The Pitlochry Play #1: the sound of water

I’m here in Pitlochry, land of Pitlochry Festival Theatre and much, much more. Today’s day 3 of my playwrighting residency at the theatre and I’m rolling around like a pig in poo at the luxury of all this writing space and thinking time.

I’m not here to share anything about my “process” with you, but I can’t keep all this to myself, so I thought you would like a local waterfall.

It’s great to watch in real life (not so amazing in my rushed wee film from my August holiday here), but it’s stunning to listen to. Sound and water are featuring heavily in the project so far; trees and mountains are too, but let’s save that for another day.

Let me introduce you to the fantastic, the inimitable, the one and only: Black Spout:

Black Spout waterfall, Pitlochry, Aug. ’19

Wanted a Genie, found a Muse

Lovely news – I’ve just been awarded a writers’ residency at the fantastic Pitlochry Festival Theatre to start work on a new play. And it all started because I couldn’t get to Mull and in the (relatively) short time my child was away with relatives.

In July, I’d been facing the standard single parent dilemma: while you child’s off on adventures, should you do the DIY or have a hol? Validated by friends’ and parents; encouragement, “Have-a-hol” scraped through – largely ‘cos it whispered “Inspiration!” in a way that a “Paste-The-Wall” mini-staycation just can’t.

I’d had a great break in Orkney 10y ago, and while I’m desperate to return, I need to explore. My quest for rural adventure started with a day of crying into my computer because National Rail Enquiries refused to offer magic carpet options so I could see family & friends in Glasgow and nip casually to Mull. Four days’ travel in a 7-day break? I needed a Genie…

…But I found a smashing travel agent. Who suggested Pitlochry. And its theatre. EVERYBODY mentioned its theatre. EVERYBODY.

I didn’t need a Genie. I found the muses; or they found me. What a place. And what a theatre. By which I mean history, building, location, leadership, ambition, heritage, talent, teams, reputation… If you don’t know of it, check it out – only a few (gorgeous) hours’ train from Glasgow, there’s quality theatre in the stunning hills: go on, click!

And so on a long walk, a story bit my bum and wouldn’t let go. I came back and worked it up and worried – and then leapt: I sent it in to PFT’s artistic team and they have very kindly given me a residency this autumn.

Apart from my parents’ bemused pride, they’re also looking forward to my return – with a lot more Edradour Malt marmalade.

Glittered Knickers…

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,

“Heck, yeah!”

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

FAIL.

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?

A Song & Dance for your details…

A much-loved but unproduced theatre script,  A Bit of a Song & Dance, made the BBC Drama Script Room long-list! They had a record number of entries, and a phenomenal amount to read, so I’m especially pleased – and grateful! As all writers out there know, there’s subjectivity in all of this, too, so I’m well aware that there’s a decent degree of good fortune in getting this far.

Writersroom is a phenomenal doorway for writers; a great deal of the talent that reaches your screen passes through this system, and I know many who have been coached and nurtured by it (and by others, of course): it’s a wonderful opportunity. It’s this kind of thing that gives hope, ambition, support and professional education to me and THOUSANDS of would-be broadcast writers.  The recent comedy script room has had 2,629 entries and as you can see below, Drama had almost 4,000.

Screen Shot 2018-04-27 at 09.50.39.pngThis is the best any of my scripts have done with the BBC and it is a script I love (with characters I care about – but then, I always do). As one of the longlist, the BBC will give me a script report, which is invaluable – because without audience feedback, a script is nothing. Its life is in the imaginations of others….

And on that slightly strange final note, I’ve been looking for a wordpress GDPR thing and can’t find one. Some of you have signed up to get blog posts by email. If you are one of them and no longer want to, obviously do unsubscribe! Otherwise, let’s carry on! (As I try to capture your imaginations!)

 

1 year on; 3 new screenplays & a magic cauldron

Ha, make em laugh, eh? More like, make yourself laugh. I just spotted an old post from a year ago: The Awful Art of Unwriting. It’s a confessional, where I admit to not having done a new spec screenplay (as opposed to a play) for about 5 years.

In the last year, I’ve written three: one comedy pilot (30 mins) and 2 dramas, an hour each.  They’re each still being polished in their own way, and one of them is under the radical surgeon’s knife, but blimey, it’s really worth a backwards glance from time to time.

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Various other projects are still in the cauldron – not least the quantum 2-hander & the glorious, audience’s darling, Glitter Knickers – so if you have a time machine/  magic wand/ producer/ magic money tree, you’re very welcome to drop me a line…;)  And meanwhile, new things start to sizzle for theatre and screen (oh, boy, and how….)

Watch this space!

9 1/2 weeks. OK, 12. But I couldn’t resist.

If you were born after maybe 1975, you might not get it. But if you’re roughly my age (a grand forty-four and a half) you might now be hearing a dodgy John Taylor* theme tune and getting memory-whiffs of a tousled, sweaty Kim Basinger staring in a confused fashion at all the identical rows of white shirts & black suits in Mickey Rourke’s wardrobe and well, watching things on a projector. 9 1/2 Weeks was basically the forerunner to both 50 Shades… and Sleeping with the Enemy. But I digress.

What I meant to say was that between Mother’s Day & Father’s Day, I’ve done 12 weeks of The Artist’s Way. And jotting it down because the last post was helpful to some people I like. And doing it all has been so helpful to me that I’m starting all over again. pexels-photo-127968.jpeg

If you are interested in this for yourself (it’s basically a refresher / CPD / spring clean for any one, no matter who creative they want they are / want to be),  you don’t need or want a list of my “achievements”, or some wondrous “before & after”s. They’re my things, and while you might kindly say, “oooo, ahhhh”, that’s no good for you!

What might encourage you, though, are these things:

  • I don’t crave “success” for what I do. While I still very much want an audience for my work, I know it’s unequivocally because I want to engage with people, move them, make them feel less alone. Not because a large audience / exposure is a success. It ain’t necessarily so, as the wonderful Ella & Louis sang (go on, have a listen while you read on).
  • I’m just excited & inspired by others’ successes & by great work – and I’m 100% envy-free. When I see any good work in any form (music, theatre, TV), or hear anyone I know do well, my reactions are “clean” – like a happy kid. I want to applaud, cheer, halloo – and there’s not an atom of envy. Yep, with a foot-shuffling blush, I know there used to be. A bit of a “gah, I wish I could…”, nothing nasty, nothing against the bod or the work, but there was a “what about me? when will I…?” And now it’s gone, which is bloody lovely.  Instead, now, I cheer it all, and am just excited to be in the same game, playing in my corner, too.
  • I’m excited by creative risk, after years of keeping my head below the parapet. That’s probably not uncommon for anyone, artist or not, after domestic abuse – as in my case – but it might also be the case for anyone who’s been shamed / mocked / belittled/ blacklisted for creative risks – or just felt like they crashed & burned! That could be from a teacher years back, or your agent never returning your calls. Confidence can be fragile, but creativity depends on confident splash-splash-splosh! I know in my heart that playing safe isn’t playing at all.  It’s just people-pleasing and boring and really not me!
  • I’m kinder, lighter, and excited about the future. I’m working with a wide range of new collaborators on early-days ideas, working out what we might like to plant in the ground. Some of that’s theatre, some film or TV. Some is community, and some is business. But they are all connected, with no false divides.

I hope – if you’ve heard about The Artist’s Way, and wound up here, this is helpful. Or if you’ve never heard of it, your curiosity is piqued. For some, it’s about removing “blocks”, for others, it’s about getting out of a rut, that old rut. Some feel like it’s a spring clean to bring back their lost playfulness. Others, that it’s peaceful self-care, meditation and self-strengthening. Here, it’s all of that (and yes, stuff has happened. Big stuff has happened, and more is happening. But that, dear friends, is another story).

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*YES! Exactly! That John Taylor, from Duran Duran, going solo for what was basically a soft-porno. And ye gods, sorry, Mr T, it was not a great song. I still have the 7″.

Really? Oh, ok. Don’t say I didn’t warn you – it’s a bit 1980s rude: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5OBXJ2AxSA

Fingery-Pokery – The Artist’s Way

scan0056I heard about it.

I saw it in a friend’s vast personal library.

He said “Here, take it.”

It sat on my shelf for a year.

I started it.

Wow.

I’m reading / doing / taking / following The Artist’s Way. It’s a course in a book. I’m fed up of feeling my work is stale, fed up of the negative pixies who get to party when I get  statistically likely “thanks, but not today” emails, and I’m fed up of the whispering mists of pessimism and poverty.  And that’s enough indulgence in evocative eurghhhiness.

Because this 12-week thing (I’m reaching the end of week 5) is great! Jolly! Freeing! Happy-making! OH, MY GOD. I’m the Me I that adult me thinks I was when I was 7! (Creating for creativity’s sake, full of curiosity, mischief, devil-may-care fingery-pokery).

Talking of “God”, it/s/he crops up a fair amount in this book, but don’t be put off. While author Julia Cameron has a strong faith, she encourages readers to think about their own “god” – whether that’s the “creative force”, a muse, or a deity.

So much good shit is going down – as they say here in the streets of Bath all the time – and it’s not all about improving The Writing at all. But WHAT a relief to….

  • LIKE my drafts the next day
  • not to be put off by a roughly sketched scene, but see its glimmer
  • have optimism and glee
  • feel not a twinge at others’ hard-won successes (yes, shameful – it was only ever tiny, but ouch, I wanted that Jellytot!)

It’s a bonkers example, but I applauded – actually clapped at – the telly at the end of this week’s Line of Duty. See what I mean? I’m so proud to be loosely in the same profession as Jed Mercurio, how could I not? Ditto the finale of Chris Chibnall’s Broadchurch. Hats off to them and the creative teams around them.

Anyway, I’m also …

  • taking action, instead of putting up with repeated promises that turn to bog-all
  • bolder with my dreams, such as going for “front of camera talent” instead of “director” as my role at Channel4’s Bristol PopUp last week (yep; I presented, and I loved it).

So – is this intriguing you? Be warned. There’s a crocodile. Week 4 is “reading deprivation” – no TV, films, books, papers, voice radio, mags, emails, social media…

It is hard.

It is great.

  • I went to bed when I was tired
  • My bum wasn’t glued to the sofa
  • I did some great piano playing
  • I did some brilliant (of course!)  writing.
  • And now, I carefully choose what to watch at night (1 hour; maximum 2 if it’s quality drama or comedy), like picking a quality chocolate or drink. I pay attention, rather than lever open my ears and eyes to have shit poured in.

Which is nice.

😉

Alex