Tag Archives: script development

Olympic Questions: Further responses to LeanerFasterStronger

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Kathryn Dimery. Photo by Amanda Crowther

We are approaching the end of the run of LeanerFasterStronger at Sheffield Crucible, and have had a fantastic response to the work in the regional press, on twitter, and via the Guardian and Sheffield theatres’ website. This is the start of a period of reflection for me – what lessons might be learnt? How much of my initial ambitions and intentions have I achieved?

When I was approached by Chol Theatre with this commission, I had no interest  in sport outside watching Wales vs Ireland in international rugby matches, and no experience of participating other than representing Birmingham in the high jump as an over-excitable twelve year old. I’m a collaborator, not a competitor, so I wanted to understand this drive to succeed – highlighted by the strap line: ‘How far would you go to be the best?’ This was particularly important in relationship to commerce, sponsorship, and big business – the commercialisation of sport and the commodification of our athletes.

Apart from individual athlete characters and their pressures and challenges, I wanted to explore the bioethical issues around human enhancement, sports science, bio- and genetic engineering.

The internet has broadened the field of interaction, commentary and criticism, encouraging dialogue and discussion. Having access to members of the audience’s thoughts and reactions via chats in the bar after the show, to their online comments, can be tremendously useful to a dramatist. It allows a panoply of responses, from the professional critic to the amateur enthusiast, from fellow playwrights and theatre makers to the novice or occasional theatre-goer, perspectives from all walks of life, including sports engineers and elite athletes, the subject and focus of much of the script.

The timing of the production has been pertinent – many have commented on how some of the issues in the production will throw a long shadow across the upcoming Games:

‘…it’s a show bound up with the impending Olympics and the coverage surrounding that,’

the poet Andrew McMillan says on the Sheffield Theatres website:

‘…we’re all invited to be part of the Olympics through all mediums, radio, film, tv, even adverts now, the immersive nature of the piece, casting the audience as delegates watching conversations unfold, to me just simply continued this invitatiom to the Olympics, but examined sides to sport which might not readily be discussed. We debated some of the issues on the train ride home, and that is all an piece of theatre can really hope to achieve…’

http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/leanerfasterstronger-12/


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Ben Addis. Photo by Amanda Crowther.

‘As the Olympic torch moves around the country, I’ll be thinking and talking about LeanerFasterStronger’

playwright Richard Hurford wrote on the Guardian theatre blog: http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2012/jun/01/stage-reader-reviews-georgie-sinatra?INTCMP=SRCH

For me LeanerFasterStronger was a powerful and refreshing example of theatre which not only has something genuinely important to say, but also cares enough about its subject matter to say it in a direct and uncompromising way.

I’m no sports expert and I know little about biotechnology, but like everyone else I’m currently experiencing what it’s like to live in an Olympics host nation. The play rises above the hype, the hard sell and the emotional aerobics to offer a welcome, provocative perspective on the bigger picture. It’s no easy ride and you have to work hard to keep up, which feels appropriate given the themes of the piece. The text is sophisticated, witty and fierce and keeps on throwing out ideas at a relentless pace. However, it’s always accessible and illuminating and not about trying to beat an audience into submission. Rather it’s about encouraging us to keep on pushing forward to consider what actually lies beyond the finishing line, not just for the sporting life, but also for the human race.

The production sticks to the courage of its convictions by placing the text firmly at the centre, intelligently and subtly supported and enhanced by the other theatrical elements to create an effective unity. The moments when the full on debates are invaded by emotionally charged fragments of athletes’ lives -particularly the exchanges between the brother and sister torn apart by the demands of his all-consuming talent – are startling and disturbing. Throughout there’s a sustained and detailed physical underscoring, which at times bursts into the foreground with explosions of intense physical exertion, suddenly thrusting the close-up spectacle of bodies sweating and muscles straining into the faces of the audience.

The theatrical container of a sports conference and specifically the late night boozy discussions of a clutch of delegates from different sports sectors – importantly none of them are athletes and only the hanger-on boyfriend of one of the women seems to participate in any actual sporting activity – provides a clever vehicle to raise and wrangle over the issues on an informed and expert level. It had all the feel of one of those councils of the gods which regularly crop up in Greek myths in which the immortals bicker, throw tantrums and settle personal scores, while casually deciding the fates of humankind with lofty and chilling disdain. Like those immortals the sports delegates have little connection and less interest in what really happens down on the ground, in the stadia, boxing rings, locker rooms, lives and minds of the athletes whose fates and futures they’re shaping over another bottle of wine.

LeanerFasteStronger treats its audience with respect, while insisting we do our bit too. Theatre can engage us through the stories and the experiences of characters, but there’s also a place for plain-speaking. This is one of those occasions and the approach works for the complexity of the subject matter. Some might be tempted by a more conventional dramatic development of the athletes’ stories, but I appreciated the fact that the play kept leading me back to the debate and kept me focused on the ideas rather than lost in the drama.

I really value theatre which leaves me with something I can use in the real world and this is a seriously useful piece of work. As the Olympic torch moves around the country, I’ll be thinking and talking about LeanerFasterStronger.’

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Morven Macbeth. Photo by Amanda Crowther

Many people, including Jane Lloyd Francis, have commented on how they feel the issues in the play will have more relevance after the Olympics and Paralympics are over.

I was honoured when Paralympians Steve Judd and Suzannah Rockett Coughlan attended the performance. They were involved in my research  (see earlier blog: https://kaiteoreilly.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/leanerfasterstronger-a-week-of-olympians-and-paralympians/).

In an email after the show Suzannah said:

It was such an intense play with almost every possible emotion I have had in relation to my sport.
I must confess I found the scene regarding the end of ones career  particularly poignant, as this is an area the public rarely see or to be honest care about as the next star is ready to replace them. Also the family scene was significant and again an area which is rarely touched upon.

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Christopher Simpson. Photo by Amanda Crowther.

Such an honest and engaged response from an elite athlete is humbling as well as gratifying, for through Suzannah’s response I know I have achieved one of my intentions. I sought to tell less familiar stories around sport which revealed the particular stresses of being the national hope for gold.

I will continue reviewing the process, script, production, and response over the coming days and weeks, and give sincere thanks to those who have taken the time and effort to enter this dialogue between spectacle and spectator.

Finally, some thoughts from Julie Armstrong, who reviewed the show for the Sheffield Telegraph:

Sheffield Telegraph, Thursday May 31, 2012  Julia Armstrong

A STRIKING tableau greets the audience as they enter the auditorium, with the four actors striking sporting poses while balancing on stage blocks. This is the shape of things to come as the actors combine fluidity of movement, including rearranging the performance space, with words that move fast through various scenarios. The actors take on different roles to explore issues of what sacrifices elite sportspeople and their loved ones make, at how pure sport really is in our money-driven world and at how technologies could affect sporting achievement and all of our lives.

As part of the city’s contribution to the artistic response to the London 2012 Olympics, Kaite O’Reilly’s new play is a beautifully written and timely examination of issues that have far-reaching consequences beyond the sporting arena, perhaps even as to what it will mean to be human in the future. This is a chilling prospect as she says in her programme notes that she has been looking at the future of real elite sport science.

On a more intimate level, the actors Ben Addis, Kathryn Dimery, Morven Macbeth and Christopher Simpson perform compellingly as individuals and a team to look at what all this means for the people involved, from the athlete whose sister says his pursuit of his Olympic dream has damaged their whole family to the boxer who constantly pushes mind and body to the limit. A smooth-talking sports promoter hangs around in the background like a vulture assured of a next easy meal, ready to drop a star who is past their best.

LeanerFasterStronger – public dress rehearsal

My ticket for the public dress rehearsal LeanerFasterStronger 23rd May 2012.

I love the fact that Sheffield Theatres have public dress rehearsals – and clearly a loyal audience who supports them! After rehearsing and performing to the small collection of playwright, director, movement advisor, designer, sound designer, crew and stage management, last night we threw open the doors to the general public – and the actors had their first experience of performing together before a full house.

Actor Ben Addis with an avatar boxing self.

There reaches a point where the work is ready to be put before an audience – and a public dress rehearsal is exactly that – a rehearsal. Some might see this as high risk – letting the public in to the essential culmination of a process – but as a company we embraced it. There is so much to be learned from an audience and there are always surprises – laughter in places we didn’t expect -a lack of clarity in areas we previously thought were crystal clear…. The audiences’ reactions guides us in our very last adjustments to the script and how it is presented – and we preapre for the official preview tonight….

Director Andrew Loretto in the centre, giving notes to the full company.

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For a short radio interview between BBC Radio Sheffield’s Rony Robinson and Kaite O’Reilly, go to listen again at the following link. The programme ran form 9am. The interview was at 12.30pm:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p00rjdtm/Rony_Robinson_23_05_2012/

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/

LeanerFasterStronger – a playwright in the rehearsal room

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Archive poster of 1948 London Olympics on wall of Centre for Sports Engineering Research, Sheffield Hallam University.

Companies working with new plays have to be flexible, patient, and with steely nerves. Unlike second productions, or reinterpretations of Classics, a new script is not tried or tested, but neither is it necessarily set in stone. Having the playwright in rehearsals means the script can be malleable, responding to the other creatives in the room.

This, however, does not mean that the script is devised or co-created. In the case of LeanerFasterStronger, the script I’ve written over the past eighteen months is solid and highly developed, in its fourth draft. It is a complex script, with multiple characters to be played by a small ensemble cast of four.

One of the joys of being in the rehearsal room when completing such an ambitious script is the potential for engagement. If an actor has a question about the script, the writer is on hand to answer directly – and the playwright has the pooled imaginations, skills, and intellects of the company at work on the script. Here is where true collaboration happens, with all involved responding and reacting to each other, the production growing organically. It is demanding, exciting, and joyful.

Previously, the central characters in the play have been disembodied voices in my head. Now they find substance, psychology, a past. Andrew leads the actors in a series of exercises which create a chronological history of their characters from birth until we meet them in the play. As the play is not naturalistic, during my own process I haven’t created ‘back stories’ for the characters. Individually, the performers make life stories for their central characters: siblings, parents, experiences at school, at college, in work; they build a psychological and emotional profile for these figures, mapping their dreams, fears, hopes, ambitions…

I observe all this, fascinated, as the background material dovetails with the details in the script. There are no contradictions, only discoveries: the identity of these central characters, their accents, their emotional baggage. This is all grist to my mill, as I polish and make the final tweaks to the script.

LeanerFasterStronger

A Sheffield Theatres and Chol Theatre Co-Production

Wed 23 May – Sat 2 June http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/leanerfasterstronger-12/

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

Reflections on revising a theatre script (2): Give it space

Publicity photograph for LeanerFasterStronger, to be produced by Sheffield Theatres/Chol Theatre in May 2012.

It is so difficult to get perspective on a script when in the process of being revised.   Computers allow us to ‘futz’ with the work continually – deleting, copying and pasting, shifting order, reallocating speeches to different characters… It wasn’t so long ago when such editing processes were time-consuming and demanded commitment: we thought long and hard before taking the scissors to the page, actually cutting and pasting. Perhaps today making changes are too easy and so we try different versions within seconds – and then lose perspective on which of these various edits, which we can effortlessly make, is the best.

I’m not suggesting we return to those ‘analogue’ days (if I can creatively use the term so) – but I think a small shift in our consciousness may assist when rewriting.   Writers can become exasperated with all the editing possibilities open to them, they can get tied up, knotted in the throughlines. I’ve lost count of the times writers I’m mentoring have lost their way owing to a dizzying succession of edits on parts of their scripts. They try a section that doesn’t seem to be working one way, and then another, and another – and then lose sight of the original intention. They really can’t see the wood for the trees.

I’ve learnt to take my revisions at a slightly slower rate. When editing a scene, I’ll try one version and then walk away – go outside, look at the sky, have a wander around, change my mindset and the view – and after twenty or so minutes, I’ll return and be able to read the revised section with fresher eyes. It seems time consuming and a little tree-hugging, but it works and saves time in the long run. For larger edits, I sleep on it and can get perspective on the script the next morning. For serious manuscript-length edits, I put the script away for at least a week.

This process enables me to commit to each decision I make in the editing process; it makes me treat the actions I take seriously, knowing there will consequences – and yet I know the decisions are not necessarily final, I can still shift and change. I’m simply giving space around revisions, so the air can circulate and I can clearly see the changes I am making, and whether or not they are improvements. It is allowing work to evolve and settle at a slightly more organic, human rate.

copyright Kaite O’Reilly 28/3/12

The Echo Chamber: responses and an ending

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Stage entrance, Chapter arts centre

And then it’s all over.

After working against the clock, striving to be ‘ready’, it’s all done and dusted, struck and got-out. The set is dismantled and packed away, set ungraciously at the back door of the theatre like so much tat heading for the jumble.

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The Echo Chamber set

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It’s always unsettling to see in the unforgiving light of day (as opposed to Ace McCarron’s painterly theatrical light) how little it takes to create an illusion.  The Welsh slate, old Singer sewing machine table, the supermarket bags for life crammed with bits of broken twig… Part of the design was informed by the Japanese aesthetic principle of Wabi-sabi, and these remnants do have a kind of desolate beauty:

Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is beauty of things modest and humble. It is the beauty of things unconventional.”   Leonard Koren. Wabi-Sabit for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers.

So the set is dismantled, carted down the icy steps of Chapter, and packed away into cars. We all stand in the loading dock at the back of the arts centre, slightly startled at finding ourselves the other side of the project, and so soon. We hug, kiss, get into our separate cars with different destinations, and head off into the Sunday morning.

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What has been most fascinating about the project is the response to the work. The performance was challenging and non-linear, with content encompassing recent thinking in cosmology, notions of the infinite and ephemeral, and our place in a possible multiverse.

We have had groups of postgraduate and undergraduate students from South West England and throughout Wales; a charabanc of arts council officers; family members and curious strangers; academics and practitioners who have flown in from Italy and Japan; directors and producers of international arts festivals. It has been an extraordinary privilege to sit amongst this diverse audience night after night, experiencing the different reactions and energies.

On the penultimate night, I found myself sitting in the auditorium after the audience had departed, holding the hand of a quietly weeping stranger, who said the work had touched her ‘in the place beyond words’. When she had recovered enough to leave the theatre with me, I was met by a bemused friend who made a flying ‘over my head’ gesture and shrugged. ‘I have no idea what I just saw’ he said, with a strange mix of apology and frustration. Such polarised and strong responses to the same performance is fascinating…. It makes me wonder about this extraordinary and peculiar thing which we do….

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Revision notes (7): feedback and other tricky customers

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Although I’m deep into the making of The Echo Chamber with The Llanarth Group, I’m very aware of life and work continuing, despite my immersion in what feels at times a parallel universe. I’ve learnt over the years to organise my time and tasks well, so I don’t have to juggle too many at this essential crystallising period, or continuously switch heads like some kind of demented Worzel Gummage.

I’m aware, at the periphery of my mind, the next project and its tasks lining up, creating, if I’m lucky, an orderly queue.

I’m particularly aware of the feedback document compiled by Andrew Loretto and Daniel Evans of Sheffield Theatres sitting in my in-box; a full, focused response to my most recent draft of LeanerFasterStronger. I haven’t opened it, nor will I until my creative focus is clear from this current production, so no influences can seep unintentionally from one project into the other. To receive feedback from the creative producer and artistic director of a company demands to be treated with utmost seriousness and respect, especially from collaborators who have already committed to production. But what when the work has not yet got a home? So much of theatre production and script development relies on relationships,  often forged over a period of time. What then for the young in career writer who wants feedback and constructive criticism, but who may not have connections to key ‘gate keepers’ or script development professionals?

These are central questions about feedback: how to get it and who to get it from.

I was recently on the writers’ forum of the National Theatre Wales community website and saw a playwright looking for other playwrights or theatre practitioners to read their recently completed play. This seemed to be a good place to pitch for opinion or support, especially if there is some knowledge of the other members and their predilections. I’ve found feedback is more meaningful if there is an understanding of where these opinions are coming from.

By that I mean it helps to know that the person you received that blisteringly damning comment on your experimental script is really really into character-driven naturalism. Likewise, the bemused or cool at best comments on the book of a new musical you’ve created will gain a focus and context if you know your critic is into postdramatic performance and hates John Barrowman. Having this knowledge can act as a compass, helping you navigate the middle path and interpret advice and feedback, which is especially useful if they are conflicting, and from different sources. Which can be common. So which do you follow?

After completing the second draft of my play peeling, I knew I was writing something beyond my experience of structure and form. I felt like I really didn’t know what I was doing. I genuinely had no idea how to proceed. I was in a fortunate position at the time, as I was working with two literary managers who I asked to read the draft and advise me on how to proceed.

Both felt the script had potential, and both said they had not read anything quite like it before. ‘The more ‘real’ and naturalistic you can make it, the more effective it will be’ one told me. ‘The more you push the convention, the more experimental and non-naturalistic you are, the better it will be’ the other said. Neither knew of the other’s involvement and I didn’t want to enlighten them. So what should I do? Having a sense of their tastes and preferences in performance style helped me contextualise their comments. I realised in the end it was down to me to plot a path between their perspectives, guided by my own opinion, interpretation and deconstruction of their feedback: what had prompted it, where it was coming from, and whether I wanted to follow that proposed path.

In the end, it was down to me training myself – reading and seeing work, building up an understanding of what I felt worked, what I liked, what I believed to be effective. I had to know and trust my own opinion – not in an arrogant, ‘I know it all’ way – but as a means to make feedback (which we will always need, no matter how big and clever we become) useful – especially when coming from knowledgeable, potentially intimidating sources such as directors, tutors, or literary managers.

But it is as equally valid if your critic has no formal training, understanding, or even interest in your chosen medium. I believe we can gain insight from any person we are lucky enough to get to read or see our work. My father, a butcher and a farmer who had left school at a very young age, was one of my most insightful, hurtful, and inspiring critics. Knowledge and perception can come from any place – but these gifts often come with barbs – so it really helps to know what forces are at work on the response – their tastes, preferences, but also whether a hidden agenda may be present.

I have friends who are members of writers’ groups for the feedback and camaraderie, but they tell me, like any close knit community or family, there can be tensions and antipathies as much as encouragement and sympathies.

A former colleague who writes historical fiction had to leave one circle as she found she was unintentionally pandering to the tastes of the group which were more conventional and cosy than the edginess she aspired to. A former student dropped out of his evening class owing to what he described as a bullying, homophobic hierarchical dynamic which even held the workshop leader in thrall. ‘I’m glad we weren’t twelve. It would have been like Lord of the Flies‘ he memorably told me, returning to his ‘proud pink prose’ which had been dismissed so readily in the group feedback sessions (‘I’m sure it’s fine in its place, but does anyone really want to read this? I mean, would you ever find a publisher, or an agent writing stuff like that?’). The feedback he received was making him doubt everything about his work, so he did the right thing: he ignored it.

But there is a caveat to that. We can’t go around ignoring every piece of feedback which hurts or makes us doubtful, especially if we keep getting the same comment.

As my friend the artist, writer, and choreographer Sam Boardman-Jacobs taught me many years ago: When ten doctors tell you to lie down. LIE DOWN!

And finally, if you are seeking feedback, give a comfortable context within which your reader/critic can respond. Specify. Do you want a full-on, no-holds barred free for all? Or do you want specific feedback on certain areas you can identify (‘does the dialogue sound credible?’), but not others (‘I know the structure’s wobbly, I haven’t yet found the ending, but I’m working on that and it’s too delicate to get feedback on’). Be clear what you want a response to. Set parameters if need be – be realistic about what you really want to know and communicate that to your readers. Don’t forget to pull on those extra layers of crocodile skin before you receive your feedback.

Hope this may be useful.

Good luck, all. And to put the shoe on the other foot: Take as much care in giving out feedback as you do in taking it in.

copyright Kaite O’Reilly 9/1/12

The Echo Chamber: rehearsal week one. Friday. Texts and physical structures.

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Ian Morgan and Phillip Zarrilli. Rehearsal photo. The Echo Chamber.           Photo KOR

Our process has been peripatetic and predominately movement-led so far. In our early days of collaboration, back in the Spring, material came from exercises led by Ian in which he and Phillip responded to each other in the space. ‘One moves, one responds’ has proven to be particularly fertile, but this is perhaps to be expected from two practitioners who can count training in Kerala in Kathakali dance theatre and Kalarippayyttu, in Paris with Monika Pagneux, and in Italy with Grotowski at his Workcenter between them.

Some weeks ago I began to write seriously in preparation for these rehearsals, trying to create possible text (usually in solo form – very little dialogue), which might become ‘moments’, or be added to physical sequences or structures. Much of the inspiration for that material was informed by some of the physical scores or motifs appearing in physical improvisations: a hand repeatedly stroking a beard; a seated, cross-armed stance combined with a tilted upwards look; the impulse to fall upwards or outwards; a hand, reaching; stillness.

I was not necessarily conscious of the potency of these physical actions when they occurred (in Berlin in April, in Wales in the spring. in London in November) – but was aware of their potential enough to note them, and for Ian, Peader and Phillip to keep returning to them. As I mentioned in my previous blog, the video also helped (although we had to get by solely on Ian and Phillip’s body memory and Peader and my notes from the work in Berlin, which was without video documentation).

What’s clear in our collaboration is this is co-created. This is not a ‘playwritten’ process, where I create a script and we then work from it; nor is this devising, where I formalise recorded character-based improvisations into text. This will be collaged work – physical structure and motifs combined with texts either spoken, sung, or used as inner scores or internal monologues which may never be spoken. At this point in our process, text may also be a bridging device from one state into the creation of another – to something very different, where that initial text may not be present.

Playwriting: Kaite O’Reilly’s Mentoring Course at Ty Newydd, 2012.

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TY NEWYDD – NATIONAL WRITERS CENTRE FOR WALES.

Playwriting: Mentoring Project with Kaite O’Reilly

April 20 – 22 and October 12 – 1 4  (2 weekends)

This unusual course offers emerging playwrights the rare opportunity of developing a new short play (30 minutes maximum) with guidance, tuition, and dramaturgical feedback over a six month period by award winning writer Kaite O’Reilly. It is designed for those who have already completed at least one short script and who are committed to developing a new play for live performance in a supportive but professional environment, working to deadlines.

The project will begin at a residential weekend course in Spring (April 20 – 22) where successful applicants will develop their idea for a new play with Kaite over a series of workshops, masterclasses and one-to-one ‘tutorials’. Participants will be expected to arrive with a strong embryonic idea for their short play, which will be developed over the first weekend, with practical classes in storylining, creating consequential action, conflict, and complex, motivational characters, amongst other dramaturgical concerns.

The participants will then commit to delivering a first draft of their script to Kaite three months after this initial weekend. They will receive an in-depth reader’s report on the script by Kaite, with feedback on plot, structure, pace, character, style and theme, etc, with guidance on further development in the next draft.

Participants will revise the scripts over a further three months and resubmit them prior to the final short residency in Autumn (October 12 – 14). The content of this intense workshop weekend will be structured around the submitted second drafts, responding directly to the emerging writers’ needs, offering tailor-made workshops and exercises to strengthen the scripts further. There will also be the opportunity for the completed scripts to be given a script-inhand reading in the theatre in the village.  

Owing to the unique form of this course and the individual attention that will be given, there will only be 8 participants. If you wish to apply please send your booking form with a short writing history.

Contact Tŷ Newydd
Postal address:
Tŷ Newydd
Llanystumdwy
Criccieth
Gwynedd
LL52 0LWTelephone: 01766 522 811Fax: 01766 523095 E-mail: tynewydd@literaturewales.org