Good, better, best

V chuffed to report that “Hard Men’, my pilot show script, developed through last year’s Channel 4’s 4Screenwriting programme, has got through the quarter-finals of the Screenwriting Goldmine Awards 2013.

It made for a lovely afternoon, with writers galore getting in touch to check that I knew! Just goes to show what a community we are.

I’ve also been reading for Theatre Royal Bath’s Nova playwriting summer school, supported by their Engage programme for artists in the community. This has been a great experience, following not too far on the heels of reading for Butterfly Psyche / Rondo Theatre’s “Making Trouble” competition.

Reading other people’s scripts is a great learning experience. I recognise my own habits, particularly in writers who are just starting out. It’s like an experienced seamstress spotting the tell-tale stitching of someone starting out (and knowing her own stitching habits are glaringly obvious to her own teachers).

This isn’t always the case; and it doesn’t mean that we all have the same “beginner traits” by any means. Just that it made me smile to read/hear echoes of things I now realise I used to do. Things that are so subtle they might not even have a name; things that, if carelessly addressed in the reader’s report, could really put someone off moving to the next draft.

I remembered and tried to emulate the most helpful feedback my scripts had been given, stuffed with lines like, “the X raises intriguing questions that the writer could have more fun in answering…”, or , “the writer doesn’t do themselves justice by rushing the last few scenes – it would be worth really exploring their dramatic potential without worrying at this stage about running times.” IE, although these are made up, you feel the gentle support and encouragement of someone who wants your script to succeed and can see some ways in which it might.

Needless to say, I’ve had my share of feedback that is less helpful than this: “I only kept reading as a favour,” being one of my favourites. Thankfully, a few years into this writing lark, I’ve realised that every reader is different and that their judgement and taste is wholly subjective. The script that was only completed “as a favour” reached the top of one national theatre’s reject pile – perhaps that’s a B+, as opposed to the FAIL of the earlier critic. And that’s fine.

Drama is about horses for courses; it is subjective by its very nature. The best we can do is to do our personal best and hope that it chimes with someone, somewhere.

To return to my own competition entry, I know where ‘Hard Men’ falls down. I’m just hoping my stitching is better than I think it is…

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What Dali can, Su-bo can’t? Artist / audience gap

An artist works, gives their sweat and soul to communicate something in a form that is somehow different to the everyday-expected. The audience engages, pays, comes, listens, studies. Different activities. If these two then disagree on the art, whose opinion matters more? Which one defines the “art”?

When there’s a jarring chasm between what an artist aims to communicate and what the audience receives,  it’s either the “wrong” audience (in time, space, culture or other demographic) or it will never get one. The bigger that gap (disagreement), the harder the personal hit (unless you made no effort and are now being hailed as a genius, in which case, this blog comes with a price; please email me.) And the harder the hit, the bigger the questions for the artist. …Perhaps, the bigger the solution.

This is an interesting space: the gap between art(ist) and audience has to be subjective interpretation, an individual’s reaction; their experience. It might be laughter, joy, confusion, boredom, anger, frustration.

But there is something in this subjectivity about the wrapping that the audience’s experience comes in: a trendy gallery v a church hall; an 85-year old past-master v a 25-year old wag; a £50 ticket or three-for-a-fiver. Dali is permitted where Susan Boyle would not be allowed to do precisely the same thing; Shakespeare gets away with a lot, because he is trusted to make it good, if not in this piece, then in Hamlet/Lear/Tempest. Many a writer feels Waiting for Godot wouldn’t get past a literary manager these days. It might be true; it might not.

So is art about intent or reception? The transmission or what is heard, experienced? This is the home of great potential pretentiousness, where people get cross about “I know what I like,” and “I don’t understand art,” vs. “they just don’t get it.”

Isn’t it clear that if “they don’t get it” then you’ve singularly failed to communicate? Art can’t exist in a vacuum; it must have reaction to have meaning: it must have an audience – hopefully, the “right” audience. And if that means donning a mad moustache or charging £50 to make your art be valued, is that justified, or is it just a case of new togs for the Emperor….?