Cracking email from Thousand Films this week – The Unloved has made the longest (c100/c2000 scripts). Shortlisting is now underway, with 10 talented writers winning in July. This is a great talent-finding initiative from Sid Gentle Productions, NFTS and the Edinburgh TV Festival. You can read more here.
I love it when a plan you never knew you had comes together.
An old friend up at Bath Uni decided we needed an International Women’s Day entertainment night in Widcombe. It’s over 20 years since I did one of these, back at the students’ union, so when she said,
“Want to do something for International Women’s Day?”
something in me shouted back – all the way from 1995, and surprisingly quickly,
And by 8 March, that “HECK, YEAH” became this:
Oh, look. There’s me, at the start of the adventures of Glitter Knickers, the eponymous anti-heroine of my main stage show in 2016 (which meant to tour and then – far too true to character for my own liking – skidded on a banana skin).
The audience was very decent in every important sense: size and manners. They hushed, listened, laughed and even gasped. There were those lovely moments of 1- 2- 3 – “oh, no!” realisations (thank the gods) and plenty warm words after. (Thank you, Widcombe Social Club). But the funny thing was, next morning. I woke up and thought,
“Weird. I’ve never performed my own (grown-up) work before.”
And wondered why I’d never noticed.
In The Artists’ Way, Julia Cameron talks (with lemon-on-paper-cut insight) about how we often protect our creative selves through distancing. We might become teachers of art (of all kinds); encouragers of others; arts administrators; avid readers or theatre buffs –
ANYTHING BUT BE AN ACTUAL (SCARY) ARTIST – WHO MIGHT VERY WELL
It’ll astonish you if you know me (that doesn’t even need a footnote) that I performed endless amounts of my own work until I was about 14. At uni, I sang solo stuff a fair bit, but never acted or wrote. It wasn’t til I was 34 that I threw my bank account at the dream and wrote my first full-length play for any kind of sharing.
Now, now, though, there’s a wicked smile on my face. I like doing my own stuff. And I’m very willing to do more and get better at it. (Yes, see what a kindly audience can do?)
I made the, “never performed my own work before” comment on facebook and a friend overseas said,
“Bollocks. I’ve listened to your kids’ audiobook.”
You see, we forget the creative stuff we leave all over the place. We don’t always count or value the art we say is “work”! (My audiobook’s from my weekly after-school mythology club and I’ve only got round to recording one). But it’s just as valid a creative endeavour or risk as the “heart and soul” work. Others experience it as as much an expression of you as they see everything else.
Hmmm. My tone’s felt preachy. I’ve been reading too much on Medium, clearly. There is no lesson. Maybe just a thought, or a question: have you discounted your own creative outputs as “just work” – and would you like to do more?
I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned this. Anyway, it’s brilliant. I’ve been working since autumn with a smart young director called Isabelle Larché in Bristol. We worked up an idea. I wrote a script. She’s pulled together a cracking team and this weekend, filming began. There’s a crowdfunder (which has hit its very modest target very quickly – but all the perks are still there for the taking, and your support would be very gratefully received!).
In short, watch this space. And here’s some blurb….more will follow!
I was lucky enough to catch this show on Monday – and will be there again on Thursday to chair the after-show discussion (yes, very lucky me!). Here’s an excerpt – with a link to the full review in Bristol 24/7 underneath:
Blue Door is a remarkable production. Script, performers, music, setting, lights – all combined by the director – to absorb you whole. It is one of those theatre moments where you utterly vanish as yourself, and enter without question into the world you are offered.
The story – the stories – are of badness. And of good. And of confusion. Centuries of jaw-clenching racism, hatred, fear, abuse and deep, deep pain – of all of these, you will hear. But you will also hear of love. Compassion. Wit. Wisdom. Kindness. And determination.
[…] Ray Fearon plays Lewis, a philosophy of mathematics professor who’s especially interested in the idea of time. He is black. He questions his black identity regularly. He sees his own blackness through white eyes again and again. He is married to a white woman, who berates him – then leaves him – because he did not do what she told him he must: attend the Million Man March (where black men were asked to show commitment to family and community). I told you there was wit.
Ah, those old Chinese curses, eh?
A couple of years back, I was pitching a TV drama-comedy idea to a really cracking producer. We were both excited (I think!) about the central character – an unseated MP thrown into my old work world of lobbying, with all its grey shades and the implications for her previously stable world view. We laughed. And then we sighed.
“Broadcasters are shy of political drama,” she said. “It’s a hard sell.”
Ho, ho, ho.
I grew up in the ’80s – politics was everywhere on TV. A sixth-former watching the BBC’s House of Cards while Maggie Thatcher’s world fell about her. Spitting Image was the weekly treat (I say, “treat”; more like a 5-foot high trifle and a diving board).
Last week, you might have caught Channel 4’s Brexit. It had both an excellent cast and the level of quality that made you (well, me, at least) hungry for more. (You can watch it free online til early February.) There was a great deal of excitement generated both before and after and much to enjoy: the personalising of the players; the fictionalised insight of protagonist Dominic Cummings, the “Leave” Campaign Director, whose frustrations we were encouraged to share.
It was like having a giant iron door unlocked, so we could peer inside the machinery of Westminster’s Brexit campaigns, eyebrows raised or knotted as we watched this cog catch on that ratchet, while those levers went up and down for no obvious reason whatsoever. That’s what good political drama does – turn the abstract into the relatable: we all do silly things.
But does C4’s Brexit herald a”new age of political drama”? As a career-politico-turned-scriptwriter, of course I want that to be true. But the wise producer’s note of caution rings hard in my ear. Broadcasters are in tough times, competing with US and European content, and both born of different financial models.
Den of Geek’s superb run through 2019’s TV drama highlights shows that although – like 2018’s – 2019’s dramas tackle inherently political issues (the porn industry, poverty, the care and justice systems, NHS, inequality, globalisation…), the political system itself isn’t taking front and centre.
But even if British audiences lose all appetite for tales about democratic processes or political deal-making, our need for stories of politics’ on-the-ground human impact remains as hungry as ever .
I woke up last Thursday morning feeling like a child with a hundred wrapped presents at her feet. Because Wednesday’s rehearsed reading of the quantum physics play, BOX, was an utter joy. The marvellous audience let me record the Q&A, so I can use their feedback as I work to complete the script. Here are some of the useful, and kind, things they said:
“It’s a playground full of swings!”
“I liked the playfulness, how you played with the two varieties of the characters and embodied the quantum physics in them”
“You really engaged us with the science”
” I like that it wrong-foots you!”
“It made me think of Caryl Churchill”
“It really reminds me of Carl Djerassi’s work”
“Much more playful than Stoppard; you empowered the audience”
“It was a challenge but it was entertaining!”
They even laughed – a lot – and made jokes about entangled, vanishing booze. If any of you are reading this: thank you again.
This play’s been bubbling in the cauldron for five years. In 2014, it had very generous support from crowdfunding friends and colleagues and then professional development with a dramaturg (David Lane) and a team (director Julia MacShane, actors Clare Latham & Chris Hughes). It’s won Old Vic New Voices Lab development support and done nicely in a few competitions. And this year, generous feedback from (I’ll save their blushes) a visiting summer actor at Theatre Royal Bath, and now from Brighton. Next paragraph, new chapter…
Yep, Brighton. Which came about in a way that was very much in the spirit of the play. The play’s about parallel universes, about the day-to-day, ever-widening consequences of our choices:
A year or so ago, my very talented director friend Hannah Drake shared a Facebook post, as an actor friend of hers, Mary Chater, wanted to make new playwright connections. Mary and I spoke and really clicked, but we didn’t work together this time.
A year later, Mary is waiting for an estate agent. She gets chatting with a lady. Eventually, about theatre. They meet again. The lady works at Brighton University; they talk about making rehearsed readings part of a new course. Mary emails me – would I be interested? When Brighton’s Dr Kate Aughterson says yes to this script, I ask my Facebook chums again who they know in Brighton (as there’s no money in this!) and who do we get as director? That Hannah Drake again (superb at catching wannabe-vanishing trains, I have to say) who had no idea that Mary was involved. She was joined by Mary, playing Ali, and Matt Lloyd Davies as Mike. They were all absolutely superb. I could not have been more proud of this team and grateful for their generosity.
So now, a mulling, and time to plan next steps. I have a feeling this script is dusting off her dress and is almost ready for the dance….
P.S. – if you want to know what the “magic gun” is in the title of this post, get in touch. You just have to see the play, you see…. 😉
Very excited to say the quantum mechanics play, Box, has a twinkle in its eye. After some generous and insightful industry feedback over the summer, it’s having a rehearsed reading on Hallowe’en, as part of the work done by Brighton University’s Performance and Community Research and Enterprise Group.
What’s that? It means I get to work with a cracking team (see below) and an audience to shake out the creases, ask about what works, what doesn’t – and get myself into a position where it can fairly – I hope – be deemed worthy of a full-scale production.
Other artists involved in Brighton’s programme this term include: Brighton’s Royal Society of Literature Fellow, playwright and novelist Hannah Vincent; performance poet and Marie Curie IF Fellow Patricia Kolaiti; Marisa Carnesky, who about to tour with Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman; playwright Morgan Lloyd and author PA Skantze whose book Itinerant Spectator/Itinerant Spectacle looks at audiences who travel with shows they love.
Like I said above, I’m especially fortunate to be joined in this by a wonderful team of theatrical ambrosia:
Mary Chater, actor: Mary’s acting work includes the National Theatre, RSC, West End, rep and fringe. She recently returned from 9 years living in central Italy and is a founder member of Shakespeare in Italy: www.shakespeareinitaly.eu
Matt Lloyd Davies, actor: Matt is a director and actor who trained at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. His screen and theatre work includes the West End and film, including appearing alongside Nigel Hawthorne in both the National Theatre production and Oscar- winning film of The Madness of King George. More at www.matthewlloyddavies.com
Hannah Drake, director: Hannah is a co-founder of award-winning Insane Root theatre company. She trained at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School (Elsa Roberts Prize for Directing). In 2017 she was Resident Director to the UK Tour of Jane Eyre for the National Theatre/Bristol Old Vic, assisting Sally Cookson. More at: www.hannahdrakedirector.com
And if you would like a reminder of “the quantum mechanics play”, here’s the blurb….
Box – by Gill Kirk
“This is my story. Of when I was famous and when I was invisible. I was loved, and irrelevant. I ruled the universe and it ruled me. But here I am, now: telling you TED-junkies about something we all dream of, and never understand: parallel worlds theory. What if, what if, what if…”
Who do you think you are?
In BOX, Allie and Mike’s parallel lives collide and ricochet to give us a 360-degree sense of not just who they are, but who they could be, given the right (and wrong) circumstances. Tales of love, ambition, disappointment and elephants hang like socks on the washing line of Allie’s brilliant, upsetting, weird and wistful TED talk, as she stumbles around the questions of quantum physics, who we are and who we could be.
The universe plays Mike and Allie like rats in a maze. In world after world, we follow and understand their desires, conflicts and triumphs as their personalities vary wildly, depending on which stepping stones brought them to “today”.
There is, however, one constant: the “quantum suicide rifle” – a real-world manifestation of a thought experiment, theoretically posited to be able to fire its victim into all possible worlds. It’s always with them. It’s always an option.