Tag Archives: plays

What is a dramaturg?

In preparation for my work teaching dramaturgy in Singapore at the Intercultural Theatre Institute next month, I’ve been collecting definitions of what is often, in the UK at least, a slippery customer….

My seminars will be part of four perspectives – the playwright’s, the director’s, the actor’s and designer/scenographer’s. I’m excited, as part of the time I will be co-teaching with collaborators from actual productions of my plays, or performances we have co-created. We will be deconstructing the text, roles, and decision-making process, as well as sharing play texts and video/documentation of those specific performances with the students. I hope this will demystify what can be a perplexing and opaque process, and is the most holistic and revealing approach I have yet to come across.

The role of the dramaturg and the definition of dramaturgy can vary hugely. The understanding of the role in the German state theatre context is immensely different from many examples in the US repertory theatre system – and different again in the UK. To kick us off on what I hope will be a regular feature on this blog is a definition culled from the RSC’s ‘Radical Mischief’, Issue 02 from May 2014, and the associate dramaturg for the RSC’s Midsummer Mischief Festival, Sarah Dickenson:

‘The term “dramaturgy” refers to the art or technique of dramatic composition and theatrical representation: the means by which a story can be shaped into a performable form. All performance works have a dramaturgy, mostly sharing a set of base principles but diversifying widely within that. This dramaturgy is first created by the playwright/ makers when they construct a story for the stage, is developed in rehearsal by the director, designers and actors and then comes to full fruition in the interaction the performance has with its audience. This process varies, particularly if the piece is devised or physical, but the key points remain.

A dramaturg is concerned with supporting this process at some or all of these stages. In practice, that job might involve many different tasks, from the identification of performable work, to working with a playwright through several drafts, to hands on support in the rehearsal room. Sometimes it’s as simple as having a cup of tea with a theatremaker as they wrangle with a particularly tricky aspect of their piece. However, always at the heart of the dramaturg’s role is the ability to constructively, clearly and sensitively question a piece of work towards making it the best it can be, without confusing, overwhelming or blocking those making it.”

Sarah Dickenson in RSC’s Radical Mischief. Issue 02. May 2014.   @sedickenson

I will be sharing further perspectives and experiences later on this blog.

 

Reinventing old stories, making the ancient contemporary

Sophie Stone in 'Woman of Flowers' by Kaite O'Reilly

Sophie Stone in ‘Woman of Flowers’ by Kaite O’Reilly

How do we take old stories and make them new, and relevant to our time?

We know (or we should know) there is no such thing as ‘original’ – the same plots have been going around for millennia (there’s only seven plots, apparently). I’m pretty sure the average soap opera concerns the same things ancient Greeks sat down to watch thousands of years ago – and I would like to include Chinese historical soaps in this, for they also cover warring dynasties and great battles.

Human beings are endlessly fascinated with other human beings. We gain great pleasure from watching ordinary people deal with extraordinary situations and grow, change, learn new skills, succeed, fail… We root for the underdog, we fair-minded gentle folk secretly love the dastardly ‘baddie’ – we project ourselves onto the protagonist, identifying with her, breathing with her. We have such an appetite for narrative it is extraordinary we never use all the possibilities up… Which brings me to reinvention, and finding perspectives pertinent for our times.

We know that Shakespeare used many received stories, and that the ancient Greek playwrights consistently revisited the same store of deities, symbolic figures, and conflicts. Today, adaptations of existing work are immensely popular. A glance at the mainstream London theatre scene for this week alone throws up reinventions of The 39 StepsThe Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare in Love and Ostermier’s participatory An Enemy of the People. I saw this update of Ibsen at the Schaubühne in Berlin two years ago, filled with cover versions of Bowie’s ‘Ch-ch-ch-changes’ done with acoustic guitar, live on stage. I don’t feel Ostermier succeeded fully in making the piece contemporary, but it was a bold move, and one that’s proved popular.

So how do we make the old new, with resonance for the times we inhabit? I ask this question often in my work. Over the past few years I’ve been involved in exactly this – reinventing existing texts and stories. My version of Aeschylus’s Persians for Mike Pearson’s 2010 site-specific production on MOD land for National Theatre Wales won the Ted Hughes Award for new works in poetry, and my latest play, currently touring, is a reworking of the the myth of Blodeuwedd from the fourth branch of the Mabinogion.

For me, the first stage is obsession. It’s all very well deciding to update an existing work, but if something about that story doesn’t grab you by the ears and pull you face-first into the narrative, don’t even consider starting.

I’ve been obsessed with Blodeuwedd for years, ever since I first moved to Wales and discovered the ancient text. It is fascinating and compelling: the woman of flowers made to be wife to a man cursed by his mother; the woman made to serve, who discovers desire and plots to have her way; the unnatural creature reared in nature red in tooth and claw, transformed into an owl as punishment for her transgressions… I could write many other versions of the story from different perspectives, which is what makes ancient texts so rewarding to work with. In my reworking of this myth in a commission from Kirstie Davis from Forest Forge, I had to settle on one approach, and one which I felt would have resonance to the times we inhabit.

The second stage is to find the angle that reverberates with current events. Without giving the game away too much, for me approaching Woman of Flowers, this involves the rise of all kinds of fundamentalism, and the corresponding belief systems, creation stories and values made through rhetoric and words. In the original, Blodeuwedd is made by Gwydion, the greatest living storyteller, from the flowers of the forest. I wanted to explore the power of language in this retelling, especially as we use visual language (theatricalised sign) as well and spoken and captioned English in the production.

I have also been very concerned with the rise of modern slavery – disturbing stories in the media of intolerable working conditions (the recent SOS written on clothes labels for Primark), and people kept against their will and treated as slave labour (a case most recently on a farm in Wales).

A further stage when remaking is to respect the original, but not to be strait-jacketed by it. As writers, we need to be free to work with the material as we see fit, but not to be directed into a dead-end by details, nor be imaginatively contained. I’ve had to shake off many ‘I really should…’ compulsions, ‘but the original…’ doubts. The aim is to have integrity in the handling of the material and its original elements, and to respect it, but not be dominated by it. We sometimes have to work against the authority of the text in order to find new ways of saying old things.

woman_of_flowers-96x148-1The text Woman of Flowers has been published by Aurora Metro and available at performances as well as here

The Forest Forge Theatre Company production opened in September and continues to tour nationally until November 1st 2014. Full tour details with links here and below.

Woman of Flowers tour

October 2014

Tue 14 19.30 Quay Arts, Isle of Wight, PO30 5BW 01983 822490

Wed 15 20.00 Brixham Theatre, Devon, TQ5 8TA 01803 882717

Sat 18 19.30 West Stafford Village Hall, Dorset, DT2 8AG 01305 261984

Tue 21 19.30 Ibsley Village Hall, Hampshire, BH24 3NL 01425 473065

Thu 23 20:00 Lighthouse Poole’s Centre for the Arts, Poole, BH15 1UG             O844 406 8666 BSL interpreted show

Fri 24 19:30 Bridport Arts Centre, Dorset, DT6 3NR 01308 424204

Sat 25 20:00 Dorchester Arts Centre,Dorset, DT1 1XR 01305 266926

Tue 28 19:30 Mere Lecture Hall,Wiltshire, BA12 6HA O1747 860163

Wed 29 19:30 Aberystwyth Arts Centre,Wales, SY23 3DE 01970 62 32 32

Thu 30 19:30 The Spring, Havant, PO9 1BS 023 9247 2700

November 2014

Sat 1 November 19.30 Greyfriars Community Centre, Ringwood, BH24 1DW 01425 472613

 

Writing for Performance Masterclass. Ty Newydd. 9-14 Feb 2015.

Lloyd George's former home: Ty Newydd - writers' centre of Wales

Lloyd George’s former home: Ty Newydd – writers’ centre of Wales

I’m delighted to give exclusive advance notice for a residential course I will be teaching in February 2015 at Tŷ Newydd, Lloyd George’s former home, now the national writers’ centre of Wales on the beautiful Llŷn Peninsula.

This new course, the first of a series of three masterclasses, is for a small select group of writers committed to writing for performance. Course details are not yet available on the Tŷ Newydd website, and places will be offered on a first come first served basis. All enquiries should be directed to Tŷ Newydd at the contact details, below.

Writing for theatre and performance – a strong, arresting voice.

 9 – 14 February 2015.

From solo shows to dramatic speeches in multi-character plays, from Shakespeare’s rules of rhetoric to Mamet’s ‘beware the puppy dog speech’ – this course will take an in-depth study of the skills, approaches, aesthetics and practices that create dynamic, effective and effecting dialogue in performance writing.

The course will be highly intensive and for committed playwrights, offering a mix of theory and practice, practical workshops, sharing of work with mutual and critical support, and reading assignments set in advance.

We will consider:

  •  the different ways a story is told through dialogue – from contemporary solo performance pieces to reinventing ancient texts.
  •  point of view, back story, and how to create the world of the play through language.
  •  how to write credible, lively, engaging dialogue and reveal character and action through speech.
  •  how to manipulate pace and tempo-rhythm, create tension and sustain interest.

The skills and techniques explored will benefit all writers for performance, not just those engaged in solo shows, and ideally for those already with some experience in writing for theatre.

Those interested in this course, please contact Tŷ Newydd Writers’ Centre at the address below.

Tŷ Newydd Writers’ Centre,
Llanystumdwy,
Cricieth,
Gwynedd,
LL52 0LW.

tynewydd@literaturewales.org

http://www.literaturewales.org/course-bookings/

http://www.literaturewales.org/ty-newydd/   ;

http://www.llenyddiaethcymru.org/canolfan-ysgrifennu-ty-newydd/

 

BIOG:

Kaite O’Reilly won The Ted Hughes Award for New Works in Poetry for her dramatic retelling of ‘Persians’, the oldest extant play in the Western theatrical canon, and produced by National Theatre Wales in their inaugural year. Other prizes include The Peggy Ramsay Award, M.E.N. best play and a finalist in the International Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Awarded three Cultural Olympiad commissions in 2012, her montaged monologues ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ was produced by National Theatre Wales as part of the official festival celebrating the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics at South Bank Centre. ‘The 9 Fridas’ premiered at the Taipei Festival in 2014, and will transfer to Hong Kong in 2015. A Fellow at the international research centre ‘Interweaving performance cultures’ in Berlin, her work has been produced in eleven countries worldwide. www.kaiteoreilly.com

 

 

 

The spaces in between words… ‘Woman of Flowers’ published and reviewed

‘I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.’      Thornton Wilder

Sophie Stone in Forest Forge's 'Woman of Flowers' by Kaite O'Reilly. Photo copyright Lucy Sewill.

Sophie Stone in Forest Forge’s ‘Woman of Flowers’ by Kaite O’Reilly. Photo copyright Lucy Sewill.

I’m grateful that the difficult story I was trying to tell in my latest play, ‘Woman of Flowers’ seems to be communicating, and getting great responses. A reinvention of the myth of Blodeuwedd from The Mabinogion, it asks questions about our origins, and our duties, and how to deal with issues of autonomy and desire.

I’ve been obsessed with the story of Blodeuwedd for more years than I care to count. It can be endlessly reinvented, and interpreted through so many different prisms: The ‘perfect’ woman, made from flowers of the forest to be wife to a man cursed by his own mother… The ancient fear of awakened female sexuality and appetite… The amorality of one reared in nature, red in tooth and claw… The politics and rhetoric of belief systems, of honour revenge, of punishment…

I sought to explore this universe created solely by words in visual language, working with Jean St Clair and Sophie Stone in theatricalised sign as well as spoken and projected language. This collaboration between Deaf and hearing cultures has been warmly received by both signing and non-signing audiences, a rare occurrence, and one I feel particularly proud of, and grateful to Jean and Sophie for their willingness to experiment with me.

I was really touched by the thoughtfulness of this recent review:

THE spaces in between the words we say and our thoughts are explored with poetic beauty in Woman Of Flowers, a powerful contemporary reworking of one of the ancient Celtic myths contained in the Welsh treasury known as The Mabinogion

Written by Kaite O’Reilly for the supremely versatile deaf actress Sophie Stone, Woman Of Flowers is at one level a story of duty, desire and revenge, but it operates at many different levels – who are we and where do we come from, how do we reconcile the apparent facts of our life with what we don’t know, what is a woman, what is love, what happens when you want a different life from the one chosen for you?

Rose cannot remember what came before the house at the edge of the isolated forest. Farmer Gwynne says he magicked her out of the flowers, and he doesn’t want her to know anything about the world outside. He has chosen her for his nephew Lewis, but Lewis is ignorant, little better than an animal himself. He has no imagination and he cares nothing of the world beyond the forest.

Rose plays her part, whatever Lewis wants, whatever Gwynne wants, she gathers the eggs and kills the chickens, she cooks, she scrubs their backs, she obeys Lewis’s demands, she takes off their dirty farm boots and cleans them.

She is a little more than a servant and she seems to accept her existence – but inside her head she asks questions, she sees things, she imagines another life, she questions who she is.

Using what is described as “theatricalised sign language” Sophie Stone communicates powerfully with the audience – she is by turns a bird, a flower, a beautiful woman, a witch …

Then a stranger comes to the forest. He shows Rose the birds and the trees, he tells her about the owls, he tells her the story of Athene Noctua, the little owl.

The production, directed by Kirstie Davis, Forest Forge’s artistic director, uses live music, dance and surtitles (for both the spoken and the signed dialogue and Rose’s thoughts).

The action revolves, indeed it dances, around Sophie Stone who is on stage for virtually the whole performance. She is a compelling performer and her choreographed movement takes us into her consciousness, into the heart of darkness of the forest and above the trees to the mysterious world of the owls.

Lewis is played by Tom Brownlee. Pete Ashmore is the violinist and plays Graham, the scientist who comes into the forest. Forest Forge regular Andrew Wheaton plays Gwynne, a man who hovers on a strange border between brutal and kind – what does he know about Rose’s background, is he protecting her or did he kidnap her as a child to be their slave?

As you leave the theatre or village hall, the poetic words and the beautiful images of Woman Of Flowers will stay with you.

The production is on tour throughout October, including dates at the Victoria Rooms, Fordingbridge (Saturday 11th October), West Stafford village hall (18th), Ibsley village hall (21st), Poole Lighthouse (23rd), Bridport Arts Centre (24th), Dorchester Arts Centre (25th), Mere Lecture Hall (28th) and finally at Greyfriars Community Centre, Ringwood, on 1st November.

FC http://www.theftr.co.uk/woman-of-flowers-forest-forge-salisbury-arts-centre-and-on-tour/

woman_of_flowers-96x148-1

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The script is published as a programme with full play text by Aurora Metro, available at performances during the national tour and also here 

 

On the dangers of believing in ‘writer’s block’…

I’ve just been asked by a magazine to give my thoughts on the terrible condition called writer’s block. I’m afraid I gave them short shrift.

I don’t believe in it. I’m frustrated when this excuse is peddled as a way of excusing poor preparation, or tiredness, or the need to do further research, or rest, breathe, look at the landscape or generally put more ‘food’ in the ‘cupboard’. We need stimulus, we need new experiences and sensations, we need change and to be active, and we also need to rest. This is natural, and I believe all humans need it. What I get perplexed about is when this malaise is wheeled out to explain why someone is not working. I have seen people grind to a halt (or not even start) and remain there for months and even years, saying ‘writer’s block’ as though that’s it, the end, and there’s nothing to be done but wait until it unblocks itself in its own sweet time, if ever….

This is not to be confused with burn-out, or lack of confidence, or an overly-active critic in the head who murmurs endlessly about how crap you are, or a host of other debilitating conditions we also have to get over in order to do what we do… And after blasting the poor editor with my thoughts about how we indulge notions of writer’s block to the benefit of a burgeoning self-help industry, but to the detriment of the profession (it adds to the fantasy of the tortured, suffering artist and lets lazy writers get away with it), I became superstitious and wondered if I was inviting hubris….

I have never had writer’s block as I see writing as a craft and profession, as well as one of the greatest joys and solaces of my life. In the past when I have failed to write it was because I needed rest, or stimulus, or discipline, or a few quiet nights in and less out on the tiles – I needed to research more, to plot better, to be more spontaneous, or less jaded – I just needed to get on and do the bloody work. I started seeing the difference between a writer and a would-be writer as the latter talks about it, endlessly, whilst the real thing just applies the seat of the pants to a chair and gets on with it.

When I teach I have a series of timed exercises I encourage writers to do at home to start afresh, or change direction, so instead of falling into that big hole in the manuscript they are making bigger by boring their eyes into it, they might find it less intimidating by approaching from a different place.

I have never found a problem with writing that couldn’t be solved by writing.

And then I found other writers felt similar to me – wonderfully successful and talented writers, whose words might make be feel less superstitious about inviting hubris when I write ‘I don’t get writer’s block.’ I can’t afford to come to a stop with a show going into tech’ in Taipei art Festival and another starting rehearsals in the UK this week, and a short monologue to write for Agent 160’s Fun Palace…

So over to Philip Pullman….

“Writer’s block…a lot of howling nonsense would be avoided if, in every sentence containing the word WRITER, that word was taken out and the word PLUMBER substituted; and the result examined for the sense it makes. Do plumbers get plumber’s block? What would you think of a plumber who used that as an excuse not to do any work that day?

The fact is that writing is hard work, and sometimes you don’t want to do it, and you can’t think of what to write next, and you’re fed up with the whole damn business. Do you think plumbers don’t feel like that about their work from time to time? Of course there will be days when the stuff is not flowing freely. What you do then is MAKE IT UP. I like the reply of the composer Shostakovich to a student who complained that he couldn’t find a theme for his second movement. “Never mind the theme! Just write the movement!” he said.

Writer’s block is a condition that affects amateurs and people who aren’t serious about writing. So is the opposite, namely inspiration, which amateurs are also very fond of. Putting it another way: a professional writer is someone who writes just as well when they’re not inspired as when they are.”

Fabulous. No-nonsense and to the point. Couldn’t have put it better myself. Now I’m off to write that monologue….

Agent 160 and Joan Littlewood’s Fun Palaces….

October 2014 marks the centenary of the birth of legendary theatre director Joan Littlewood. In celebration of her vision, and in defiance of the austerity climate and cuts in the arts, Stella Duffy and Sarah Jane Rawlings are encouraging pop-up fun palaces across the UK.

Littlewood’s Fun Palace was an unrealised dream of a venue housing culture and science, inviting  participation and engagement.

“Choose what you want to do … dance, talk or be lifted up to where you can see how other people make things work. Sit out over space with a drink and tune in to what’s happening elsewhere in the city. Try starting a riot or beginning a painting – or just lie back and stare at the sky.”

2014’s pop-up Fun Palaces are happening all across the UK, using venues and buildings already in existence, but asking for a new attitude and mentality. You can read more of Stella Duffy’s approach here 

Agent 160 Theatre Company is creating the Fun Palace in Wales, and as one of the patrons of the organisation alongside Sharon Morgan and Timberlake Wertenbaker, I’m honoured to be involved. Agent 160 is a company of women playwrights, initiated to address the massive gender imbalance in professional theatre, where only 17% of all plays produced are by women playwrights. It takes its name from the Restoration playwright and spy, Aphra Behn (1640-1689), whose code name was Agent 160.

Agent 160 is commissioning 16 women playwrights to write short monologues, to be performed by women and directed by women, at The Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff over the weekend of October 4th and 5th 2014.The playwrights are: Sandra Bendelow, Sam Burns, Vittoria Cafolla, Poppy Corbett, Branwen Davies, Abigail Docherty, Clare Duffy, Samantha Ellis, Sarah Grochala, Katie McCullough, Sharon Morgan, Kaite O’Reilly, Lisa Parry, Marged Parry, Lindsay Rodden and Shannon Yee.

On her plans for the Welsh Agent 160 Fun Palace, designer Anna Bliss Scully says:

“I will create a space where members of the public can chance upon a new world; a secret story; a slip in time; a fresh perspective. It might be a car, a shed, a boat, or an area of a building they know well, but within it, the audience will find a new dimension: a space that responds to them, to its surrounding environment, and to the story we tell within it.” 

 Agent 160 have a Kickstarter campaign to ensure this dream project happens, and you can support the initiative or just find out more at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/agent160/you-can-help-make-agent-160s-fun-palace-in-wales-h

Austerity is not a time for imaginations to become small, or the arts to be crushed. If you can support this initiative – either Agent 160’s Kickstarter campaign or whatever one may be local to you (or create your own!), please do so.

 

Rushton Unsung – bringing to life a forgotten Liverpool hero

 

Rushton - Unsung

Rushton – Unsung

Last year I was privileged to mentor two fantastic writers – John Graham Davies and James Quinn – as they negotiated their way through early drafts of an historical play about the great unsung Liverpool radical Edward Rushton. As this blog is about creative process, I asked James and John to write a guest post about their collaborative process writing this epic, and also touching on our mentoring relationship. What are the temptations and dangers writing from history? How can two playwrights write one script with consistency in style and ‘voice’ and without falling out? You can read their great post, below, and support their crowd-funding project to celebrate this fascinating radical, campaigner, abolitionist and poet. Heady stuff.

Writing Unsung: A Guest Post by John Graham Davies and James Quinn:

When we were originally asked by Kaite to write about the mentoring process of our play UNSUNG we were deep in research into slavery and the abolition movement. Although both of us are writers, we have both been primarily actors. After years of trying to make bad soap lines sound good (yes, I know, it’s not always like that) maybe we thought that the meat and potatoes would lie in the dialogue. We can both write dialogue. It will be alright.

But historical drama, particularly when your play centres on an unjustly ignored historical figure who is determined to have his voice and exploits acknowledged (“fuck turning points and dramatic development, tell them about my amazing sea voyages in the 1790s!”), has a tendency, if you’re not careful, to suck you into a factual fog.

For about nine months we attempted to honour the extraordinary blind abolitionist Edward Rushton, and the vast number of human rights campaigns he was involved with. It seemed like a pleasurable duty. A famous letter to George Washington, being rescued from drowning by an ex-slave and friend, who as a result died himself, hiding clandestine human rights campaigners in his tavern in Liverpool, campaigning and writing poetry in support of the French revolution, the American revolution, the Irish Brotherhood, being shot at in Liverpool for his opposition to the press gang, going blind as a result of ministering to suffering slaves below decks, his establishment of the first blind school in Britain.   Any of these activities would make a play in itself, but Rushton’s life was so rich, and his anonymity such a shameful omission that we were determined to crow-bar in as much as we could. To do less would be a dishonour.

We are now about eighteen months into the project, with nine months to opening. What has been the process?

We started with a fractured narrative, attempting to cover all aspects of Rushton’s campaigning and poetic life. The sea story, and his story once he arrived back, blind, on land, were woven together non-chronologically, and framed at the beginning and end of each act with scenes depicting his last, and finally successful eye operation. Kaite thought that this was faithful, yes, but both confusing and undramatic. In our determination to crow-bar everything in, we had paid insufficient attention to dramatic development, and the absence of a stable location made the action confusing.

In writing the second and third drafts we have tried to take on Kaite’s feedback. Both of us having been very involved in politics, we’ve both been equally keen to touch on as many of Rushton’s fascinating political campaigns as possible. But we now have a consistent location to which we return – Rushton’s bookshop – and we travel through it chronologically. However, the scenes to which Rushton is taken by his conscience figure, Kwamina, are not chronological. We may stay with this, but are still not entirely sure if the fractured narrative is potentially confusing.

In the first draft we had a Brechtian style narrator, in the form of a West African griot. This character has now been subsumed into Kwamina. Rushton’s friend from his youth, and a former slave. Kwamina is both a real character, in scenes set on ship in the Atlantic, as well as a Ghost of Christmas Past conscience figure. In this latter guise, he takes Rushton to places in his past. We have also, at Kaite’s advice, developed our use of SLI, so that our signer not only signs, but also participates in scenes. She recurs as a servant/menial in different locations, rather like the Common Man in A Man for All Seasons. Sometimes she will sign neutrally, but in other scenes, particularly in scenes dominated by movement and action, she will be an active dramatic component of scenes. We are taking on board Kaite’s warning that this is potentially confusing, and trying to find ways to clarify.

We have made some more cuts today, losing some historical material about George Washington. We still need to root all the scenes in the overarching drama. There are a couple of scenes which don’t really earn their place. One is set in Parliament, in a chamber adjoining the main chamber. The grand setting is theatrical, and the dialogue and conflict within the scene is effective. However, it doesn’t really grow out of the ongoing dramatic dilemmas facing Rushton, and we’ve shortened it.

As the piece has a strong inclusion goal, we have incorporated imagery and sound montage from the beginning. Audience members who are visually impaired will have a strong aid through the use of recorded words and music. Some of this will be to establish mood, but a good deal of it will help to accurately communicate location.

A word on our approach as collaborators; basically around three quarters of the writing is done solo with the two of us coming together to edit/rewrite drafted scenes. As we live at opposite ends of the East Lancs Road – James in Manchester (the light side) and John in Liverpool (the dark side) – Skype has been a useful tool in this regard. In terms of what each of us brings to the table, John brings the serious, conscientious craft to the project and James adds some ‘witty dialogue’. More seriously, it has been a fiendish story to tell. It is not enough to tell the story of a ‘great man’ – particularly one who nobody has heard of. The first draft of the script definitely leaned too much to that as we looked to do justice to Rushton. Now we are at a stage of being much more selective and looking to capture the essence and significance of Rushton in the context of a strong, compelling dramatic narrative, centred on the question, ‘What drove Rushton to undertake a series of painful eye operations’? Was he driven by a desire to see his children and wife (he was blind when he met her) or were there elements of guilt associated with his friend, Kwamina’s death. Is he trying to shut out memory, by regaining his sight? We want this piece of theatre to reach out beyond theatre audiences and followers of Edward Rushton and create a stir among the widest possible range of people. Naturally, although this is to some degree a biography of a historical figure, the show must be utterly contemporary. Through themes which have a contemporary echo (the corruption of parliament, the importance of the individual conscience speaking out) and stagecraft (using our signer as an integrated character and link with the audience) we hope we have achieved this, to some extent.

Another thought on co-writing (John this time). I didn’t find it easy in one respect – you have to rein yourself in when you have an urge to go in a certain direction, and that can slow things. Fortunately we have worked before as actors and when writing sketches, but this was much more ambitious. Historical drama requires large amounts of research, and finding a speaking style which echoes the period rather than recreating it, is not easy. James doesn’t have an ego, which made things a lot easier – his characteristically self-effacing earlier comments being testament to that – and writing with someone I didn’t know well would have been much harder than with an old friend.

As for our esteemed dramaturg, I had never worked with one before, but it was immensely helpful. I think Kaite realised early on that we are a pair of old pachiderms, so she was pretty direct with her comments. She needed to be I think – we’re also hard of hearing. Virtually all the time her feedback struck a chord with things we were already groping towards, but having someone outside say it made it that much clearer.

We write this just moments before our first meeting with the play’s director, Chuck Mike. It is a moment of great anticipation and excitement for us. The man is a giant (literally and professionally). A disciple and collaborator with the great Wole Soyinka, he has offered nothing but positivity and encouragement about the piece. We are in the South Bank’s Festival Hall, looking for a six feet eight inch Afro-Caribbean with a white beard and benign face. What words will he have for us today………………..?

To Be Continued……

To Support Rushton, Unsung:

rushton

 

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/rushton-unsung/

https:/www.facebook.com/DaDaFest.Deaf.and.Disability.Arts

 

 

words, words, words – issues of translation and the wonders of skype

“A translation is no translation…. unless it will give you the music of a poem along with the words of it.”  Millington Synge

 It is an extraordinary time, of revisions, of translations, reconfigurations, of developments – of conversations on opposite sides of the world…

The past week has been a series of meetings on the ether as well as in what used to be called ‘meat space’. I spent three hours sitting in an office in Berlin listening to a reading in Mandarin of my performance text the 9 fridas which was happening seven hours into ‘my’ future in Taipei. Skype is a remarkable invention – and free! The actors from Mobius Strip in Taiwan thought I was probably eccentric. Did I speak Mandarin? No. Did I understand the language? No. So why spend three hours listening in as they read the scenes, and then painstakingly discussed the translation by the wonderful Betty Yi-Chun Chen?

As a playwright, I write dynamic. I write tempo-rhythm and linguistic movement. This is still discernible even through the vagaries and differences of other languages. I could tell Betty had paid great attention to the tempo-rhythm and flow of my work – and the very particular punctuation I use in my dialogue, to suggest a certain pace and musicality to the actor. This new performance text, the 9 fridas, is informed by our perceptions of the life and art of disabled Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, and has many monologues. I could tell in the reading, across the language divide, that the inherent pace, tempo-rhythm and fluidity of voice was as I had hoped.

2-frida-kahlo-1907-1954-granger

Through listening in, I was able to clarify next steps and liaise with the director and designers about intentions, concepts, costume and set design. I was able to make notes for a few developments in the script whilst also getting to know, via the computer screen, some of the actors I’ll be working with when I go to Tawain in July to work on this production for the Taipei International Theatre Festival.

I continued the conversation several days later in a Greek restaurant in the southwest of Berlin, just down the road from the graveyard where Marlene Dietrich lies.

Ramona Mosse is a scholar and dramaturg currently translating my play ‘peeling’ into German. Among many things, we discussed how difficult the title is in German – the alternatives in tone and energy were very different from the original in English. The choices spanned from the more violent equivalent of being skinned or flayed to the more literal peeling of an onion, which is already used in a Gunter Grass title. We discussed the relationship of the title to the contents of the text and Ramona provided an alternative title which was more about ‘getting under the skin’ – an action which could be applied to what happens to the characters in the script as well as the hoped-for impact on the audience whilst experiencing the stories from the play.

“Translators are the shadow heroes of literature, the often forgotten instruments that make it possible for different cultures to talk to one another, who have enabled us to understand that we all, from every part of the world, live in one world.”   Paul Auster

What the film industry could learn about women from Chimerica’s success

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The following article by Alissa Clarke is reproduced, with permission, from The Conversation.

CHIMERICA by Kirkwood,      , Writer - Lucy Kirkwood, Director - Lyndsey Turner, Design - Es Devlin, Almeida Theatre, London, 2013, Credit: Johan Persson/

CHIMERICA by Kirkwood, , Writer – Lucy Kirkwood, Director – Lyndsey Turner, Design – Es Devlin, Almeida Theatre, London, 2013, Credit: Johan Persson/

In 1951, screen star turned director Ida Lupino wrote:

Women, according to these stalwart defenders of male superiority, may not be film musical directors, cameramen, set designers, composers, assistant directors, directors, or production managers. In short, the only sort of job encouragement which women get in Hollywood is the portrayal of women on the screen. Sometimes I suspect we are resented for even this intrusion.

Despite the 60 years that have passed, in 2013 only 16% of behind the scenes roles in the top 250 grossing American films were held by women.

Only four women have ever been nominated for the Best Director category in the Oscars (Lina Wertmüller in 1976, Jane Campion in 1994, Sofia Coppola in 2003 and Kathryn Bigelow in 2010). Out of these, only Bigelow won, for The Hurt Locker.

Contrast this with theatre, where a record three women were nominated for Best Director at the Olivier Awards this year: Susan Stoman for The Scottsboro Boys, Maria Friedman for Merrily We Roll Along, and Lyndsey Turner for Chimerica. With last night’s triumphant win of five Olivier Awards for Chimerica, including Best Director, Time Magazine’s headline, Theater is Much Less Sexist than Film, could be seen as justified.

Indeed, while Turner is only the fourth female director to win an Olivier, it does seem to be a marker of change, as it follows Marianne Elliott’s win last year for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and from the 2013 Tonys, which awarded Best Director to women for both the play and musical categories.

But why have these greater possibilities for female directors arrived in mainstream theatre? And what could commercial film, in both America and Britain, learn from these possibilities? Chimerica offers a few answers.

Creative crews

In her Oscar acceptance speech, Cate Blanchett poured ridicule on the idea that “female films with women at the centre are niche experiences”. While Blanchett was talking about female acting roles, increasing the number of women and expanding the kind of roles they play off stage or behind the camera would do much to challenge the positioning of female-led work as niche.

In contrast to the 16% of women working behind the scenes in US film in 2013, a Guardian study of women in the top ten subsidised theatres in Britain recorded 23% of women working within “creative crews” in the financial year of 2011-12. A poor number, but still superior, and more overtly progressive in its presence of 24% of female British theatre directors to the 9% of female commercial US film directors in the same year. The consequences of this progression can be seen in that four of Chimerica’s Olivier awards went to its female creative crew members.

One of those awards went to Es Devlin for her phenomenal cubic set design. The striking images constructed through and within it underscored the political questions of the narrative in Lucy Kirkwood’s epic play, caught between America and China, Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and today.

Jenna Russell, nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for Merrily We Roll Along, talks about how in watching Chimerica, “I felt proud, as a woman, to see that most of the creative team were women, doing something really bold and strong.” This sense of a strong female creative team recalls the mutually supportive ethos of the 1970s feminist theatre collectives, and, indeed, Turner’s second collaboration with Es Devlin went into production at the end of last year.

Revived for the first time in New York since its original production, Sophie Treadwell’s Machinal is a 1928 expressionist play tracing the journey of a woman’s act of murder and subsequent execution. Such collaboration continues Turner’s exciting connection with the work of female playwrights, challenging texts and fully fleshed female roles, so highlighting the dynamic possibilities of similar collaborations for other directorial projects across film and theatre.

But, of course, whilst plays like Chimerica and Machinal and the awards they win are cause for celebration, it would be even greater if the presence and nomination of female directors was the norm, rather than the exception, or only potentially on the increase.

To read the original, with notes and credits, please go to:

https://theconversation.com/what-the-film-industry-could-learn-about-women-from-chimericas-success-25521

Further reading:

http://womenintvfilm.sdsu.edu/files/2013_Celluloid_Ceiling_Report.pdf

http://time.com/24833/olivier-award-nominations-director-women/_

http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2014/apr/11/olivier-nominees-lesley-manville-dench-planer-josefina-gabrielle

A note on the writer, Alissa Clarke.

Alissa Clarke

Alissa Clarke

Alissa is a lecturer at De Montford University. She joined the School of Arts in 2009, after completing an AHRC-funded PhD at the University of Exeter. Her doctoral thesis explored the possibilities of creating embodied, performative writing with which to document the experiences of psychophysical performer trainings.

Her research interests include: contemporary body-based performance practice; psychophysical performance and performer training; feminist and gender theory and performance practice (live and on film); actor training, performative personae, female stars and classical Hollywood cinema; documentation of performance.

She is currently developing a series of projects focused upon gendered analysis of the practices and discourses within and surrounding psychophysical performer trainings, with a particular interest in discourses / acts rooted in pleasure and kindness.

 

Letting go…

Mandel ja merihobu_kodukassuur

It’s strange when your work goes out into the world and starts finding an existence of its own. I always expected to have a close relationship with productions of my plays were I fortunate enough to have additional productions after the premiere. I anticipated being as involved as I am with the first production – speaking at length with the directors and cast, sitting in on rehearsals, or working closely with the translators if the productions were using languages other than my native English.

At first I thought I’d be deranged and dangerous – ‘The Controlling Author’ – sort of late career Bette Davis, fag in mouth, martini in hand, screeching out from the darkened auditorium during rehearsals: ‘ It’s not said like that! Didn’t you see it was a four dot pause, not three?’ as actors and directors wept copiously and swallowed handfuls of diazes…

Thankfully it didn’t work out like that. I found it more instructive, creative and beneficial for all to have a loose hold on the script and see what the skills, experiences and imaginations of the director, cast and company brought to the material. If there were certain points where I felt my intentions weren’t being presented, I would step in and make my case, but luckily for me, by easing off from being ‘the expert’ on my script (and the only voice), I have learned, grown, made good relationships with my collaborators and had much better productions.

So far so good…. But things are different again when the productions are not in the country where you reside…

I’m currently working in Berlin, and have a show opening tonight in Estonia, and needless to say, I shan’t be at the premiere. It feels distinctly odd, this sense of something so intimately connected to me – which came from me – having its own place and existence in the world without my connection. I don’t know the cast, have no notion of how the director hopes to stage it, and didn’t liaise with the translator. In fact, I didn’t even know this production was happening until earlier this week and I suspect this then is a kind of rites of passage. There reaches a point when our work is published, or out in the world, and totally independent.

Early in the process, I control it. I write it, I decide who gets to see it, who even knows it is in development. When it is completed in early draft stage, I am the conduit through which it goes, selectively, into the world. As the work gets polished and ready to be seen by a wider audience than my selected ‘first readers’, the narrow stream widens, and it is my agent who is placing the script under noses and so the tap root expands from there. What I’m experiencing today is what happens when work is published and readily available to whomever wants to read it, across the world. Gifted translators transform my words into another language and so its pathway into the world grows even more.

I’ve had productions before in other countries where I couldn’t travel and so see the work. I’ve had readings and productions in thirteen countries across the globe and I hope the productions were creative and successful and that the experience was a happy one for all involved. I hope each made the work fresh, and truly theirs – without any sense of a controlling authorial eye, or a ‘thou shalt not’ limiting imaginations.

So this evening, I’m letting go, and raising a glass to ‘The Almond and the Seahorse’ at Theater Endla in Estonia – wishing joy and broken legs, toi toi toi, and all those other superstitions. I will dream of what an Estonian Sarah, Dr Falmer, Gwennan, Tom, and Joe may be like – and hope that sometime over its long run in repertoire, I get there to see it.

Trailer at:  http://www.endla.ee