in the area. But I dithered for a long time wary that running a group would distract me from my own precious writing time. However it’s been the opposite, it’s made me far more productive. Monthly meetings and deadlines for the next showcase are always on the horizon and the fact I lead the group means I really can’t get away with excuses for not writing. I have to lead by example and that means I have to be producing work.

I knew that I wanted it to be more than a monthly meeting of writers. It was about Writing for Performance so I wanted to get the work of the group produced as script-in-hand readings.

Aberystwyth Arts Centre runs a programme called Open Platform which allows anyone to propose a project to be performed in the Round Studio. Open Platform is a great scheme which allows small companies and individuals to perform their work so I knew there was a structure in place at the Arts centre that would allow us to do rehearsed readings.

Gill Ogden, Head of Performing Arts at Aberystwyth Arts Centre embraced the group right from the start, offering support, space and potential performance through Open Platform should we choose to do it.

I remember that very first meeting of the Writing for Performance Group filling me with complete fear; would I be sitting alone for two hours wondering if anyone else would turn up? if anyone turned up would I be able to “lead” the group?

Groups are also very tricky things, dynamics of groups operate around a strange indefinable vortex. Groups can often be maddeningly flat stifled things or explosive, combustible things – and that’s any group let alone a creative one!!! Also let’s face it, us writers are often freakish creatures of one form or another. Was it really advisable to take a group of writers used to secreting themselves away into lonely dark rooms, drawing them out into the daylight and putting them into a room together?

However the group has always surpassed my best expectations. It has an interesting make-up of writing backgrounds, a number of former prose writers who wanted to try their hand at theatre, a number of screenwriters interested in expanding their portfolio and a few with some theatre writing experience.

As for the dynamic of the group I literally couldn’t have created a better one, it’s supportive, it’s entertaining, it’s firm but fair. It’s an exceptionally good dynamic for a group and that is sheer luck.

At the very first group I suggested that we could put together a showcase of short plays, together we discussed a theme and came up with beginnings. The group threw themselves into it, they had no choice, a date was set, it was in the brochure. They had to get writing.

The writers were writing but also I needed to find performers and directors. Aberystwyth has a thriving community arts culture full of exceptionally talented people so this part was actually much easier than it should have been. In fact many performers and directors contacted me to say that they were interested in being involved in the project.

All performers and directors involved in the first project, Beginnings declared a wish to be involved in future projects and Town with No Traffic Wardens comprises of performers and a director all involved since the first project. The director Richard Hogger, a writer himself, is incredibly passionate about new writing and very supportive of the group. He is also extremely patient with the writers, sometimes it has to be said, more patient than we deserve.

Our incredibly talented cast Tom O’Malley. Julie McNicholls and Sian Taylor are joined by four of our writers who are also performers, Dan Rebbeck, Carmel George, Branwen Davies and Tony Jones. Again, patient is a word that springs to mind with the performers. In creating a supportive environment for writers, where the writers needs dominate, the performers do have to deal with taking a far more subservient role than is usual. The performers are actutely aware of the writers presence in the room and repeatedly tolerate the writers demands and needs with heart warming sensitivity.  The demands on the actors are hard, playing through a multitude of characters, style and tone.

Town with No Traffic Wardens began as a proposal by me that we looked at a subject relevant to Aberystwyth to root the group firmly in its location and to explore how to structure a full length play by working together. We worked together exploring the subject, the potential themes, the possible scenarios, the potential characters. Then each writer wrote their own plays, we did initial an read through of each play and shared feedback. The individual plays developed further. Some of the writers chose to respond to the themes in one plays which began to create a cohesive sense within the piece of exploring the different sides of the stories. We began to stitch the pieces together. There were a few gaping holes which had to be plugged but also we had to look to find framing devices. In the end many of the framing devices are elements that will come into play when we move the piece to full production which is scheduled to take place later this year though once the piece has been presented to the public we will look to see what else can be done from the writing perspective to frame the whole piece.

It has been fascinating to see how different writers approach the same subject. Many of the writers found it difficult, feeling the subject to close to them or finding it hard to connect to a subject thrust upon them. It is an important part of a writers skill-set to be able to respond to a commissioned subject so it was important to find ways to connect the writers group to the subject. Part of the ongoing process has been to find ways to fire that connection – continuing to discuss headlines and stories that emerged locally – looking for that spark. I think that the strongest moments in Town with No Traffic Wardens, as it currently stands, come from those writers who found a way to write their own plays whilst still maintaining the connection to the Town.

For some of the writers this is their first time writing for theatre for others it is still just their second play to be presented for public consumption. All of the writers are still very new to the world of writing for theatre, they are still very fragile and vulnerable to how an audience will perceive their work. But all of them are getting their work out there, not just writing it their rooms for an audience of themselves and trusted love ones. They are thrilled by seeing their characters come to life, they are enjoying the moments when an audience laughs at your jokes, they are feeling the power of making an audience feel the pain of a darker moment.

Town with No Traffic Wardens weaves through a vast world of interconnected stories, stand-alone stories and scenarios. Comedy plays a very strong in many of the pieces and yet also a few of them touch on darker elements which has given Town a vital balance of light and dark moments.

Carmel George, Catrin Fflur Huws and Sean Langton have explored the world of journalism including local, national and TV journalists, exploring the motives behind the stories journalists choose and questions what is “news”.

Three of the plays operate almost as stand-alone pieces, Tony Jones piece explores events spiralling out of control, Branwen Davies explores whether loneliness is actually a bad thing and my play is a journey inside excuses and justifications for bad behaviour.

I have lots of favourite things about Town but amongst the top ones are; the character of Chardonnay created by Branwen Davies for Combating Loneliness. She is such a delightfully dippy character who gets thrown into a very dark situation.  Julie Grady Thomas has written her first play, Death of a Traffic Warden for the play. For months Julie, who is a screenwriter, has been coming along to the groups, listening in the background, unsure if she was really interested in theatre and then she’s produced an incredibly moving monologue from a traffic warden on her last day before losing her job. Marit is another new member who has never written a play and yet she’s produced two surreal little stories full of amazing dialogue.

Town with No Traffic Wardens is still very much a work in progress with a a group of writers who are still very much works in progress. Writers still finding their voices, finding their feet, stepping precariously along a pathway. But most importantly they’re writing.

It’s been an incredibly successful first year, and in our second year we plan to move onto a radio writing project, a run of longer plays and a full performance of Town with No traffic Wardens, and a Writing Festival in summer of 2013.

Working towards clarity – excerpts from a mentoring process for dramaturg geeks

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Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus.

Excerpts from a mentoring email exchange between Kelina Gotman and Kaite O’Reilly.

I was recently asked to interact and support librettist and director Kelina Gotman on an innovative interdisciplinary project she is making with composer Steve Potter for London Sinfonietta’s Blue Touch Paper: 100 Combat Troupes.

On 19th Februry 2012, Kelina first sent me her draft libretto and some questions in an email she wanted engagement with – queries about structure and narrative. This began what I felt was a fascinating exchange, a process of mentoring where, through our interactions, Kelina clarified the concepts, dramaturgy, and intentions of the piece. By seeking my involvement – a stranger she had not yet met – Kelina had in effect decided to externalise her thoughts and creative process, responding to my queries and opening up in a remarkably fearless, and imaginative way. Her emerging thought processes became transparent; her rough initial explanatory notes consolidated into clear intentions and key concepts, culminating in the Preliminary Notes on her script, which I have included towards the end of this post.

Looking back over the development of her ideas and the forming of her thoughts in our emails, I felt I had participated in a wonderfully rich and rewarding exchange – and one which I thought might be of interest to those engaged with process and dramaturgy, too – so this is a one-off post, documenting a process, especially for the dramaturg geeks.

Kelina and I met twice, and I met her collaborator, composer Steve Potter, once over the past two months.  The following are excerpts from Kelina and my private email exchanges on dramaturgy and meaning – they were never intended for public scrutiny, but I have received Kelina’s permission in reproducing them here.

The emails are slightly edited (identified by a series of dots), but otherwise I have not rewritten anything with a view for publication, nor have I changed the layout, spelling, nor corrected any typos. The occasional word has been inserted [like this, in square brackets] to assist comprehension and there is a ‘dialogue’ where I inserted my responses to Kelina’s questions into her original emails, using capital letters or a different font.

None of Kelina’s script (apart from her preliminary notes) is reproduced here, just our email exchange. 100 Combat Troupes, as part of Blue Touch Paper, will be previewed on Wednesday 16 May from 7.30 at Village Underground, Shoreditch, London.

100 Combat Troupes   

Music by Steve Potter

Libretto by Kélina Gotman

 First full exchange by email – initial thoughts and queries from Kelina (KG) to Kaite O’Reilly (KOR) on her draft of 100 Combat Troupes:  9th February 2012.

 KG:   Here is some of what I’m thinking about / what I would love to talk about and look at when we meet:

1.  Structurally, flow / narrative (or conscious lack thereof, in the case of narrative): we have developed an episodic structure, with virtually no narrative through line, though there is some sense of characters, and they do evolve…. But is the piece legible? Accessible? An episodic structure, with juxtaposition of scene-worlds, can create a wonderful sense of chaos and ‘sense’ emerging out of non-sense. If it is pulled off well- it approaches dream logic; but if not, it just loses people. I hope we can achieve the former, not the latter. So perhaps we can think about this in terms of the script and mise en scene.

2. Structurally/framing:…. you may have read in the press release that we were working with a Borges story (‘The Circular Ruins’), but transforming the Dreamer into a cast of revolutionaries, working together to dream up other possible worlds. This has sort of receded- or shifted- yet I think it remains formally significant, in terms of a framing device. We currently have the musicians standing in as these dreamer/revolutionaries, though nothing indicates it formally in a very explicit way…. I realised as if a thunderbolt had hit me that actually we were staging not so much an episodic structure as a denkbild (thought-image), specifically the Angelus Novus that [Walter] Benjamin describes, after the painting of the same name by Paul Klee. You’re probably familiar with it, but basically it’s the angel of history being blown inexorably into the future, with its back to it, looking at all the rubble of history, helplessly (and in despair). In a way, what we have is – in fact – not so much an episodic structure as a series of flashes- these scenes all go by very, very quickly- of history, and dreams. The angel actually emerges in the last scenes. I’m not interested in saying this explicitly- perhaps it’s just a figure we’re working with- but this notion of the explosive constellation at the end of time…. operates slightly differently from the episodic form… So, is the overall frame clear enough, or are the foundations clear enough at least on our end for the whirl of text and image to be anchored (and thus for the audience to enjoy this, even if they don’t understand what they’re enjoying exactly, and puzzle over it after- which I think is a great response to any work) (I’d much rather the audience feel stimulated, excited, and puzzled, as if they couldn’t put their finger on what they had seen, than to offer something simple and digestible on first watch…).

3) Moral/political ambivalence: Another thing we’ve gone for is an ambivalent sense as to the value of this ‘dreaming’. To a large extent, of course the take-home message is: dream! We need to dream. This is the year of Occupy, and the decade of the Arab Spring. Crony capitalism won’t go on forever. What do we want next? But rather than look just at political alternatives, we’re going the whole way and juxtaposing this with wackier worlds, nonsense worlds- also politically to say, these are important too. We need to remain playful. Joyce and Lewis Carroll are part of this world too (art needs to be funded, etc.) (this is also a political stance)…. Revolutions also produce dictatorships; technicolor dreaming in fantasyland also produces Disney, which in its sickliest version wrecks lives through too much disconnection with ‘reality’. We’re interested in these contradictions.…. it’s the ambivalence we want to inhabit… How do we make this moral complexity productive, rather than just confusing? The idea is that there are no simple answers… and we should be able to be okay with this…

KOR’s email to Kelina. 5th March 2012, after a face to face meeting.

 KOR: ….I think some of the confusions I experienced were based on the draft nature of the text – ie, as director and writer, perhaps you were writing in shorthand as you had a strong sense of how each moment might be realised in your mind – ensuring this information is on the page may ensure misunderstandings don’t occur again and may help clarify themes, actions, motifs, and aesthetics both for you and your collaborators.

I love the truth in the old EM Forster quote – ‘how do I know what I think until I hear what I say?’ I think it was very revealing, the distance between what you described [when we met] in response to my query of themes and intentions of the work, and what’s actually on the page. Sometimes when in the process, it takes a while for everything to co-exist in the same time – and for the lingering ghosts of ideas to quit or be excised from the stage.

I think looking at each structure as an entity in itself, then scrutinising what the content is, how that might be read, plus the meaning it takes on when in juxtaposition with the other structures and the order in which they appear and therefore the whole – is essential.

I am also curious about the music, its tempo-rhythm, quality, energy, content and ‘sound’ and the impact this will have on the scenes. In many ways I was commenting on a fragment –

 Email interaction – KOR’s inserted responses into Kelina’s email. 12th March 2012

KG:   …..Narrative/not-narrative. I was really struck by the extent to which you were finding narrative in there, and this has gotten me to rethink how to create radical polyvocality/push at the limits of incoherence to arrive at something that still is cogent, precisely as multi-perspectival. What I mean is that I want to push further in the direction of mood/different worlds, so that we’re not seeing narrative through lines, but rather a juxtaposition of worlds, as we had intended. (Having just seen the Cage Songbooks at Café Oto last night, I’m even more thinking about how to create these slightly anarchic multiple perspectives/non-hierarchical, but still with some coherence- that’s the challenge). What I’ve also realised is that this is not to discount the presence of ‘characters’ in these worlds, only that we need to reinforce the fact that they’re same actors, different people across these worlds. Like I said verbally, I think this will be greatly aided by the fact that they’ll radically be changing their voice and body masks, but I’ll need to really emphasise that, and have it be clear in the script.

KOR:   GREAT! I agree, it’s clarifying the DIFFERENCE between the figures/characters per ‘world’ – I’m doing similar with a show I’m doing for Sheffield Crucible – doubling and tripling – showing it is the same 4 PERFORMERS, but different ‘characters’. i think the change of body mask/voice will be essential – that was not clear in the draft I saw and so it invited the notion of narrative/journey of ONE figure/character throughout  – that’s what I mentioned re-[getting an undesired sense of] progression/continuous action.

I worked with a neuroscientist on my play about the brain – The Almond and the Seahorse – and he couldn’t emphasise enough that we are hot-wired for narrative and our brains will always try to find links, patterns and logic in even the most fragmented situations…. There are experiments where people are given a few tiny fragments and yet the brain/imagination will draw in something that is coherent and has a unity. Grotowski always said the montage exists in the eye of the audience – and of course that’s true. It’s, ironically, the balance between showing enough illogic to prevent a linear narrative (as the brain will look for narrative and connections), but also ensure it’s not so abstract as to irritate the audience and make them feel it’s ‘non-sense’ they’re witnessing…. There needs to be that pleasure and satisfaction, too….

KG: Frame: we’ve decided that really this piece is staging the Benjamin Angelus Novus, and so to just forget all this stuff about Borges, and stop trying to tell that story as background-to-where-we-got-now. I need to relearn to tell the story as a denkbild, and as the angel of history looking back over the rubble of history, being blown inexorably into the future. And that rubble is contemporary market capitalism, so the rubbish is definitely junk from the marketplace. And the musicians are the 1%, in grey suits, with ashen faces. …Will also cut the Beckett reference, which is unnecessary. But yes, in a way we’re streamlining the story/structure: this is just Benjamin/angelus novus, and we’re going to try to tighten up the mise en scene.

KOR: … Fantastic…

 Exchange by email – 14th March 2012.  Capitals are by KOR, inserted as responses into Kelina’s original email:

 KOR: …WE HAVE TO ASPIRE – I ALWAYS THINK OUR AMBITION SHOULD POTENTIALLY EXCEED OUR GRASP, SO WE ARE ALWAYS YEARNING AND STRETCHING OURSELVES AND TRYING TO ATTAIN THE (IM)POSSIBLE…..  I THINK YOUR INTENTIONS ARE SO MUCH CLEARER AND THIS WILL MAKE EVERYTHING FAR MORE ‘CLEAN’…

KG: …I’m not sure this is helpful as an email. I should really rewrite the script – or just revise, making all these things more clear.

1. The play is enacting Benjamin’s figure of the angelus novus.

2. It is a constellation of image fragments, depicting scenes from the last couple hundred years; they should be jarring, discontinuous, but also funny, critical, and evocative of tropes from popular and political culture (feminist critique in Disney sequence, eco-critique in cereal box sequence, etc.).

3. The audience experience (if there is such- of course they’ll all experienced this differently) is a massive shock to the system/don’t know what hit them/bordering on overwhelming/baffling/hilarious, but that’s also what we’re interested in… through that mess, shafts of light, that reconfigure how they see themselves in a world… yes… gone mad (because our world has gone mad/is mad, and it’s healthy to see it that way sometimes, even if in Technicolor/exaggerated and sped-up form).

 KOR:  THAT ALL SOUNDS GREAT – AND SO CLEAR AND FOCUSED! I THINK WITH SOME OF THE MONOLOGUES YOU’VE WRITTEN – THE CEREAL BOX, ETC – THERE WILL BE A REAL LINGUISTIC SPIN FOR THE AUDIENCE – THE SENSE OF DAZZLE FROM WORDS, WITH WIT AND HUMOUR AND ‘STRANGENESS’, TOO….

KG:…Um.. signing out for now… I really hope this is not more confusing than before. It feels clearer in my head! Will send updated script as soon as I can… have been really swamped…

 KOR: THIS IS SO CRYSTAL CLEAR…. IT IS THE OPPOSITE OF CONFUSING. REALLY WELL DONE AND MY WARMEST WARMEST WISHES DURING THIS REVISION PERIOD….

Kelina’s preliminary note for collaborators, extracted from the new, revised draft after our second face to face meeting, with Steve Potter.  1st April 2012.

 KG: From script: Preliminary note about the text and mise en scène: This piece stages a denkbild, or “thought-image”: that of the Angelus Novus, or Angel of History, painted by Paul Klee and described by Walter Benjamin in his “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” The Angel of History is being blown inexorably into the future, facing the past with horror. He can do nothing of the detritus spread out before him at his feet, which he witnesses in flashes. This is a constellation, a time fragmented, exploded, outside time: it is messianic, perhaps – time in which (here) all of modernity and capitalism is exploded, in shards. We stand in and outside of it simultaneously, from a vantage point that is estranged, but caught; trapped, but lucid.

The scenes, thus, operate as shards in this explosive constellation: they may partake of a single world, but they are discontinuous. These are not characters whose trajectories we follow, but personages woven in and out of disparate scenes, coexisting, bleeding or blending in and out of one another, without constancy, and without a singular narrative through line. This is a radically polyphonic universe: voice and body masks indicate shifts in the quality or mode of delivery from scene to scene, which change pitch, tone and hue. Some scenes are humorous, even hysterical; others are more sombre, or tranquil. All pass by so quickly that the audience hardly has the occasion to process what has happened before we move onto the next. Yet through this constellation, and these flashes, a sense of powerful alienation emerges, estranging these fragments of modern capitalist life: we see desperate dreams of Disney princesses; eco dreams of houses built romantically from scratch. Anarchism flashes by as a possibly viable alternative, before being tossed into a psychedelic dreamscape of hallucinogenic proportions: speed leads to exhaustion, which leads to insomnia and manic desires – a conquering Adam’s redrawing the rivers and oceans of the world – before all this folds into the messianic hum of quiet laughter, old jokes, and a ghostly forgetting: not quite redemption, but a sense of community or commonality that is oddly, uncannily familiar…. 

KOR’s email response to the revised draft. 1st April 2012:

KOR:  I think there is much more clarity here – I do think some of the very good introduction you have written [above] would be useful as a programme note – you don’t need much, just that clarification of thought-image, shards of discontinuous exploded world(s) and not ‘characters’ with linear consequential action, but figures woven in throughout…

I think there reaches a point where we go ‘enough on paper – we need to see it, now’ – and I feel we’re virtually there. I think it’s very ambitious, what you set out to do (especially with our hot-wired for narrative brains!) and I think that multi-vocal, fragmented thought-image you wanted to create is certainly in existence in these few pages – the concept is clear, the work of the actors and musicians defined – time to flesh it!

…I think the concept is much clearer, as is the aesthetic and ‘rules’ of the worlds you are creating and getting your figures to inhabit, be it briefly. I think the clarity of images and what you are communicating will be obvious once you start rehearsals.

My only thoughts when we met were

1) about linking the Angelus Novus to the singer on her stage truck…. You may want to decide how pronounced or subtle that is once you start getting the work ‘up’

2) drawing out that link between the central concept/image (Angelus Novus) and the quote from Marx  [“The social revolution […] cannot draw its poetry from the past, but only from the future. It cannot begin with itself before it has stripped off all superstition in regard to the past.”] – you’ve started to pull that out more, and it’s pleasing to me – question is, whether you need to tweak or echo or develop that connection more in the end…

I also wonder if you want to be more explicit (as opposed to putting it in brackets!) when you refer obliquely to the 99% and Occupy Wall Street/St Pauls, etc movement. If it’s important that reference is understood and received by the audience, you may need to make the reference precise. Your scenes are dystopias and not necessarily this world we inhabit now – if a figure refers to political activity/peaceful social disobedience and you want the audience to know this is referring to the occupy movement, you need to make it explicit, as the audience may assume you are referring to an imaginary world. If this isn’t important, no matter – but if you really want the audience to get that reference, you have to say so.

One other thought is probably unnecessary to state, as you are also director – but as a writer, I would never leave responsibility of an important moment to an actor to have to improvise…. You need to script that – even if roughly, otherwise you’re putting a lot on the actor (even if you are also directing the performer)… To a strict dramaturg (which I can often be), this looks like the writer copping out of an important moment! I often pull people up on this – when the stage directions tell us how scary or amazing this improvised or rehearsed moment will be…. As strict dramaturg, I would say if this involves language and text, a script should be provided for the actor to improvise or jump off from – so I think you have a little bit of extra work to do here!

That aside, I wish you all the best with this. I’ve really enjoyed our short but stimulating interaction – I will also write something at some point on my blog, but will run it by you first, to get your blessing before putting it in public domain.

Kelina’s response to KOR’s edited email exchange as possible blog post. 4th April 2012:

KG: Hi, this is GREAT! It is so great to see the conversation traced… as narrative (of course, now am conscious of a different ‘voice’- the voice that becomes the blog post… but no matter)… You have my blessing.

Thanks again for such a stimulating set of meetings and exchanges. I’ve learned hugely, and hope dearly that we’ll continue to be in touch!
Kélina

LeanerFasterStronger: Auditions

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The Sheffield Crucible and Lyceum theatres at dusk,  16/3/12. Photo: Kaite O’Reilly

I have always admired actors, but after this past week sitting the other side of a desk to them as they audition for LeanerFasterStronger, my admiration has massively increased.

The talent out there is humbling, and we could cast the production many times over, each new combination bringing different strengths and interpretations  to the fore.  I don’t envy Andrew Loretto, who will direct the production in May and so the person who has to make these final, impossible decisions.

LeanerFasterStronger is more a performance text than a ‘play’ – it will require doubling of parts, physical scores, and therefore great flexibility and speed from the performers in making these transitions. Owing to this, Andrew is bringing together an ensemble company, so the casting decisions relies ultimately on that mix. I think in many ways this is harder than more conventional casting, where the actor may be ‘up’ for one role – the part of Ophelia, say.  It has been my delight and honour to meet so many talented performers – not every playwright gets access to this process of auditioning – but from the start Andrew and co-producer Susan Burns of Chol wanted my involvement throughout.

Some weeks ago  I selected some excerpts from the script to be given in advance to the actors invited to audition, so the readings weren’t ‘cold’. What has been most impressive is the array of interpretations of the characters these actors prepared – each relevant, credible, and illuminating aspects of the characters I had never anticipated. This is why theatre is a collaborative art: performance writers may write the script, but the flesh is provided by the creative engagement of the rest of the company – primarily the actors and director, but also the scenographer, the sound and lighting designers…

It was extraordinary to sit and hear so many different approaches to words I had written – some words which, prior to this,  had only been ‘voiced’ inside my head. Speeches I had written and which we had deliberately taken out of context to the whole (not identifying gender, or background, or situation) suddenly belonged to bodies and were given emotions and psychologies and ‘back-stories’. I saw how performers can create a whole world out of a short monologue in order to give it a logic and meaning – I saw how inventive and thorough and extraordinary they are. My appreciation of performers’ skills and imaginations grew and grew.

Now the auditions are over and Andrew is making his final decisions and negotiations. After many days and several cities, I sat this week in a bar opposite Sheffield Theatres with Susan and reflected on an extraordinary process. I took the photograph gracing the top of this post and invited Susan to guest-blog here, giving her perspective of the process. That post will appear shortly, as will the announcement of our cast. The preparation is almost over. Soon we will be deep into rehearsals and another very different process…

(c) Kaite O’Reilly 17/3/12   Happy St Patrick’s Day, all.

Revision notes (3): read your work aloud

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Some years ago I was asked what I, as a writer, actually did all day. I was in the process of revising a script, so I answered truthfully: I spent the whole day talking to my imaginary friends.

Writing can be noisy work. Performance writers are creating dynamic, pace, tension and flow. All that, plus characters, plot, aesthetic, and the world of the play is created through dialogue. Owing to this, I can’t stress enough the  importance of knowing how your words move when spoken aloud – how they feel and emerge from a living mouth – what your work sounds like when uttered in a room.

It is often only in a read-through of a script we become aware of any tongue-twisters or difficult sentences we may have inadvertently created; it is there we note if a line sounds stilted, histrionic, or chimes false. Sudden unexpected little rhyming couplets emerge and accidental puns or double entendres. It is alarming how often what we thought we knew so well can surprise us – even ambush us. Reading the dialogue aloud when you write it is one way of avoiding this.

I find I can identify sections that are ‘flabby’ or need attention simply by half-murmuring the lines when I read the play. I can also find the sentences that jar because there are too many syllables in them, or not enough – and all this impacts on the greater whole.

Plays are written to be spoken. It makes sense that we should check the rhythm and flow by saying those words aloud. It helps us to check whether the dynamic between characters moves in the speed and pace we want at that moment. I often compare writing to composing music – it’s good to check each section follows the patterns and has the energy appropriate to the atmosphere we are trying to create at any point.

I’ve worked with writers who are bewildered as to why a scene which they know should work doesn’t. They’ve honed it, included all the necessary components of plot, rising tension, good characterisation – and yet it still doesn’t have the desired impact or emotional effect. We have then edited a few lines – perhaps changed the length or rhythm of several – and suddenly, to their astonishment, the moment works.

A speedy staccato back-and-forth may undermine and destroy a tender moment, or one with tension and gravitas – but that dynamic leading up to a slower, more evenly spaced section can help heighten the moment by contrast.

Movement of text has an impact on the audience and how it receives the information. Try and ensure you use the appropriate dynamic, flow, vocabulary and interaction. Reading the text aloud will help this.

(c)kaiteoreilly 13 October 2011